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England’s Stourhead Remains an Example of the Eighteenth Century Picturesque Garden

A couple of summers ago we visited England’s Stourhead where the garden illustrates the eighteenth century view of the landscape.

I arrived at 9 a. m. and found that I was the only visitor on the property for at least an hour. I enjoyed that aloneness.

I first made a stop at the Information Center for a map of the property, whose size measures several acres.

Here at England's Stourhead garden you see the lake through the grotto, a classic feature here in the landscape.
Here at England’s Stourhead garden you see the lake through the grotto, a classic feature in the landscape.

What I liked most was that I could walk the property at my own pace.

In the eighteenth century the property belonged to Henry Hoare, son of Henry Hoare I. Henry, the son, gave us this garden at Stourhead.

Edward Hyams writes in his book The English Garden: “Henry Hoare [the son] was, in fact, the forerunner of the landscape school of the gardener-poet Shenstone and Capability Brown and it is certainly arguable that he was not only the forerunner but the supreme master.”

The layout of the garden at Stourhead amazed me as I walked the grounds.

The lawn, the lake, the Pantheon, the Grotto, the Palladium Bridge stand out in my memory.

The landscape represents the ‘picturesque’ view of landscape gardening, emerging at that time in England, with Henry Hoare’s landscape as an example.

The  picturesque means that a visitor has a painting-like experience from the landscape.  Wherever you walk,  you stand before a scene created from elements of lawn, plants, water, stone, buildings, and land contours.  The setting seems to resemble a painting, whose medium comes from nature: soil, stone, water, and plants.

As the English garden evolved in the nineteenth century, Stourhead changed  too.  I remember the large rhododendrons in bloom when I was there that June.  Rhododendrons were not part of the design that Hoare created.

Nonetheless, the experience of Stourhead provides a view of the beginnings of England’s landscape gardening movement from the eighteenth century.

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