Rousham Garden designed by the Father of the English Art of Landscape Design

Jun 13, 2017 - POSTED BY Anna Halloran - Gardeners Choice

William Kent (1685-1748) was an artist, with his work encompassing painting, interiors, landscapes, architecture, furniture and book illustrations. He is however best remembered as the ‘father’ of English Landscape Design and without him there might arguably never have been Lancelot ‘Capablility’ Brown. Whilst he was clearly influenced by the ‘Grand Tour’ he undertook and the Italian classical civilisation he encountered, his vision and approach to landscape design differed from others in that rather than just imitating what he had seen, he incorporated the best of what he had seen into the natural landscape he saw around him. This signalled a departure from uniformly formal gardens and the start of something new. He and his successor Capability Brown are arguably the two most important English Landscape Designers from whose work all of our designs emerge. The gardens at Rousham, near Oxford, are one of Kent’s finest examples of how he idealised nature and was able to incorporate formal features and the art of design in a very naturalistic and unobtrusive manner. I love the way he ‘leads’ you around the garden and how the approach to a different part of the garden is often quite secretive, be it down a long flower border, through a stone archway softened by climbing plants, or down a tree lined, meandering path that opens out onto an open space of dazzling natural beauty.

It was just as important for Kent to celebrate natural beauty as it was to create elaborate designs, and the next three photos show how beautifully he achieved this. In this garden you really are at one with nature and the extraordinary beauty there is in the natural world. Rousham is littered with stunning statues and stone urns, which are set to mark entrances, or to be viewed from afar to draw your eye into the distance, such as in Photo 6.  Kent’s 1738 plan for Rousham was described, according to the Rousham brochure as ‘a rarity, an organic yet disciplined design, applying order loosely, yet lucidly, to a slice of English country, achieving an effect crystallising Nature’. It is one of the few public gardens that remains almost unaltered over the centuries, which makes it a perfect place to view what a garden of the 18th century might have looked like.

The last three photos show the more formal parterre and rose garden by the pigeon house, which lay east of the house. The enchanting pigeon house dates back to 1685, and still has the revolving ladder in it. There are many little pigeons inside the house, whose door was open when I was there, so I presume they are able to fly in and out at will. The formal parterre is now in full bloom with hundreds of Digitalis, or foxgloves, amidst the restraints of the clipped Buxus edging and the large clipped Buxus balls. A delightful haven for bees, butterflies, and people.  No wonder Monty Don says he prefers William Kent’s work to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s and that Horace Walpole said of Kent that ‘he leaped the fence and saw that all nature was a garden!