Devotees of landscape gardens drool over Rousham in Oxfordshire which has retained the atmosphere created by Bridgeman and Kent nearly three centuries ago. This is the case even though several of the vistas which they created are being lost through the encroachment of trees. But the biggest loss, which isn’t apparent to the casual visitor, has been the colour and the scent – in other words the flowers. Rousham’s Head Gardener in the early years, John MacClary, wrote of “the deferant sorts of Flowers, peeping through the deferant sorts of Evergreens, here you think the Laurel produces a Rose, the Holly a Syringa, the Yew a Lilac, and the sweet Honeysuckle is peeping out from under every Leafe”. Nowadays it’s all green, and much the poorer for that.
I think it’s fair to say that the current Head Gardener, Ann Starling, is more than making up for the deficiencies of the landscape garden with her flower displays in the walled garden at Rousham. The dahlia bed there is magnificent, certainly the best I’ve ever seen. It’s 150 feet long and 7 feet deep. Even now, well into October, the plants are in perfect condition. What’s most remarkable is that the dahlia bed has been in continuous use for 66 years, using the same tubers. The plants are over-wintered in a cellar beneath the house. My guess is that the mauve plants are the old ones (and if I’m going to quibble, I’d say there are far too many of them) and they have been supplemented by new varieties, such as the red and white in the photo here. It would be good to get some of this colour back into the old garden which will give Ann the chance to make further progress in breaking away from her addiction to mauve.