The Pleasure Garden at Petworth

The rotunda, built in 1766, in autumn

The garden at Petworth was designed by ‘Capability’ Brown (c.1715-16 - 1783) during the latter half of the 18th century. Brown removed the formal features that previously existed here and introduced serpentine paths as well as informal planting.

Autumn in the garden  

As a chill creeps into the air, the deciduous trees in the garden at Petworth undergo a transformation. Red maples turn a vivid scarlet, while the tulip specimens change to a calming yellow, and the Cornus walk has young trees that become red as the season progresses.  

The woodland walk is full of copper tones at this time of year too, and when the leaves eventually fall from the branches it makes it easier to spot robins, blackbirds and chaffinches. 

The Rotunda at Petworth
Rotunda at Petworth
The Rotunda at Petworth
Bluebells by the Rotunda in the Pleasure Grounds of Petworth House

The Ionic Rotunda

Constructed in 1766 at the suggestion of Brown, the Rotunda is reminiscent of the Temple of Vesta at Trivoli, Italy. When seen from below the Rotunda symbolises the difficult and steep path to fame. Designed as one of the two focal points in the Pleasure Garden, it offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Temple with close up of buttercups

The Doric Temple

Now housing a memorial to Henry Scawen Wyndham (1915-1942), who died in action at El Alamein, the temple was relocated by Brown from the Park to the Pleasure Garden in the 1750s before being positioned in its present location in 1875. Based on Doric temples of Hellenistic Greece it evokes dignity, nobility and antiquity.

Finding your way around

The Pleasure Garden is situated between the Petworth House car park and the house itself. Open from 10am to 5pm in the summer and closing at 4pm in the winter, you can stroll through the Pleasure Garden at your leisure, taking in the informal planting and enjoying the views and vistas to the landscape beyond.

From the Pleasure Garden you can explore the monuments introduced by Capability Brown or make your way through the iron Tijou Gate beside the house and enter the Deer Park. Do make sure on your travels to take note of the closing time of the Tijou Gate if you've parked in the main visitor car park for Petworth House, these gates are the only way back to the main car park.

What are Pleasure Grounds?

The garden here was historically known as the Pleasure Ground. This was a popular type of Georgian garden where the family and their guests could walk privately or socialise, perhaps over tea or a game of croquet. During this period, plant collecting in the Americas was becoming popular and Pleasure Grounds became areas to showcase these new and exciting plants. Not only a patron of the arts, the 3rd Earl of Egremont here at Petworth was a patron of plant collectors and he used the Pleasure Garden here to display his collection of North American trees and shrubs. Though informal in design, Petworth’s Pleasure Garden was immaculately presented and the intriguing specimens were given prominent positions within the landscape.

Pleasure Grounds were designed to instill a variety of emotions in those who walked within them. Brown’s design for the planting at Petworth was theatrical, with rising tiers of plants, enclosed spaces full of scent, and areas of extended viewpoint.

In part due to the changes Capability Brown introduced, since 1743 guests would have entered Petworth House through the courtyard on the opposite side of the house. As you make your way through the Pleasure Garden to the courtyard, visitors can enter Petworth House this way just as guests, like JMW Turner would have done.

You can read more about Capability Brown here.

Dog walking

If you are a National Trust member or have paid entry to the house and gardens you are very welcome to walk your dog in the Pleasure Garden. We kindly ask that dogs are kept on a short lead at all times and walkers keep to the hard or gravel paths. There is a maximum of two dogs per adult in the Pleasure Garden.

You can find more about dog walking in the Pleasure Garden and offlead walking in the Deer Park below.