Classical Landscapes

This, too, is a blog in parts, so that you can dip in and out when you wish.


Last week, Charlie and I were in Bath. The architecture office is working on a lovely project there, a new development of houses on the edge of Bath, and my client had arranged for us to visit, one evening, the remarkable garden owned by his brother, Iford Manor. We were not far from Bath, at an amazing spot where an ancient bridge crosses the River Frome, in a valley with steeply wooded hills rising behind an ancient stone house with a handsome Georgian front. In 1899, the house had been discovered and bought by the arts and crafts architect, and subsequently landscape designer, Harold Peto; he spent the next thirty years creating a remarkable and famous garden here.

It had been grey for most of the afternoon, but as we descended into Iford from Bath the clouds lifted and golden sunlight filled the valley. Entering the garden is like stepping into another world.P1030115

Throughout, Peto constructed walls, columns, and architectural features that merge seamlessly with the extraordinary topography to create a garden of vistas, of interest enticing you around every corner. P1030117 P1030122 P1030130 P1030132

Lush and ebullient planting overflows everywhere.
P1030134 P1030138 P1030147 P1030151Immense variety is achieved; within a few steps of one view, a new vista and corner of the garden is revealed.P1030157 P1030162 P1030168

From all points you are aware of the extraordinary relationship with the river valley far below.P1030178

At one end of the long terrace is a beautiful early Georgian stone summerhouse, which Peto relocated to become an eye-catcher at the end of the vista.P1030189 P1030192 P1030194 P1030202 P1030204 P1030211 P1030213The cloister garden, made from architectural fragments that Peto salvaged in Italy. Here, now, once a year, Iford holds its annual opera – for a tiny audience of 80 people sitting on all four sides of the cloister. P1030225

The setting of the Georgian facade, trees rising steeply behind, is magical. A statue of Britannia stands on the bridge crossing the wide river. We left at the end of an amazing visit – in awe.P1030251

Just as we were saying our goodbyes, a shower briefly passed and a wide rainbow spread over the garden… a sign from heaven, maybe?P1030255

The garden is open some afternoons through the summer. If you are visiting Bath, I cannot recommend making the trip to Iford more highly. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places we have been in a long, long time.


We were staying with my brother and sister-in-law, and niece Emily, in Bath for a couple of nights… and on Tuesday, we had a wonderful, long explore all over the city. We walked in from Combe Down, through Widcombe, via the canals, into the city – where over the course of the day we managed to visit all six and a half of the Bath crescents (the half being Somerset Place, which architecturally is a crescent but not by name).P1030299

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Wherever you walk in Bath, you are struck by the extraordinary proximity of great architecture and serene wooded landscape.  Bath would not be the same city if it had been built on a plateau. It is all about topography.

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Inside the abbey, our breath was taken away by the perfection of the fan vaulting…P1030400 P1030401

And the walls lined with statuary monuments to the departed of the 18th and early 19th centuries; one assumed that they had come to Bath for a health cure, that may not have worked.P1030405 P1030406

We thought we would try to research which house in Queen Square (where Charlie and I live in London) the Moffat family lived.P1030408 P1030410 P1030418

The Circus:P1030427

And stony, serene Royal Crescent: P1030447 P1030455 P1030466 P1030467 P1030478

Lansdown is my favourite of the Bath Crescents, with its extraordinary S-shaped sweep, and sheep grazing in the bowl of grassland below.P1030482 P1030486 P1030487 P1030495 P1030496 P1030501 P1030514 P1030516 P1030521 P1030530 P1030535 P1030553

That afternoon we visited Prior Park, the great mansion built by Ralph Allen on the hill overlooking the city, to take Mavis for a nice long walk.

I could not resist a gratuitous cute shot for duckling lovers:P1030582

The view down the valley to the Palladian bridge:P1030587 P1030589

Remarkable sweeping views across the Georgian city:P1030604 P1030623 P1030624

The perfect picturesque landscape, cattle grazing on sunlit hills beyond the Palladian bridge.P1030640 P1030652


And now, home. We’ve been here for the week, and we are here for the next two. It has been the most magical summertime here in Dorset, with mornings, days and evenings of stunning beauty.

Here we were coming over Eggardon Hill, which as regular readers will know, is my favourite landscape in the whole of Dorset really.P1030661 P1030663 P1030664

Yesterday, we visited the beautiful townhouse in Beaminster owned by John and Jenny Makepeace, whose gardens were open for the NGS. Serene. P1030678

Here is Jenny, in her summerhouse, a perfect retreat. P1030683

And here is the beautiful garden she has created, packed to bursting with flowers and vegetables.P1030684 P1030687 P1030690

Jenny and John have two separate compartments to their garden. John’s is sculptural and architectural, like his renowned furniture. Jenny’s is overflowing with madness. I secretly prefer Jenny’s garden if I am honest, although John’s was always full of white-hatted garden visitors which made photography rather difficult too (well, at least, that is my excuse for concentrating efforts here).P1030691

In the yard is John’s covered timber-seasoning stack.  There is great beauty in utility.P1030696

And more beauty in utility, the log pile. P1030697

We got home to a perfectly still evening.  I suppose it is sheer coincidence that the year we have decided to stay at home has been so beautiful, with so many warm, clear evenings one after the after, but we did feel particularly blessed last night. I’m not sure I can remember high summer in the valley looking so amazing in years.P1030705 P1030708 P1030721 P1030723 P1030724 P1030726 P1030730 P1030732 P1030740 P1030757  P1030781

Charlie has been on a mission in the borders, doing a massive amount of clearing (ground elder was beginning to take over again).  The garden looks a little startled.P1030787 P1030790

The dahlias are going mad. P1030792

Sunset over the valley.P1030801 P1030803 P1030809 P1030810Two weeks now stretch out before us, when no work will happen, I am promising myself, and when we can spend days pottering around Dorset.  We might do a little holiday in London next weekend, just for fun, because that is another city we never spend quite enough time just doing nothing at all.  But next week, of course, Charlie is entering the Melplash Show – which if I am honest is probably the real reason we are not going away this year…. a blog will follow in due course.

Happy holidays!

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