The National Trust created a new Royal Route around the famous landscape gardens at Stowe to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. I followed the route with a few diversions to its extended route during the celebratory Bank Holiday weekend. Somehow I had never previously managed to visit despite the garden’s fame. Tired feet paid testament to the sheer scale of these landscaped gardens at the end of my walk.
A Triumphant Entrance
As I drove up the long straight road towards Stowe, the Corinthian Arch through which Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s carriage had passed in 1845, lay dead ahead. Today’s visitors have to turn right to the car park rather than making a triumphant entrance. The walk to the entrance is surprisingly long. (Children muttered). Once inside the grounds, you notice how Stowe House dominates the landscape above the lake in the foreground.
Stowe is very much a man-made landscape. An avenue of Plane Trees led me along the length of two lakes: Octagon and Eleven Acre Lakes. The straight avenue reminded me of such formal tree-lined avenues in France.
Function of Ha-ha
One of my first detours was to take in the ha-ha. It was designed to protect the edges of the garden from encroaching livestock without disrupting the views. A ha-ha is a sunken ditch that is invisible to the eye until you are almost on top of it. The ‘aha’ exclaimed in surprise on coming upon the ditch is the origin of this garden feature’s name. Although originally described by Dezallier d’Argenville, it became popular in 18th-century English landscape gardens. It was introduced by Charles Bridgeman in the 1720s, who went on to become King George II’s Royal Gardener.
The landscape is overwhelmingly green: extensive lawns and magnificent trees dominate. There are relatively few flowers and shrubs. The emphasis is on creating vistas. My walk was dotted with temples, columns and bridges. The original owners of the house overreached themselves in their extravagance. Today, Stowe House is a school and the site is run by the National Trust. My old garden guidebook referred to the incongruity of a golf course in the midst of Stowe’s garden. I was delighted to observe that this is no longer the case. A large area is now given over to the increasingly modern taste for wildflower meadows that support greater biodiversity.
Stowe’s Restored Lions
The lion statues at the front of Stowe House attracted my attention. Each lion rests a paw on a stone ball. They reminded me of similar lions that I had seen at the Château de Compiègne in France and at one of the entrances to Victoria Park in Bath. A little research revealed that they are all copies of the Medici Lions from Rome, now based in Florence. Gardeners love to seek inspiration and copy ideas from other gardens to this day. It seems that copying was as rife in the eighteenth century as it is today.
Stowe’s Illustrious Creators
If Stowe copied sights from an Italian Grand Tour, it inspired many of its own copycats too. Illustrious gardeners and architects who made their mark on Stowe include Charles Bridgeman, William Kent, Capability Brown early in his career, Sir John Vanbrugh, James Gibbs and Robert Adam. I was glad to have finally visited this influential landscaped garden.
Take a look a the gallery of images from my walk below.
Gallery of Images
© Karen Andrews
References and Further Reading
- Morris, Nick (2015): The Essential Stowe House. Stowe Preservation Trust. Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers.
- National Trust (2022): The Royal Route at Stowe. (Map and leaflet received on entry).
- Symes, Michael (2006): A Glossary of Garden History. Shire Publications. (No. 6 in Shire History Series).
- Taylor, Patrick (2003): The Gardens of Britain & Ireland. Dorling Kindersley. (Stowe Garden pp. 107-8).
- World Monuments Fund (2022): Technical Case Study: The Stowe Lions
Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.