Rousham House and Garden

In 2011, Paul and I considered buying The Old Bank in sleepy Bungendore, New South Wales. A stunning stone building, developed through the 1800s, its history not only spans uses as a residence and bank, but also one of a blacksmith’s, solicitor’s, bakery, stock and station store and a bicycle maker, where the first bike in Australia is said to have been made.

It had a tree-lined creek running through the back of the property; multiple, charming outbuildings; an orchard and veggie garden; alongside more ornamental gardens and intimate courtyards and verandahs. Thinking about it now, I can’t imagine why the minuscule detail of a long commute could possibly have swayed us against it.

As we completed the viewing of The Old Bank, Ellie, the real estate agent, said to us, “if you find it sticks with you, give me a call”. I found these quite unusual parting words from an agent, but stick with me the house did, just as her words stuck, too.

I’m pretty sure Rousham will also be sticky for a very long time. My experience there was almost other-worldly. In fact so much so, I feel it would be quite inappropriate to interrupt the garden by ‘chatting’ through my photos in my usual format. So I’ll show them, in chronological order, giving just the bare minimum of captions, in the hope of replicating at least a degree of Rousham’s wonder.

Walking out from the car park, the bare trees made me feel the timing of this trip was somewhat compromised…

…but as soon as we saw the ‘slippered’ chickens roaming the lawns, any thoughts we’d brought with us instantly disappeared.

With no other visitors in sight, all was quiet apart from the odd buzzing bee…

…with Long-Horn cattle in the distance nonchalantly going about their grass-munching business.

We walked along the side of the old stone haha; house, garden and fields merging into one…

…wild flowers popping up wherever they saw fit.

The heritage-listed ‘Lower Cascade’ triple arcade was designed by the great William Kent in the 1730s and looks as though it has been there forever, nestled into the slope of the land…

…with life literally dripping off its every surface.

Glancing back the other way, the bend of the River Cherwell and medieval bridge come into view beyond a carpet of wildflowers…

…as you enter a shady, wooded section where the light bursts through in unexpected moments.

Kent’s serpentine rill, leading to the cold bath and grotto – which I’d seen in so many photos – had me pondering why, but not if, I liked it…

…but its rather strange end point at the octagonal pool made the most soothing splash I’d ever heard, along with mesmerising concentric rings. I soon fell under its spell as we rested on a bench…

…enjoying newts swimming in the crystal clear water and marvelling at the many, diverse life forms.

Classic statues seem to punctuate the garden in all the right places…

…and wild flowers pop up just where the light shows them off at their best.

With not a gardener or wheelbarrow in sight, you believe everything just sprung up as you see it…

…and even plain old yellow daffodils make your heart skip a beat…

…positioned under the leafless trees, permitting views back to the house.

Whilst plain, the great expanse of lawn balances the weight and grandeur of the old house…

…and the lumpy bumpy yew is the perfect, weighty counterbalance.

A part-paved, part-soil incline down to the river was perfect, both aesthetically and functionally…

…and reflections on the water lit up the space and added movement.

Coming back towards the house, towers of the church and dovecote draw you closer…

…whilst the wild and the cultivated harmoniously blend.

Potentially vulgar tulips caught the light and were softened by a mass of self-sown forget-me-nots…

…near the cold frames that were one of the only hints of true horticulture.

Any question of taste was immediately banished by picture perfect potted tulips…

…and wonderfully charming pots and climbers welcoming you to a side door.

The parterre of roses is precise, yet understated…

…the Magnolia at one end, full of flower.

Further life was injected into the walled garden as a peacock showed off his finery…

…whilst Rousham church, over a low wall, ensured a degree of solemnity.

Returning to the car, walking slowly, step by step, the geometry of precision fruit trees connected with the castellated roof line…everything in this magical garden is just, perfectly, so.

