An office visit to Rousham, not far from our Oxfordshire farmhouse project.
Rousham was the first landscape garden of the English landscape movement, designed by William Kent (1686-1748), and sits, the first and still unequalled, unaltered on its quiet bank down to the Cherwell. It is a creation in its own right, separate from the house, and is to me a work of breathtaking beauty and quiet assurance.
Through nearly three centuries, Kent’s hand still quietly guides you round on a tour of masterly curation. The central space of three descending pools, under the watchful protection of graceful statues, is one you leave and return to, each time at a lower level and each time with a slight sense of surprise.
On the first journey your return through the trees follows a narrow rill whose gentle gradient causes the water within to accompany you at a gentle walking pace. There is the feeling that all of civilization is contained in that rill, on its journey from darkness to light.
The garden feels informal and yet views cross it with astonishing accuracy and control. An arcade built in to the hillside, which you realise you had walked over on entering the garden, has a robust confidence. Only in the last bay does it reveal a vista back across the whole of the garden to a statue on the far side framed in a halo of foliage, which just a pace before had been concealed. There is the feeling that the statues populating the spaces are complicit in the game of discovery.
Outside Kent’s garden, on the other side of the house, is a classic English walled garden with alongside a dovecot surrounded by box parterre. Even this seems to be the walled garden of all walled gardens, in their way the equal of Kent’s genius, all still under the care of the family that built them.