“Whenever I come here, there’s something new to see, and in every season it’s beautiful,” said my friend, as we slowly made our way round the garden at Stourhead, pausing often to take photos or admire a view.
This National Trust estate in Wiltshire is a crowd-puller. Its grand, Palladian-style house is stuffed with history, and with cafes, galleries, shops, a pub and more on the estate, there is plenty to see and do.
But it was the garden my friend was referring to, and she’s right. This garden, created in the mid-1700s, is beautiful all year round, even on drizzly summer days like the one on which we recently visited…
After approaching it down a zig-zag path into a secluded valley, the first view of the garden is over a five-arch bridge and across the lake to a classical temple, one of several to explore. The path follows a route around the lake, offering ever-changing vistas across the water.
We headed anti-clockwise, and, at this time of year, the rhododendrons, with their riot of brash red and pink flowers, were the first subject for my camera. In among them, there were plenty of other gems to spot too.
Some of the prettiest flora in the garden have to be the wildflowers and aquatic plants, including water lilies – one of my favourite plants – all of which emphasise the very natural feel of the garden.
As well at the classical temples to explore, the lakeside grotto is worth a visit. Damp, dark and intriguing, it’s right down at the level of the lake, so offers a different view across the water. Within its gloomy chambers are several classical sculptures, whose delicacy contrasts with the grotto’s rough stone walls and spooky atmosphere.
After an hour or so we arrived back at the bridge, views of it framed by more wildflowers and rhododendrons. I could have gone round again, but a cup of tea beckoned. I’ll be back soon, though, I’m sure, when the changing seasons will have given the gardens a whole new look.