You can easily lose a day in quiet contemplation within the splendour of the historic gardens at Rousham which represent the first phase of English landscape design.
Originally designed by royal gardener Charles Bridgeman in his trademark naturalistic style, these celebrated gardens were later extended and developed by architect and painter William Kent. They remain almost as he left them to this day and are considered to be one of England’s most important gardens.
The influence of Kent’s time in Italy is clear from the Roman style buildings which punctuate the grounds, providing points of drama and interest at the end of paths and the turning of corners.
Sculpture and Statuary
Rousham is a real theatre of a garden with areas of such enticing names as Venus’s ’Vale and the Cold Bath.
To the south side of the garden, the vast bowling green lawn looks out across the vista of Oxfordshire countryside and has at its heart a striking statue by Peter Sheermakers of a lion attacking a horse.
As you walk through the landscape you can find numerous architectural antiques including classical statues, follies, a grotto and Roman-style temples including a colonnade of seven arches called the Praeneste, reputedly modelled on the ruins at Palestrina.
But also, away from the drama and scale, are quiet alcoves to spend a while on a garden seat with a picnic enjoying the unspoiled ambience.
The 17th century house (not generally open to the public) was built for Sir Robert Dormer and remodelled by William Kent in the 18th century for General James Dormer who fought alongside the Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Blenheim. It is still in the ownership of the same family.
The river running through
The River Cherwell meanders through the graceful gardens, filling the long rill, cascades and larger ponds on different levels of the grounds. Each time you visit you will find another walking route to explore.
Footpaths trail through beautiful woodland and climb to the gardens on the south side of the house which are laid out in a Tudor style with overflowing rose parterres, clipped box hedging and herbaceous borders within three 17th century walled gardens with numerous fruit trees. In the smallest walled garden there is a wonderful original, circular dovecote with stone tile roof.
William Kent introduced the graceful Palladian style of architecture to England, notably at Chiswick House. His celebrated landscape gardens include Chiswick, Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire and Shotover Park.
Picturesque English garden
Roaming chickens greet your arrival and there is an honesty box for entrance fees. The uncommercialised gardens are rarely busy, so it’s possible to lose yourself in quiet appreciation of this wonderful landscape which Monty Don describes as “one of the greatest gardens in the world.”
Rousham has been the film location for several movie and TV productions. If you are on a tour of gardens, it is within a fifteen minute drive of Blenheim Palace.