All prior expectations, of a wintery, quite masculine, non-floral garden were wiped out in an instant. In fact, the Rousham experience quite transcended the notion of studying planting combinations or design features at all. The pleasure of the garden is that you really don’t need to engage your brain, you just lose yourself within it and ‘be’.

Rousham is the ultimate ‘meant-to-be’ garden. It is so real, so (deceivingly) ‘just happened’. And it is so attuned to the seasons, I imagine any week of the year would make you feel as though you’d seen the place at its very best.

And it has something of everything, whilst complete cohesion across the whole. Formal and informal, expansive and intimate, complexity and simplicity. To some degree, time has, and continues to, stand still at Rousham, with little changing since Kent’s days, almost three hundred years ago. This adds much gravitas to the setting, yet there is still so much life here; it is as if the garden is renewing itself on a daily basis, quite ignoring the presence of man.

When we entered the car park and saw the discrete sign notifying us of the no-children policy, I thought it rather harsh. I’d never seen that elsewhere. On the way out, having been moved to another place altogether by Rousham’s unique atmosphere, I thought it rather wonderful. I’d never experienced that before, either.

I do hope you are able to see and feel this very sticky garden for yourself one day.

23 thoughts on “Rousham House and Garden

  1. Pat Webster says:

    Janna, your photos capture the mood of Rousham most wonderfully. I’ve been a number of times but never this early in the year. It’s always magic.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thanks for your very kind comment, Pat! Our new house is not too far from Rousham, so I can see very regularly visits coming up. It’s obviously a garden that needs checking up on at least once a month!

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thank you, Kate! I’m so pleased I managed to get a bit of the atmosphere across. It’s such a different light over here, too, isn’t it? You’ll need to book that plane ticket!

  2. germac4 says:

    What a beautiful garden, I enjoyed looking at every bit of it, and would love to see it in person. You’ve had a gorgeous sunny day to take photos too. Thanks for the tour.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Yes, we have to make the most of days like that! I was thinking only yesterday that I’m not sure if London or Canberra is drier…it’s been unbelievably dry the last year. But I definitely know who wins on the sunny day count! Glad you liked the garden.

        • jannaschreier says:

          I’ve looked it up; we’ve had 482mm of rain in the last year. That must be less than you, I reckon. Although the UK average for last year was 1136mm, which sounds more as you’d expect. I now understand London is always much drier, but it came as a real surprise to me.

        • germac4 says:

          482mm is very dry … The average in Canberra is just over 600 mm … So London is drier … I would never have thought that was the case.. Amazing!

  3. kate@barnhouse says:

    lt looks like a perfect time for your first visit, Janna. Gorgeous light and oozing atmosphere, personally what really ‘sticks’ are the patchworks of spring wild flowers, I like the way they’ve allowed them to creep into the more formal garden.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I’m exactly the same…the spring flowers are my lasting vision of Rousham. I hope to have many more lasting visions once we’re living nearby though! I wonder what the atmosphere is like on a grey old day?

      • kate@barnhouse says:

        Maybe, ‘grey old days’ are the true test of a great garden – can’t wait to hear which corners of Rousham please and inspire you most then. It’s marvellous to find a jolly good place to haunt right on your doorstep. (Seem to recall Anne Wareham’s excellent Thinkingardens presented a few less enthusiastic reviews – maybe the weather was dreary …).

        • jannaschreier says:

          It will be interesting to see. I read the two thinkingardens’ articles and can’t really relate to them. But they do say light is a very important factor at Rousham…I’ll let you know!

  4. Louise says:

    Rousham seems to exude a sense of peace and quiet? The way you wrote this blog encouraged me to read on and on……and oh those photos…..indeed those wildflowers poking up, the part paved part soiled path, the end point of the octagonal pool, the magnolia and the reflection are my favourites.

    • jannaschreier says:

      It is the ultimate in peace and quiet, Louise; just serene. Such a sense of space, too. It sounds like we liked all the same bits. I think the part-paved pathway was my favourite of all and I don’t even know if it was deliberately designed that way or not. There was something very special about it though.

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