I have a beautiful book by Dan Pearson called Spirit. I love the way he writes; each piece draws you into the page until you feel that you are sharing the space with him (if only…!). Since owning the book, I have always wanted to visit Rousham, an Oxfordshire garden that has changed little in design since it was completed around 1740 by William Kent, and so I was delighted when Mr Murphy suggested a mini weekend garden visit, to a garden of my choosing.
I could barely contain my excitement as we approached the very simple entrance. The handwritten signage gives a clue to the experience that awaits. And it is an experience, too; all your senses are stretched by the delights that begin even before you reach the garden proper. From the honesty-box ticket machine in the old stable yard, and the painted sign (no children under 15, no pushchairs, no dogs), to the free-range posh hens scuffing around in the dust, this is a place that holds many surprises.
And we’re not even in there yet.
Passing a small conservatory housing potted geraniums with self-seeding lavender in the gravel path leading to it, you round the house and your breath is taken away by the expanse of perfectly mowed formal lawn, gravel paths running round the perimeter and an absolutely massive and knock-you-over yew hedge along the right hand side. I immediately felt like Alice in Wonderland in an out of scale world as I noticed a tiny gap in the hedge showing a flash of colour beyond.
I needed an ‘Eat me’ cake.
The hedge is deep and hollow enough for a good den, and I couldn’t help but think of the children who have grown up with this fabulous garden, making camps and playing hide and seek among the branches. Before you venture into the bright garden beyond the hedge, you are tempted by a narrow path one person wide, running the length of the hedge and toward to a wooded area. This would have to wait. The draw of the long boarders the other side of the gate was too strong to ignore.
I wasn’t disappointed.
The most beautiful espalier (is this the right way to spell it?) apple trees lined a path. They were all different varieties, and some plants looked as though they’d been there forever. So much for a bad year for fruit – these trees were drooping with deliciousness.
Even in late September this rose was covered in blooms and looked stunning.
Rousham surprises you at every turn. One moment you are concealed within a shady, overhanging tree, turn a corner and you’re faced with a doorway through to another world. The walled garden was bursting with rows of dahlias, cosmos and zingy zinnias that would bring a smile to anyone lucky enough to have a jug of these jewel-like beauties on their kitchen table.
After the eye-popping colours of the cutting garden, we found ourselves in a part of the garden so peaceful it made us stop and catch our breaths. A lawn of the deepest, lushest green was cast with tall shadows from various surrounding trees and a perfectly placed table and chairs added to the scene. I wondered if very soon a tea party would be set up and Alice herself would appear…
Walk along the dahlia border, (and I have never seen dahlias quite like it!) and you will reach the rose garden complete with peacocks strutting their stuff. Nothing too unusual about that, apart form the most beautiful dove cote smack bang in the middle of it, with then most fabulous fruit trees trained to curl around its walls.
Sneak past the walled garden and back to the lawn, and two gaps in the trees beckon you forward leading down to steep banks towards a more informal and wild part of the garden. This part of Rousham has a very different atmosphere and is a wonderfully tranquil place to wander, and as you do you feel your shoulders relax, your chest open and your walk slow to an almost meditative pace. A magical place.
A narrow rill snakes through the trees from a small secluded octagonal Icepool, and out onto the much larger pool in a setting that provides a bright breathing space and views far into the distance. On further and you reach a covered walkway with the softest light and views that have you wondering if you are back in the 1800s.
Mr Murphy had to drag me away from this fabulous garden, but the promise of a return trip had me reaching for my diary. On the way back to the car, by the ticket machine, I noticed a scrap of paper with a faded scribbled note left by the Rousham’s owners, the Cottrell-Dormers. This really was the stuff of Wonderland as far as Mr Murphy was concerned – a recommendation to a local pub. Now, who were we to turn down such a tipoff? We had a delightful lunch at The Oxford Arms and not a Mad Hatter in sight.
Please go and visit Rousham. It’s gorgeous.