When is a garden a park or a park a garden? Exploring the hills, lakes, and vistas of Stourhead made us wonder. For a while, we strolled through groves of trees, some native to Britain, many imported from distant lands, even tall rough-barked sequoias from California. Then we stepped out onto a green hillside, a blue lake in the distance, bordered by lawns and clusters of smaller trees and garden plantings. Across the lake, we glimpsed a Greek temple, its aged columns weathered to a rough patina. This place was called a garden, but it seemed more of a park, with its paths, meadows, forested hills, lakes and streams, temples and grottos, spectacular and beautiful, but not anything we could imagine creating ourselves.
However, someone did create it: Harry Hoare, whose father inherited the estate when Harry was six years old near the end of the nineteenth century. Together, over the years, father and son restored the once neglected property into a perfect example of a certain type of English landscape garden. For a fee, anyone now can enjoy the beauty of this one-time haven for the privileged class, even tromp through the great neoclassic manor house.
The gardens, though, are Stourhead’s claim to fame and we had a beautiful day to explore them. Even with clusters of visitors wandering here and there, a feeling of peace and calm lingered. Strolling through an English landscape garden like this, wherever your gaze rests you should find a pleasant, understated scene, graceful and in good taste. Stourhead pretty much did the job.
This was a place that invited us to roam without worrying where we might end up. Around a bend, we found scarlet and white rhododendrons in bloom, but a few steps farther on we discovered a lichen-covered stone grotto and beyond that a mini-Temple of Apollo. From a densely shaded bend in the path, we descended suddenly into a sunny open space, looking across a finger of the lake toward a weathered water wheel. It all might be too calculatedly picturesque for everyone’s taste, but we enjoyed discovering the secrets of Harry’s garden, or park.
If you enjoy gardens, you'll also
enjoy Simone Martel's collection of
garden-themed stories, EXILE'S GARDEN.
Edwin E. Smith Publishing