A couple of weeks ago, to Garsington; and yesterday, to another dream Oxfordshire garden, Rousham. I am sure this needs no introduction to most readers, and in a sense I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to visit – the problem being that I’m not very often headed towards the Cotswolds, I suppose. Still, there it is. The best things are to be discovered by those who wait; and is this the best garden I’ve ever visited? It could be.
Rousham is a dream. Of course, I know it from photographs, but it is not until you’re there, and walking its wooded paths and routes, that you appreciate the genius of Kent’s design; how he manipulates the relationship between buildings, landscape, views and elements in a way by which everything is resolved; where spaces reveal and conceal themselves in a passing moment, and new vistas open up as others close.
And to find a landscape in such a magical state of unchanged preservation: so quiet, so tranquil, so free of the clutter and crap (banners, jokes, interactive signage, useless shops, expensive tea rooms) that assault you on every visit to the National Trust – well, then, the dreamlike status achieves perfection. It’s good to be treated as a serious, intelligent person who doesn’t need every last corner explained on an interpretation board. All the more amazing, then, that even on a summer Sunday afternoon, it was all but deserted.
The gardens combine an arcadian, green, shaded architectural landscape with the quiet blowsy perfection of the walled rose garden, dovecot, vegetable garden. The drama begins from the moment you arrive through Kent’s magnificent stone arched stable block and stays until the last moment of your time here. The Praeneste, overlooking the River Cherwell at the point of a great meandering bend, has to be one of the sublime moments of English landscape. I don’t think anything can prepare you for Rousham, but here is a brief taste of some corners.