by Don Hyatt

The Gardens at Stourhead

For centuries, Stourhead has been acclaimed as one of Brittain's most picturesque gardens. Located in the middle of a 2,650 acre estate near Warminster south of Bath, this magnificent garden surrounds a peaceful lake, a jewel nestled among undulating hills. Tucked in strategic spots around the shore are various classic architectural features including several monuments and an arched stone bridge. Each one serves as a focal point for yet another memorable photograph.

The garden was designed by Henry Hoare II between 1741 and 1780, and enhanced with new species of trees from America between 1791 and 1838 by his grandson, Richard Colt Hoare. Those who plant trees do not plant for themselves, but for others to appreciate. We happened to be there to witness a very large and rare Chinese Dove Tree, Davidia involucrata , in full glory. As the common name implies, the large, delicate white flowers look like white doves fluttering gently in the breeze. Another common name is the "handkerchief tree", and although descriptive seems a little less elegant to me. After an elusive search for the Dove tree through perilous mountains in China, noted plant explorer E. H. Wilson finally sent back seeds of this rare plant to the Veitch & Sons Nursery in England around the turn of the century. From the size of the specimen at Stourhead, I felt certain that this Davidia must have been one of those original seedlings.

According to the literature, the "latest" rhododendrons and selected azaleas were added around 1900. Looking at the enormous size of rhododendron hybrids such as Cynthia and Pink Pearl along the shore, it was clear that these old standbys must have been those latest introductions a century ago. I wondered how many of our new hybrid introductions will stand a similar test of time. In my garden, rhododendron Caroline is making it clear that she expects to be around for a long time.

Trying to visit two or three gardens a day for two weeks, we were typically pressed for time when we reached Stourhead. We didn't have time to tour the Palladian Mansion, an impressive structure built around 1720 that sits on the top of the hill overlooking the lake. There was no time to take any side trails, just a liesurely stroll around the lake on a cloudy day for an hour and a half, and then we would have to hit the road again. It must be wonderful to see Stourhead at sunrise with soft mist on the lake giving way to mirrored reflections, or to be there on sunny day to appreciate the brilliant rhododendrons towering into the blue sky, or to be there in the evening as a golden sunset echoes the soft yellow of the fragrant azalea, Rhododendron luteum. The setting at Stourhead is surely a delight at all times of the day, every day of the year.

Vistas of the Garden

Palladian Mansion at Stourhead

Stone Chapel and Rhododendrons

View Across the Lake


Rare Davidia Tree with
Rhodendrons and Evergreens

Davidia Flowers
(The Chinese Dove Tree)