Overlooked and underestimated

Taking a moment to think about their work at Stowe for over 30 years, Barry Smith - Head of Gardens and Estates and Paul Stefanovic - Assistant Head Gardener

Stowe might be well known for it's association with 'Capability' Brown, Sir John Vanbrugh and William Kent, but their involvement only spans a small part of the 300 years of Stowe history from the early 1700's through to today. Ten head gardeners have overseen the estate along with numerous other gardeners and architects. Take a look at the work of those that have been overlooked and underestimated by the history books.

Mr Bunell - Head Gardener, 1715-1725

The story starts off with Mr Bunell. Not a lot is known about him but he did work on the initial areas surrounding the house based on ideas of Lord Cobham. This included initial works on what would become the North and South Fronts including tree planting and a series of formal ponds. From 1716 he worked alongside Vanbrugh's architectural inspiration and Charles Bridgeman, the garden designer. Together, they planned out new gardens and worked to transform the older ones.

William Love - Head Gardener, 1725-1741

William Love replaced Bunell as Head Gardener for Stowe, working alongside Bridgeman, Vanbrugh in his final year and his replacement, James Gibbs. In this period, much of the southern end of the gardens were developed and the employment of William Kent created the Elysian Fields to the east of the house. When Love left in 1741, 'Capability' Brown took over as head gardener.

A historic view from 1753 by Bickham shows the Grotto, Temple of Contemplation and Shell monuments. This view today is vastly different.
A historic view from 1753 by Bickham shows the Grotto, Temple of Contemplation and Shell monuments. This view today is vastly different.

Richard Woodward - Head Gardener, 1751-1779

Following on from the death of Viscount Cobham and the work of 'Capability' Brown, Richard Woodward took over. He was transferred by the new owner Earl Temple from his previous home at Wotton House. Like Bunell, very little is known about him, but he did continue with the work of naturalising the landscape begun by Brown. During this period, the Octagon Lake was re-shaped and Lake Pavilions moved.

Autumn colours of bright orange and yellow on the trees reflects upon the Octogan Lake at Stowe
Autumn colour of bright orange and yellow on the trees reflects upon the Octogan Lake at Stowe

James Brown - Head Gardener, 1819-1839

Changes to the gardens had slowed down considerably by now and whilst alterations were being made to landscapes, temples and other areas, no new temples were added. James Brown did however create the final expansion to the gardens. The Lamport Garden extended Stowe by 17 acres for a final time, taking them beyond the Palladian Bridge. A waterfall cascade named 'Brown's Cascade' links the small ponds of the Japanese gardens with the Octagon Lake. These were the last additions before the death of the First Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. When the second Duke took over, Brown went to work on other estates.

Venture into the world of rock and water in  the Lamport gardens. The area has been restored over the last five years and has very different feel the eighteenth-century garden. 

Quirky Fact: James brown developed a method for growing Pineapples using steam. At Stowe he grew a prize winning pineapple 12 inches high and weighing 12lb

Mr Ferguson - Head Gardener, 1839-1861

As the new owner, the Second Duke of Buckingham and Chandos brought his own head gardener to continue with the work. Ferguson continued with the work on Lamport Garden with further development to allow access through to Lamport Lodge. The Duke however had extravagant tastes and wasn't quite so fussed about the gardens.

After the bankruptcy of the Duke, all but a small amount of gardening was forced to end. Mr Ferguson remained Head Gardener and an auction raised £75,000 which paid for four gardeners to perform basic upkeep. Moving into the 1860's the gardens gained a resurgence.

Frozen in time

After Ferguson left in 1861, there were no official head gardeners at Stowe until the Stowe School took ownership of the estate in the 1920's. Mr Head was first to take the role whilst Mr Thomson took over through the transition to National Trust ownership. Through this period, changes were small, primarily adding facilities to the school such as the running track, golf course and tennis courts. Small amounts of maintenance were also conducted on temples.

Barry Smith - Head Gardener, 2001 - Present

Barry is our current of Head Gardens and Estates. Since 2001 he has worked with a team of gardeners and volunteers to maintain the historic landscape and ensure it's looked after for future generations. Barry's knowledge of the gardens spans decades, working his way up from role of gardener for Stowe School in the 1980's and seeing the garden management transfer to the National Trust along with the restoration of various landscapes and monuments. He now also looks after some of our 'little gems' in the Aylesbury Vale area of National Trust properties. If you see him or the team around the gardens, say hi and quiz them on something!

A middle aged man with brown hair and glasses, is pruning a laurel bush. In the background you can see a semi-circular temple across a lake called the Temple of British Worthies.