The world-famous garden at Stourhead

The Temple of Apollo overlooking the lake 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.

Spring highlights in the garden

Daffodils by the Palladian Bridge at Stourhead

Daffodils

The yellow trumpets of daffodils brighten any spring day as they appear in swathes throughout the garden and wider estate during March and April. The daffodils at Stourhead are mostly a wild variety which are much rarer these days and an important source of nectar of early pollinators.

Rhododendrons in bloom in Stourhead

Blossom

Blossom is one of the first signs that spring is well and truly on the way. Throughout March the pastel pinks of the showy and fragrant magnolia blooms litter the landscape followed by a magnificent display of rhododendron and azalea blossom from April through to June. These jubilant blooms fill garden with their tones of buttery yellows, purples and every imaginable shade of pink.

The Temple of Flora at Stourhead in spring

Floralia

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.

Video

The Blossom, the Hunt, the Mother

‘The Hunt, the Blossom, the Mother’ is a contemporary dance piece performed at Stourhead and inspired by the ancient Goddesses found throughout Stourhead's collection of art, sculpture and architecture. The dance tells the story of Demeter, Goddess of the harvest, and her journey to find her daughter Persephone after she’s abducted by the God of the Underworld. To the Greeks and Romans, this explained the everlasting cycle of the seasons and the sense of overwhelming joy we feel at the returning of spring each 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. 

Spring brings new life and leaves to the garden at Stourhead
A view across the lake towards the Pantheon in early spring
Spring brings new life and leaves to the garden at Stourhead

Showstopping lake

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."
- Henry Hoare ‘The Magnificent’

Garden landmarks

Early autumn colour surrounding the Temple of Flora at Stourhead, Wiltshire

Temple of Flora

Dedicated to the Roman goddess of flowers and spring, this temple was the first garden building erected by Henry Hoare II between 1744 and 1746. Over the doorway the Latin inscription reads ‘Keep away, anyone profane, keep away’. Henry asks you to enter his garden in the right spirit.

Statue in the grotto at Stourhead, Wiltshire

The Grotto

Grottos were popular in Italian Renaissance gardens as places of retreat from summer heat. In the summer of 1762 Henry recorded his enjoyment, cooling off here. Stourhead’s Grotto is a circular, domed chamber built to resemble a cave.

A view of the Pantheon at Stourhead

The Pantheon

Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, this structure was built in 1753-54. It's the largest garden building at Stourhead. ‘Pantheon’ means a temple sacred to all the gods. The temple is filled with statues of classical deities, including a marble Hercules created by Rysbrack.

The Palladian Bridge at Stourhead, Wiltshire

The Palladian Bridge

Inspired by the work of 16th-century architect Palladio, this five-arched stone bridge was built in 1762. Although ornamental, the bridge was intended to look practical. It was designed to create the illusion that a river flows through the village and under the bridge.

The Bristol High Cross at Stourhead in Wiltshire

The Bristol Cross

Originally sited in Bristol, this restored medieval monument was brought to Stourhead by Henry Hoare II in 1765, using six wagons pulled by oxen. It depicts medieval English kings and queens in intricate stonework.

The Temple of Apollo at Stourhead

The Temple of Apollo

This circular temple was built in 1765, by the architect Henry Flitcroft, to outdo William Chamber’s earlier Temple of the Sun at Kew. It is dedicated to Apollo, the sun god. Nestled on a hilltop, the temple has delightful views over the lake.

The Gothic Cottage at Stourhead in autumn

The Gothic Cottage

Also known as Watch Cottage, this was originally a rustic building. The Gothic seat and porch were added by Richard Colt Hoare in 1806. 'Gothick' features were popular additions to functional buildings during this period.

Rock Arch at Stourhead in Wiltshire

Rock arch

The arch was built in 1762. It was possibly inspired by Poussin’s painting - The Choice of Hercules, which hangs in the picture gallery. In this painting, Hercules ponders which path to take - the uphill path of virtue or the path of vice. Henry Hoare II may be asking us to make a similar choice - take the steep route over the arch or to pass beneath it.

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.