The Petworth Garden: a Pleasure Ground

The rotunda built in 1766, and daffodils in the park at Petworth House, West Sussex

The garden at Petworth, known as the Pleasure Ground, 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.

Finding your way around

The Pleasure Ground 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 Ground at your leisure, taking in the informal planting and enjoying the views and vistas to the landscape beyond.

From the Pleasure Ground 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?

Pleasure Grounds were 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 the Pleasure Grounds became an area 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 Grounds here to display his collection of North American trees and shrubs. Though informal in design, Petworth’s Pleasure Grounds were 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 of the Pleasure Grounds 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 Ground to the courtyard, visitors can enter Petworth House through Oak Hall, just as guests like JMW Turner would have done - please note the house is currently closed due to the national lockdown.

Though still Brownian in design, the Pleasure Ground has gone through periods of development and stagnation over the last 200 years. In the next ten to twenty years, Petworth will be working to accurately display the historical layers of the Pleasure Ground and the important periods of its development.

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 Ground, 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 Grounds 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.

Dog walking

If you have a pre-booked ticket to the house and gardens you are very welcome to walk your dog in the Pleasure Ground. 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 Ground.

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