Sunday, 22 April 2012


I have referred the landscape garden at Rousham, in Oxfordshire, in previous posts, but it is three and half years since my last visit and in fine spring weather this morning I decided to revisit. An almost complete survival of the work of William Kent, the mercurial genius of the first phase of what has come to be known as the English Landscape Style, the garden is by turns intimate and expansive, a theatrical sequence of enclosures and clearings, vistas and tunnels through the wooded slopes of the River Cherwell. It is the perfect understated setting for the magnificent house, the whole ensemble with its carriage yards, stable blocks, kitchen garden and dovecote a more or less unchanging evocation of a type of solidly English domestic feudal landscape, with hamlet and church within the park of the house.

Here nothing is obvious - the visitor is led through the garden by implicit clues - a gap in the hedge, a barely discernible path, an intriguing rise and fall in the ground.  At times way is more clearly marked, as by Kent's famous rill, leading to an octagonal bathing pool and thence to the water at the bottom of Venus' Vale, a descending series of fountains presided over by Venus herself, and looking out over the River Cherwell and the valley beyond.

Further along the circuit a sharp little escarpment is topped by the Praeneste - an arcaded lookout flanked by urns and the clipped underplanting of laurel and box.  The garden is populated with Classical sculptures, including a stone version of 'The Dying Gaul' and some sprightly gods, presiding over quiet corners or more dramatic openings in the hedgerows and tunnels of vegetation.  Here are Bacchus, Mercury and, most significantly, Pan to whom the whole garden could be dedicated. 

Still owned by the family who commissioned Kent to lay out the garden in the early 1700s, Rousham is my favourite garden - I hope the photos do justice to its timeless appeal.

See more images here.