Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

Rousham in the Winter

Much has been written about Rousham over the centuries. The house, which was built in 1635 by Sir Robert Dormer, is still in the ownership of the same family. The garden was laid out by Charles Bridgeman in 1737 and then updated and improved in 1741 by William Kent, who also added the two wings to the house. Both house and garden are remarkably little changed since originally built. This combined with the fact that there is little road noise gives the place an air of being quite outside the 21st Century. 

Rousham, front and stable block

Rousham has become a place of pilgrimage for garden designers and landscape architects wishing to learn more about garden history and style. So, together with fellow garden designer Amy Hannigan, I set out on a cold and crisp January day to find out more about what makes this garden so celebrated. 

Rousham, main front

Visiting Rousham is a very low-key event. A single track road with passing places leads from the main road into the estate, where a small painted sign points to 'Parking'. Presided over on the day of our visit by a very handsome peacock, the car park was deserted. An honesty box asks for the £5 entry fee and the garden is yours for a time. No children under 15, no dogs, no tea shop or gift shop pressing you to spend money; an air of quiet contentment takes over. A brief 'hello' from the gardener was our only intereaction or sight of another person during our visit.

We set out on the visitors route devised in the 18th century and rounded the house to the Bowling Lawn.

Garden Door, Rousham

The most enchanting door leads from the house out to the garden. Can you imagine a better door?

View from Rousham house

This is the view that then meets the eye.

Rousham, looking back at house

A large level lawn, the 'Bowling Green', was created in about 1720.

Lion Attacking a Horse

Away from the house, the Lion and Horse sculpture by Scheemaker from 1740 leads the eye to the hills beyond. The land falls away below this point to the River Cherwell below. 

The visitors route through the garden takes one through dark shade and dappled sunlight and then into bright area of clear light before plunging back into shadow and darkness. It is a wonderful exercise in how to use light to create atmosphere and to lead the visitor to the next point. 

Preaneste Terrace

We stopped at the sun drenched Praeneste Terrace with the seven arches. This resting point has benches facing out to the view towards the River Cherwell and the hills beyond. The colour is a faded mustard with orange and the benches are a cool grey which provides nice contrast. We sat in the sun for a spell before plunging back into shade, down the path and emerging into the sun at the Octagon Pond. 

Octagon Pond

The Octagon Pond is at the end of Rousham's famous rill or Watery Walk. It is odd to think this was created so many years ago as it is such a simple design, yet so effective and magcal. It is at once both modern and ancient feeling; the flowing water rushing downwards past whilst one is walking up the hill, through the mature growth along this sinuous waterway. It is one of the most captivating aspects of Rousham.

The Cold Bath

Halfway up the hill is the Cold Bath, the crystal clear water was steaming in the very cold air on the day of our visit. Looking back down the Watery Walk towards the Octagonal Pond had this wonderful sight of dappled sunlight streaming through the trees. 

The Cold Bath

The source of the Watery Walk is located near to the Temple of Echo. Look at the colour of the interior, a sludgy, yellow which is actually very similar to the colour we have just painted our sitting room. 

Temple of Echo

Rousham Yellow

In addition to this magical landscape created by Kent, there is a large walled agrden which continues to be cultivated and can be accessed through this gate behind the Pyramid. 

Garden Door, Rousham

Whilst I will always admit to having a very weak spot for a walled garden of any shape or size, entering through this gate was a very magical moment. The sunlight was streaming over the church tower and the temperature was a good few degrees warmer than outside the gate. 

We walked through the garden to the churchyard which has these rather amazingly bonkers clipped yew pieces which I shall be emulating here at Wyck Farmhouse very soon (or at least attempting as these are a good 200 years older than what I have!). 

Church Yard, Rousham

Clipped Yew, Rousham Church

The churchyward leads then to the Pigeon House garden which has a traditionally laid out rose parterre of clipped box which was outlined in crispy frost. 

Pigeon House Garden

It was sad to leave Rousham at the end of the day but lunch was calling and it was nice to get in from the cold. I am looking forward to going back though to see how it changes, if at all, through the year. 





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