Bourton House Garden
Winner of the Historic Houses Association / Christies’ Garden of the Year Award in 2006, Bourton House Garden is a lovely diminutive three-acre garden with views across verdant Cotswold pastures. Backdropped by these pastures and the honey-hued Cotswold stone of the manor house, this garden feels very quintessentially English. Bourton House Garden is a favourite garden of many visitors, and indeed Violets and Tea, with features that appeal to the complete garden novice, and to those that are more cerebral in their approach.
Bourton is the largest historic house in the picturesque stone village of Bourton-on-the-Hill. Historically, it was held by the Tewkesbury Abbey until it fell into lay hands following the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 – 1541). It is thought that the original manor house and stables were built by Richard Palmer, who bought the estate in 1556. Palmer built the now Grade I listed large seven bay tithe barn with a dedication stone dated 1570 bearing (presumably) his own initials, R. P..
The estate was bought from the Palmer family in 1598 by an eminent lawyer, Sir Nicholas Overbury. Sir Overbury rebuilt the original house as a four-square Jacobean house complete with square towers. The estate was sold in the 1680s by Sir Overbury’s grandson, Thomas, to the socially ambitious Alexander Popham. Around 1708, he or his son Edward took the unfashionable Jacobean house down to the ground floor and rebuilt the present Queen Anne house on the earlier basement, retaining the whimsical square towers and replacing the fortress–like wall slits with generous sash windows. Ownership of the property has changed many times over these last three hundred years. However, the house remains largely unchanged and is still a private family home.
BOURTON HOUSE GARDEN
Bourton House Garden itself is considered ‘new’ as its construction started in the 1980s under the guidance of then owner, Mrs Paice. Having bought the property at auction, Mrs Paice set about converting the entangled wilderness into a garden befitting the grandiosity of the house. Its layout would be considered more renaissance in style, although its planting style is more akin to the Arts & Crafts movement.
The garden exercises restraint in both palette and planting, using repetition of form and topiary to join disparate areas of the garden. A few touches of sophisticated whimsy ensure that the garden remains relaxed and fun despite the somewhat formal layout. It is regarded as a plantsperson’s garden with many unusual, rare and lesser known varieties planted seamlessly within the grounds. Fortunately, information on these lesser known plants can be found in the converted Tithe Barn.
Bourton House Garden has an air of tranquillity about it, helped in part by the vast expanse of pastural land that abuts it providing waves of green to rest the eye. It is also helped by only welcoming a surprisingly small number of visitors a year; a mere 10,000-15,000. (By comparison, Hidcote receives some 200,000 visitors a year.) Although, as this remains a private family garden, I’m sure that this is quite enough.
We visit Bourton House Garden on our Charming Cotswolds & the Chelsea Flower Show tour in 2021.
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Images credit: Eliza Ford