The world-famous garden at Stourhead
With hills, water and classical architecture overlaid by a fabulous collection of trees and shrubs, Stourhead was described as ‘a living work of art’ when first opened in the 1740s. Meandering paths offer vistas through trees to classical temples and surprises at every turn.
As the weather warms up the days start to lengthen, the garden bursts into life. Spring is a very special time of year at Stourhead, with spring bulbs, rhododendrons and azaleas all creating stunning displays throughout the season.
Throughout May and June we celebrate Floralia, which in ancient Rome, was a festival in honour of Flora, goddess of flowers and spring. At Stourhead, the Temple of Flora was the first of the three temples to be built in 1745. Flora’s temple speaks of Henry ‘the Magnificent’s’ reverence for ancient Roman culture, but it’s also symbolic nod to the significance of the goddess of flowers in a landscape garden where spring’s arrival is so extravagant every year.
Look out for new life on the lake as ducklings and signets hatch and start to take to the water with their parents. Swallows return in April and May and can be spotted in groups flying low and fast across the main lake and top lawns as they feed.
As you walk the garden route look out for more information about the botanical spring highlights and take time to enjoy the tranquillity, freshness and vibrant colour offered by this special time of year.
Stourhead garden's history
Henry ‘the Magnificent’ was one of a small group of early eighteenth-century ‘gentleman gardeners’ using their acres to create a particularly personal landscape which expressed their hopes and beliefs about the world and their journey through it. His vision, recreating a classical landscape, depended on water.
The centre piece of the garden at Stourhead is the lake, which dictates the path you take and the views you enjoy. The damming of the river and the creation of the lake was an ambitious undertaking. Henry ‘the Magnificent’ and his architect Henry Flitcroft planned it before work began on the garden buildings such as the Temple of Flora, Pantheon and Grotto.
The original planting of the garden was undertaken by a team of 50 gardeners, who planted and tended beech, oak, sycamore, Spanish chestnut, ash and holm oak.
" The greens should be ranged together in large masses as the shades are in painting: to contrast the dark masses with light ones, and to relieve each dark mass itself with little sprinkling of lighter greens here and there."
Developing the garden
When Sir Richard Colt Hoare inherited the garden, he made changes to his Grandfathers design including removing some of the structures in the garden such as the Chinese Umbrella, Turkish Tent and a Hermitage on the path to the Temple of Apollo. From 1791 onwards he also added to the planting with many more trees such as birch, horse chestnut, tulip and ash as well as underplanting with laurel and rhododendron, which gives us the garden we know and love today.
Stourhead garden today
The garden is a tranquil place to sit, relax and immerse yourself in 300 years of history. The lake is set amongst picture-perfect lawns, surrounded by trees. The different shades of green leaves on display throughtout spring and summer create a wonderful backdrop and the lakeside walk looks particularly fresh and vibrant after a shower. In autumn the garden becomes ablaze with firey reds through to gentle buttery yellows, and a walk around the garden at this time of year offers a sensory feast.