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Stowe Landscape Gardens consist of 750 acres of parkland with ornamental lakes, wooded valleys, and a 250 acre deer park. The gardens at Stowe are considered one of the finest examples of landscape gardening of the 18th century and were celebrated by a number of poets. More than 40 monuments and temples designed by James Gibbs, William Kent, and Sir John Vanbrugh are in the grounds of the Georgian landscape gardens.
There are hidden areas and secret meanings everywhere. The different areas of the garden are: the Elysian Fields, the Grecian valley, Hawkwell hill and field, the Home Park, the Deer Park, the South Vista, the Eleven Acre Lake, and the Octagon Lake.
Stowe garden started its life as a typical walled garden, developed by Sir Richard Temple, before the 1680s. A manor house, vineyard, and orchard were part of the estate. Stowe church and the village itself were just by the estate. By 1683 a new house had been constructed on the estate, and all the old buildings were torn down. Two parterres were added next to the old walled gardens. A walk was planted with a double avenue of trees, and a second garden area was developed west of the walled gardens.
In the years between 1712 and 1716, the north front and the course (double avenue of elm trees), and formal ponds to the south were added. The gardens were further changed by Sir John Vanbrugh as architect and Charles Bridgeman as garden designer. They planted a yew hedge around the parterres and built a 40 foot fountain in the parterre.
Walls were removed from part of the walled gardens and more ponds were built. More land was added to the gardens by using the former wilderness area. A terrace walk with elms, called Nelson’s walk, was built in 1718. A second walk, Roger’s, lined with chestnuts, was then added. Between the two the seven Saxon deities were set around an altar. Another garden feature, the temple of Bacchus was built with an obelisk facing it. Next came the rotunda (1720), Queen’s Theatre, and Queen’s and King’s Pillars.
South of these the Sleeping Wood was created. Then an amphitheatre and a ha-ha were built. The Octagon Lake saw life in 1722 as did the lake pavilions. Lord Cobham who inherited in 1726 employed architect James Gibbs and further developed the land to enclose the Home Park. Changes were made to existing structures, and a dam was built to flood part of Home Park to make an 11 acre lake.
William Kent replaced James Gibb in the 1730s and added the southwest arm and the Elysian Fields and designed the Temple of Venus and the Hermitage, among other structures. A circular carriage drive was added to cross the Palladian bridge. In the 1740s several personnel changed, and more buildings were added, among them the temple of Diana, the temple of Liberty, the Queen’s temple, and the Keeper’s Lodge. The beech trees and the parterres were taken out. ‘Capability’ Brown began the development of the Grecian valley in the mid 1740s. It was the first large-scale, man-made naturalistic landscape created by him.
When Richard Temple inherited Stowe in 1749 he made many changes to the grounds and added still more buildings, as well as moving some, and rebuilt the south front of the house. Some buildings were completely removed along with some of the garden’s formal features.
More buildings were removed by George Grenville who inherited in 1779. He replanted and changed the layout of some of the gardens. By 1825 when the 1st duke of Buckingham was living at Stowe, clearance work was done in the woods, and various restoration projects took place. He created the flower gardens and expanded the Octagon Lake and park. He bought Lamport Fields and turned it into parkland, and later had the Lamport manor house on the grounds removed. He added the Japanese gardens. Between 1848 and 1921 everything fell into neglect and decay.
In 1921 the house and gardens were purchased to use as a school, and some restoration work was done on the gardens. It wasn’t until 1967-1989 when the National Trust took over the gardens that the buildings, lakes, and plantings were brought back to their original glory.
Stowe House, dating in part from 1676, was designed by Vanbrugh, Adam, Gibbs, Kent, and Soane. It was the seat of the Temple and Grenville families. In the early 21st century further work was done to bring it back. There are tours and an interpretation centre. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the house in 1845.
Stowe gardens is in the first category in the Register of the Historic Parks and Gardens, and the house and most of the garden monuments are Grade I listed.
The garden and park monuments are:
Oxford Gates; Oxford Bridge; Boycott Pavilions; King George I statue; Temple of Concord and Victory, Conduit House; General Wolfe’s obelisk; Fane of Pastoral Poetry; 2nd Duke’s Obelisk; Bourbon Tower; Lord Cobham’s Pillar; Saxon Deities; Queen’s Temple; Grotto; Season’s Fountain; Captain Cook’s monument; Captain Grenville’s column; Church of St Mary; Temple of Ancient Virtue; Doric Arch; Shell Bridge; Temple of British Worthies; Gothic Temple; Palladian Bridge; Chinese House; Stowe Castle; Temple of Friendship; Congreve’s Monument; Pebble Alcove; Lord Chatham’s Urn; Eastern Lake Pavilion; Western Lake Pavilion; Corinthian Arch; Cascade and Artificial Ruins; Hermitage; Temple of Venus; Copper Bottom Cascade; Statue of Queen Caroline; Rotunda; Dido’s Cave; King George II statue; and Closet
Stowe Landscape Gardens
3 miles north of Buckingham, Buckinghamshire
On minor road off A422 via Stowe Avenue.
Tel. 01280 822850 for gardens; 01280 818166 for house.
Open: Parkland, year round, daily, dawn-dusk; Gardens, shop, cafe and parlour rooms, daily, Nov-end Feb, 10am-4pm; March-end Oct, daily, 10am-6pm; National Trust property; shop; tea-room; parking; family events and activities
Note: Allow at least a full day for the gardens, more if possible.
The perfect place to stay while visiting Stowe: The Rolling Acres
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard