A history of the garden at Dyrham Park
The garden has known many dramatic changes over the centuries. From its Tudor origins to the opulence of the early 1700s, from the more 'natural' approach of the early 1800s to the neglect of the post-war era, the fate of the garden has reflected the fashions and fortunes of Dyrham's owners.
Over the past decade, with careful planning and research, we've sought to recreate some of the garden's historic features, but also to introduce elements of contemporary landscaping and planting. The result is an enchanting garden full of vibrant contrasts and vistas bursting with constantly changing form and colour.
The Tudor garden
In 1688, William Blathwayt inherited the Dyrham estate on the death of his father-in-law, John Wynter. Soon after, he commissioned an estate plan to be drawn up. This shows the small Tudor manor house and garden. All but the great hall of the house was swept away as William Blathwayt created his magnificent baroque mansion. The Tudor garden disappeared completely, replaced by a fashionable and resplendent Dutch-style water garden.
The Tudor garden was offset to the house as was common at that time. It would probably have had raised walks around a sunken area of knot gardens (square arrangements of herbs) with a central water feature such as a fountain.
Mr Blathwayt's water garden
Formal French-style gardens were the height of fashion from about 1660 to 1715. Completed in 1704, William Blathwayt’s garden to the east and west of the mansion was geometric in design. The west garden had a cascade, two pools, a fountain and flower beds planted in a fashionably sparse style. The east garden had a canal, fountains and a magnificent cascade; there were parterres cut out of grass and filled with coloured gravel, shrubs in tubs cut into formal shapes of cones and spheres, and terraces on the slopes from which to admire this masterpiece.
This was a garden displaying both the taste and wealth of its owner. Of the east garden, all that remains is the lofty statue of Neptune gazing down on the site of that once amazing but now obliterated garden.
Dyrham 'reconciled to modern taste'
So commented a visitor to Dyrham Park in 1791. Fashions had changed and so had the wealth of the Blathwayt family. Prevailing taste now demanded a landscape park, all green and trees. This was also a much cheaper option than a high-maintenance water garden. A Bath surveyor, Charles Harcourt Masters, added the new lodge gates to the eastern entrance and the winding main drive which we still use today. He was also paid for 'moving earth'. In this way, the east garden was transformed as terraces disappeared and the water garden was buried under three feet of soil.
At about the same time, Humphrey Repton was advising on the west garden. It was he who designed the lower wall with their niches and it was he who suggested the softening of the rectangular Lower Pool by the alteration of straight lines to curves.
The Victorian garden
The far path to Church Walk passes through the revived Victorian fernery, while the massed colours of the planting around the Lower Pool also reflect the preferences of that period. The irregular shape of the pool is another Victorian legacy. Contemporary photographs show rockeries in the west garden, flower-filled parterres on the west terrace and islands in the two pools. The islands have been removed in view of the earlier taste for reflecting pools, but if you look carefully you can still see the circular bases.
Rescued after the wilderness years
In 1956, when the National Land Fund bought the mansion and West Garden at Dyrham Park in memory of those who died in the Second World War, the garden was a mere donkey paddock: rough grass and a few overgrown trees and shrubs. Initially, the garden was seen merely as a green backdrop to the important William and Mary mansion, but eventually plans for its development were made.
A 21st-century garden with echoes of the past
In the west garden, an area shown as Nichols' Orchard on the Tudor estate plan has been returned to a productive orchard: perry pear trees allow us to produce our famous Dyrham Perry, a delicious cider-like drink (available in the Dyrham shop when in season). Beneath the trees is a constantly changing sea of wild flowers.
The central path of the grand avenue, seen clearly in the Kip engraving from 1710, has been reinstated, as has the path from Stable Court into the garden. Hedges of yew and box replicate walls, thus recreating the enclosed spaces of Stable Court and Church Court. Replicas of the original clairvoyées (ironwork screens through which a vista is enjoyed) have recently been built, allowing visitors tantalising glimpses of the lower garden. White benches, made to designs from 1704, punctuate the sweeping borders of the avenue, offering ample opportunity for rest and contemplation.
Discover more on a garden tour
To make your next visit to the garden even more enjoyable, join our garden guides for an informative free tour, held regularly throughout the open season. Our guides are passionate about the garden, and their knowledge and enthusiasm is sure to add to your day at Dyrham.
Please see our events page for tour dates and times, and look out for impromptu tours advertised at the property on most days.
Find out about what's in season at the moment in our month-by-month guide to the highlights of the garden.