What is a landscape garden?
Today, gardening is all about growing flowers in every colour. 18th-century landscape gardens such as Stowe dealt in shades of green. Rolling expanses of grass were framed by artfully placed belts of trees and shrubs and reflected in tranquil stretches of water. Contrasting with these were garden buildings such as the temples and monuments that still survive in the gardens today.
Paths were used to entice visitors to certain views, only revealed at the last moment. The grass paths at Stowe have more horticultural interest, such as spring flowers and contrasting foliage. Watch our video to get a taste of what you might see on a visit.
Stowe was never just a garden. Its creator, Lord Cobham, set the gardens out to reveal his beliefs about the politics and morality of the day. Which path will you choose - vice, virtue or liberty?
The Path of Vice
Greek mythology was well-known in the 18th century. The paths of vice and virtue represent the Greek god, Hercules’ struggle between these two choices. The path of vice takes place in the garden of love (designed by then head gardener, Mr Love!). The temples in this area allude to stories of seductive women, sordid goings-on and partying to excess. Not for the faint hearted.
The Path of Virtue
The path of virtue takes us through an area of the gardens that represents heaven on earth. The temples here show good values, such as the Temple of British Worthies showing the great and the good of Britain’s history. Of course, taking the virtuous path through life isn’t the easiest, so there are many bridges to cross.
The Path of Liberty
This path represents the political aspirations of Lord Cobham. As a simple metaphor it is the longest and hardest of all three walks, showing that politics is never easy. The temples along the way show Britain’s dominance in the 18th century. Hence the Temple of Concord and Victory celebrates Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War and Lord Cobham’s Pillar shows Cobham as a mighty Roman warrior.
Gardener's question time
With 250 acres of gardens to look after we keep our gardeners very busy at Stowe.
If you manage to spot one of them please stop and have a chat - they're a friendly bunch and will be glad to answer your questions.
The Grecian Valley is great for a circular walk, with lots of benches along the way. You can spot a wide range of flowers and seasonal interest in the shrubbery throughout the year.
Some of the best-loved and most iconic temples and monuments are in this area of the gardens. Don’t miss the Gothic Temple, the Temple of Friendship and the Palladian bridge. And if you don’t fancy bringing your own, our tea-room will gladly supply you with suitable treats.
It is here that you will undoubtedly be stunned by the classic view of Stowe – take in the symmetry of the house, the Lake Pavilions and the majestic Corinthian Arch.
You can do a circular walk in this part of the gardens around Eleven Acre Lake – which is accessible to all now that we’ve recently improved the paths for mobility buggies and pushchairs.
There are lots of spring flowers to enjoy in the Elysian Fields. As you walk out of the eerie and mythical ‘underworld’ into a bright, spacious landscape here is a great spot for a picnic.