The weather at Christmas was mixed to say the least. We did have at least one day with a break in the clouds providing us with a beautiful Winters day, cold, crisp and bright. To make the most of the day and in desperate need of some fresh air, we headed to Rousham for a little garden visit.
Rousham is all about vistas and the landscape and, having visited before, some years ago, I knew that it would not be a disadvantage to go in Winter. The garden was originally designed by Charles Bridgman and completed in 1737 following which it was updated by William Kent (1685-1748). It has remained largely as per the original design having never been modernised or changed in accordance with the fashion, remaining in the ownership of the same family.
On arrival at the property you are directed by a hand written sign to leave your car at the stables. The stables are handsome but offer a surprisingly small area for parking which perhaps demonstrates how secret the place remains. There is an unmanned ticket booth where you are trusted to buy your ticket (£5) and another notice advises that you are welcome to bring a picnic but that no dogs or children under the age of fifteen are permitted. I failed to pack a picnic and wondered whether the hastily made cheese sarnies in my pocket would be permitted.
We headed off along a path which lead us around the side of the house (built in 1635) to find the view and the ‘bowling green’. The ‘bowling green’ is a large manicured expanse of grass, edged with paths, offering uninterrupted views from the house out towards the landscape beyond. There is no other form of planting to distract from the view and its simplicity is part of its beauty. The surrounding farmland adds to the so called natural landscape and has beautiful, if inquisitive Long-Horn cattle grazing. Their progress is hampered by the invisible wall of the Ha-ha.
There are a number of pathways to follow around the grounds which are unusually narrow, single file even, and we followed these into the woodland area which leads down towards the river. Thanks to the recent incessant rain the ground was saturated and made for soggy, slippy, walking conditions. A feature in this area is a long narrow rill of water which was full of water and was busy about its business, the water rushing along a course where it normally would trickle. The slip of water shone like a dark silver edged stripe among the trees, this seems contemporary, minimalist even, yet was constructed in the same period. The huge trees in the woodland are under-planted with clipped laurel and box which covers what would otherwise be a bare woodland floor and presumably keeps the weeds at bay. The rill is hidden so that it is impossible to see where it starts or ends unless you follow its course. Following its course we came across pavilions, a pond, a number of classical statues and darkness.
Coming out of the wooded area in search of light, we turned up towards the house and followed a series of doorways around the walled area of the gardens. These doorways take the form of openings in the most gigantic yew hedge,
an ornate gate
or an opening of the walled garden.
These lead you in and out of the walled garden with its ancient fruit trees, some ankle deep in fallen apples, their branches gnarled and twisted by the years.
The vegetable garden was as you would expect rather brown and flat and devoid of much in the way of vegetables. There was some Cavalo Nero and some Brussels and signs of earlier Dahlias. I peered in through the greenhouse windows, thick with condensation and could see rows of small squashes and huge numbers of cuttings.
All herbaceous growth was chopped to ground level and cleared away, only the rusty iron stakes to indicate at the height of what lies beneath. The branches of climbing roses could be seen gripping to the ancient brickwork of the garden walls.
There is a pear and a cherry trained around the curved tower of the dovecote, picture perfect in the low winter sun.
There are various seats in the walled garden, encouraging visitors to sit a while. A hardy couple had found a seat in the sunshine and were enjoying their permitted picnic surrounded by the parterre.
We had no need for a seat, feeling a little cold we ate our cheese sandwiches secretly out of our pockets, hoping no one would notice. Rousham is a very special place to visit, a time forgot kind of place. I felt almost as if we had been granted permission to pop in and take a look, if you are passing kind of visit, rather as you would a friend’s garden.
The garden designer Dan Pearson in his book ‘Spirit’ has written a detailed description of the garden and how it has has inspired him and if you are interested in learning a little more, I would recommend you take a look at the book, published in 2009 Murray & Sorrell FUEL.