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The Autumnal Genius of Stourhead

Chelcey Berryhill - Sunday January 19, 2014 12:26
Stourhead

Alan Power hosts Royal Oak’s Board at Stourhead, Wiltshire.

As I write in mid-September, we are now firmly in the midst of the most spectacular time of year at Stourhead. The days are shortening and the temperatures are dropping. The mist is beginning to form on the lake as the mornings cool down, the Pantheon sometimes looking as if it is floating on the clouds. There are hints of autumnal color appearing on some of the trees, predominantly the American ones. The anticipation of just how ‘good’ the season will be is evident among the staff, volunteers and the visitors too.

Autumn is when the true genius of the place can be witnessed: the architecture, the artistry, the planting and design, the perfection within the scale of every little intervention all working to create one of the most beautiful scenes in the world.

Indeed, Stourhead is one of the finest landscape gardens in Europe, and I would argue, in the world. Wrapped in and protected by the rolling hills of the ancient landscapes of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset, Stourhead has evolved over the last 300 years around a valley originally called ‘Paradise’. Before this period the land was occupied by the Stourton family from 1448 until the early 18th Century. Human settlements have been recorded here since before the Iron Age. Lived in, admired, journeyed to, shared and recorded by millions of people during the centuries Stourhead deserves the fame and importance it receives. As the London Chronicle wrote in 1757: “Stourhead—all is grand, or simple, or a beautiful mixture of both.”

After almost 20 years working in and now managing the garden and estate at Stourhead, my love and commitment to the place grows every day. Often referred to as a pleasure ground in the past the garden at Stourhead has far exceeded the original ambition of the great Henry Hoare in the early 18th Century. Not only is it a pleasure to gaze upon at all times of the year but it is also a wonder to explore and experience with close friends, family and loved ones; it’s an experience to be shared, talked about, treasured and passed on. This is one part of the work I do that really moves me, when I witness the heartfelt way in which the beauty of Stourhead can take one over I am genuinely emotional. I feel proud of the work we do and achieve at Stourhead, I am so proud of the work we, the National Trust, do at all of our properties.

However, it is our vision for the future of Stourhead that I am most proud of. Working in the knowledge that we hope to care for this magnificent place, secure its future, understand more of its past and inspire the next generation through sharing the Stourhead experience makes every day here a pleasure.
Our ambition for the garden is a simple yet deeply important one and will be realized with your support: we will have the landscape garden and its superb architectural features in as good condition as possible by 2020. We will re-introduce some of the missing elements of the plant collection and add the 21st century layer to the collection in the Pinetum. This will be approximately 300 years after the Hoare family moved to this beautiful corner of Wiltshire, gave Stourhead its name and created a legacy for the nation and the world.

topics: Travel