A Spring visit to Rousham

I tend to think of Rousham gardens in hushed respectful tones, not in a Voldemort kind of way, but out of respect.  It is talked of as the garden of gardens and has its own special gravitas that makes it is a place of pilgrimage for many gardeners.  The house was built in 1635 for Sir Robert Dormer and his family still own the house.  It is a good house but its renown is for its intact William Kent landscape.  William Kent (1685 -1748) was an architect and landscape designer.  His landscapes were 'naturalistic' and Rousham demonstrates this perfectly.
I have visited and written about Rousham previously, I wrote an article for ThinkinGardens in 2012 where I discuss about whether Rousham should be considered as a garden as such.  I still think that calling it a garden does not describe what visitors experience.  I also say in this piece that I was once told that Rousham is about dark and light.  This remains a useful way of thinking for me about the grounds.

You start with light and clear views across the lawns and out into the landscape beyond.
Some one has been mowing these lawns to great precision and whilst I am not a lawn-fanatic, it is a cold person who does not look at this striped perfection without some admiration.
The paths and lawns lead you forward.  You have choices and you know that if you go one way you will have to find your way back so you can try the other.
From the front of the house you are taken 'whoomph' straight down the lawns, to the statue breaking up the view and out again towards the horizon.  It is a breathtaking moment.
But there are huge bumpy hedges with openings to explore.
This is the inside of the hedge, it is just an amazing structure.
There is the rather wonderful walled gardens.
Which house fantastically old fruit trees.  You can only wonder how many people they have witnessed walking these paths.
Some are so old and so hollow that there are roses growing in the middle of them.
There is a very fine pergola.
and a knot garden that makes mine look pathetic.  In fairness to my own meagre effort, mine has had less time.
There is a very fine greenhouse,
I had a moment of wheelbarrow envy,
sweetpeas are in waiting,
as are more twigs to be plant support than you can shake a stick at.
There is beautifully espaliered fruit trees,
 and the first signs of blossom.

This is all very well, this is all very nice I am sure you will agree, but what is it that makes Rousham special?  It is, as is often the case, in the detail.
For example: consider the church, then consider the archway in the hedge that gives the right size and sham to make it look like an echo of the church tower.

It is time now to get out into the grounds.
This is the statue that is centre stage from the house down the lawn.
It sits atop of hidden slope down to the river.
This river loops and curls around the grounds.  It creates a perfect boundary and on a day with a bit of sun provides reflection.
Did I mention dark and light?  This shows it well.
It is a view well photographed, it is a good job that you cannot wear out a view by photographing it.
Reflections were a key part of the day.
It is against the law to go to Rousham and not take a photo or three of the rill.  Here it is showing the light/dark thing again.
This view, which might not be the best rill photograph you will ever see, actually encapsulates Rousham for me as there is the rill that leads you off around the corner.  You are overlooking the low trimmed laurels that create ground cover and the light reflects off them into the distance.  I dislike laurels very much, they are dark and green and sit there unchanging all year round and yet here they work.  Here at Rousham the laurels have found their place in the world.  Rousham is not about change, Rousham is about constancy and a paused moment in time.  You can see this view at any of time of year when you visit, it will be pretty much the same.  Usually I would have a problem with these unchanging laurels, here I accept them.
Out into the light again, looking back along the river the curve of the laurel ground cover can be appreciated.
It is also against the law not to show these beautiful curved benches that nestle into their nooks so well.  There must be a paint colour called Rousham Powder Grey?  If not then I claim the name here and now.
I like the colonnade a lot.  It is calm and sheltered, a good place to stop and pause on your wanders and have a sip of tea from a flask.
This time of year the bank it sits upon is covered in tiny primroses, it is very beautiful.  Even here though the space is denoted by light and dark.
Around every corner there are hedges to peep through and discover the next view.
It was a great visit which was organised through the All Horts network.  I am not sure we spoke in hushed tones as we happily chatted our way around the grounds.

There are some things that are useful to know before you visit:
Rousham is a garden open to be visited, but there is no cafe so do not expect tea or cake.  There are (thankfully) toilets and if I had to choose between having a cafe or a loo, I will be grateful for the loo. There was a moment whilst we were visiting where we spotted children under the age of 15 in the garden.  However we reined in our Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang moment and looked the other way.

Each time I visit I think I 'get' Rousham a little bit more, except I also think that it is not for me.  I have no wish to have a similar garden as I enjoy change too much.  I like to see the seasons move in my garden and to replace old with new.  It is one of those places that I think it is important that it exists, it is important that it continues to survive but it is not my idea of what gardening is nor what I would want to achieve......... and I know I will be visiting again.


  1. Have they sorted the box blight in the Knot Garden? Love to know about that if they have.

    Still don't get it. It can't be the only garden in the uk like that? And who wants a statue of a lion eating a horse?!

    Quietly pleasing, occasionally boring with terrible bits is the best I could suggest.Xxx

    1. No the box blight is still there. It probably isn't the only garden like this, highly unlikely to be.

      I agree about the statue, we did comment at the time that it was a grim thing to plonk in the middle of the view.

    2. It's a continual battle, box blight. Would have been great if they'd found a cure!

  2. As Anne knows, I love this garden, probably more than any other I've visited (though such comparisons are meaningless). I don't even consider the walled garden a part of Rousham proper, tough it's wonderful in it's own right. To me, it's all about atmosphere in a very broad sense (including a lot of history, culture, memory, and emotion). Thanks for posting another point of view.

    1. I do know. It's a mystery! Xx

    2. Thanks for the comment James. I would also distinguish between the walled garden (which I would call a garden) and the rest of the grounds which I tend to think of more as landscape. I totally agree with what you say about atmosphere - that's sort of what I wanted to imply in saying a paused moment of time.

  3. I'm with James on this one. The atmosphere at Rousham touches something inside me. I also appreciate the walled garden but there are many such. I think one of Kent's most successful tricks was the Praeneste and how it turns a fault, the awkwardly shaped piece of land, to an advantage. The surprise coming upon it after standing on top of it delights me every time. And then there is the light and shadow thing.

    1. Hi Pat

      Thanks for the comment, I like the Praeneste (colonnade) as well, it has a superb vantage point for a view across the river.

  4. Well, it's clear you have some Very Dull gardens in America! (runs away......)

    1. (And hides her head in shame... but yes, there is the occasional garden that is less than exciting, even in North America. Certainly couldn't be true about England or Wales, could it?)

  5. You know we have LOADS of them! xxxxx


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