The garden in autumn and winter

A view across the lake at Stourhead in autumn

Stourhead is one of the world’s finest landscape gardens and in autumn you can see vistas highlighted with burnished leaves and rusty colour palettes. As the leaves depart the trees and many shrubs lie dormant waiting for spring, winter is the perfect time to appreciate the design of the garden and how Henry ‘the Magnificent's’ vision created something spectacular.

The autumn display

With a lake at its centre, the garden is planned with temples and follies and a planting scheme which allows the colours to wash through the landscape of a 6-8 week period.

Autumn colour at Stourhead in Wiltshire
Autumn colour at Stourhead
Autumn colour at Stourhead in Wiltshire

Though autumn never keeps to the same schedule, towards the end of August the North American maples have begun to turn a scarlet red, signifying the start of the autumn season. Around this time the Japanese acers, hornbeam, chestnuts, also start their vivid display. A little later in autumn the Tulip trees take on a yellow hue while the oak and beech finish off the season with their bright oranges late in October.

Throughout autumn the garden draws in thousands of people to enjoy the spectacular display of colour, but the best way to see autumn is to come a few times and see the season progress. It’s a gradual change with different species of tree changing throughout autumn, and so there isn’t one specific moment which is the perfect time to visit.

Winter highlights

The garden temples take pride of place during the winter months offering wonderful view-points (and shelters from the rain) before you continue on the circular walk of the lake.

The winter light and low sun cast shadows throughout the day allowing the garden to be seen in a new perspective. As well as creating the beautiful vistas, the absence of leaves on the trees amplifies sound in the garden too. At this quieter time of year you are more likely to see some of Britain’s native species of bird exploring the garden in winter.

Temple of Apollo at Stourhead
Morning sunlight coming through the columns of the Temple of Apollo at Stourhead
Temple of Apollo at Stourhead

Throughout the winter months look out for the fiery orange of the willows on the island closest to Pantheon as they defy winter’s normal colour scheme and add a pop of colour as you look across the lake. Several varieties of hellebore will be flowering in the garden borders adding a welcome splash of colour in mid-winter and offering a good source of early food for pollinating insects. In late January and throughout February look for the bright white blooms of several varieties of snowdrops as they appear in many of the garden borders – heralding the forthcoming arrival of spring.

With fewer visitors in the garden and no limit to the length of time you can stay, take time to enjoy the tranquillity of this special time of year.

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