2016: The Year of the English Garden

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“An Englishman’s home may be his castle but surely his garden is his impression of heaven on earth.” So writes Oxfordshire-based guide Anne, who joins us today to talk about an essential part of any trip to England: a visit to an English garden.

The English have been cultivating gardens since Roman times and these endeavours will be celebrated in 2016 with the “Year of the English Garden”. 2016 also marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of ‘Capability’ Brown, considered one of England’s greatest designers, responsible for landscaped gardens in many of our grandest stately homes. In celebration of Brown’s 300th anniversary, many of his private gardens will be made open to the public in 2016.

You can visit glorious gardens planted in many of the historic styles, from small enclosed monastic gardens to grand landscapes in open parkland, and central England (the north Cotswolds, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire…) is a good place to start.

Here is just a sampling of what is available:

• The garden at Kenilworth Castle was first created by Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, for the visit of Queen Elizabeth I when he was hoping she would agree to marry him. Lost to the world, the garden was recreated in 2009 and you can now you can follow in Elizabeth’s footsteps and enjoy the carved arbours, bejewelled aviary and marble fountain.

Rousham is the only surviving example of William Kent’s work. In the 18th century Kent was the first garden designer to swing away from the formality of the Tudor and Stuart gardens to a more ‘natural’ look. You will see the carefully calculated vistas with statues, ponds, cascades and temples within the open treed parkland where rare long-horned cattle graze. Also, the walled garden has colourful herbaceous borders, a parterre and a quirky round pigeon house.

• The landscaped gardens at Stow and Blenheim Palace are amongst Capability Brown’s finest, his aim was to unify the English country house within its setting. Stow was Brown’s first project and his first and only place of employment. He started work on the developing landscape garden with William Kent before becoming head gardener from 1742 to 1750, and was responsible for the Grecian Valley, which involved excavating 18,000 m3 of earth. When Randoph Churchill (father of Sir Winston) took his future wife to his childhood home at Blenheim Palace for the first time, he described with great justification the view of the lake, the bridge and the miles of magnificent parkland studded with old oaks designed by Brown as the ‘finest view in England’.

Hidcote is an early 20th century garden greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. The American, Lawrence Johnson and his mother settled in Hidcote Manor in 1900 and Lawrence soon set about turning the muddy and exposed fields around his house into a garden. It’s famous for the series of ‘outdoor rooms’, each with its own colourful and unique design together with the vistas over the rolling Cotswold countryside.

These are some of the most well-known gardens in the area, but smaller gardens such as Broughton Castle, Sezingcote, Kiftsgate, and Bourton House are equally beautiful and well worth a visit. As are many of the private gardens, each open for a few days throughout the summer as part of the National Gardens Scheme.

Anne offers guided tours of a selection of English gardens from Easter to mid-October. Follow this link: Anne’s English Garden tour to find out more, and book your own private English Garden tour.
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