Help celebrate intricate garden’s 460 year history this summer

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An exhibition celebrating one of the most remarkable gardens ever created in England will open at Boughton House later this summer.

Spreading out over 100 acres of intricately designed landscape, with more than a mile of canals and over 30 miles of avenues, it was the creation of Ralph, 1st Duke of Montagu and his son John. “Vistas of vast extension” was the phrase used by one of their amazed 18th century contemporaries, the antiquarian explorer of Stonehenge, William Stukeley.

A huge project of restoration by Ralph’s present day descendants, the Dukes of Buccleuch, is still underway – however a special exhibition this August will capture some of the thinking behind the garden’s creation and early aspects of the English love of gardening and plants.

A fascinating array of objects drawn from the renowned Buccleuch Art Collection will help illustrate the practicalities of such an undertaking whilst also reminding visitors of how the love of gardening has inspired artists, musicians and writers over the centuries.

Ravishingly beautiful Chelsea and Derby porcelain with painted floral decoration from the 1750s and 1790s will sit alongside the leather bound volumes of colour prints from which the artists took their designs. Poetry, including the magical evocations of Northamptonshire poet, John Clare, will be celebrated as will the musical scores of composers inspired by visions of pastoral romance.

Throughout the exhibition, delicately painted watercolour plans and maps will illustrate the changing taste in gardens, from the European inspired formal parterres with their stone basins, statues and fountains to the simple, more direct relationship with the natural landscape that came to characterise the English garden.

For the present Duke, however, part of the fascination rests in the nuts and bolts of how his forebears set about their garden creations.

He explained: “Today, we think that the craze for books and television programmes on gardening is something new, but four hundred years ago Thomas Hill’s Profitable Art of Gardening was answering just the same demand for practical knowledge from people like my ancestor Edward Montagu”.

Having lain in quiet obscurity on the library shelves, the small volume on display is an edition published in 1574 and is a helpful manual on everything from how to cultivate the bee populations essential for better pollination to laying out mazes and when to water.

Other highlights of the exhibition will include quirky objects like the bulky leather shoes worn by the pony that pulled the lawnmowers to prevent the hooves from marking grass as well as the latest high tech GPS satellite guided mower now being introduced.

Paul Boucher, the exhibition’s curator, says that Boughton is a perfect setting: “The house offers wonderful spaces for such an exhibition – its cavernous Unfinished Wing able to embrace the 1745 summerhouse with its Chinese dragon decorations and the stately garden benches delivered by George Nix in 1728, while delicate manuscripts and drawings can be sensitively displayed and illuminated in museum cabinets.

“Above all, the visitor is able to step from studying the stories and plans from centuries past directly into Boughton’s huge gardens, to imagine for themselves why contemporaries like Daniel Defoe wrote that, even in Italy he had never seen the like.”

To round off this year’s focus on gardens, Boughton is also hosting a special photography exhibition, A Gardener’s Labyrinth, by the acclaimed photographer, Tessa Traeger. Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to photograph important British horticulturalists for its collection and first shown there in 2003, it includes over 30 sitters working in the field, including gardeners, garden history writers, plant finders, garden designers and artists who have helped shape new attitudes to plants and gardens in recent decades. Tessa Traeger has been described as one of the outstanding still-life photographers of her generation and has exhibited regularly since 1978 in Paris, London, Hamburg and New York. She has curated and updated the show for Boughton.

Charles Lister, property manager at Boughton House, says the exhibition adds a very special dimension to a visit to the house this year:

“Regular visitors will be familiar with garden related aspects of Boughton’s rich collection such as the glorious flower paintings or the wooden model of a gothic fantasy bridge. However, moving these pieces into a new setting and mingling them with very different objects, some being seen for the first time, enables a fresh look at the story of these great gardens.

“Whether you are a green fingered expert or an amateur enthusiast there will be something to catch your attention and, as always, during the annual opening season there is an opportunity to make a day of it and explore what else Boughton has in store, and to take in some of the vast vistas that surround the house.”

An early viewing of the exhibitions will be available to visitors to this summer’s two-day Garden Literary Festival on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 July. Advance booking which is essential can be done on line at:

Boughton House and Gardens will open throughout August. Guided House tours will begin at 1pm, with the last tour at 3.30pm daily. Groups are welcome to visit by prior arrangement throughout the year.

The Great Hall Tour, plus entry to the Gardens, Armoury and special Garden exhibition costs £10 for adults, £8 for children and £30 for families (two adults and two children). Children under five go free. The State Rooms tour is available for an extra £2.00 per person, while the

The Gardens will open between 12pm-5pm, with last entry at 4pm. Tickets cost £6 for adults, £3 for children and £14 for families (two adults and two children). As an added bonus, Gardens tickets holders will also gain access to the Armoury and the special Vistas of vast extension Garden exhibition.

A Gardener’s Labyrinth will be open for limited periods. Please see the website for details and contact Boughton in advance if you would like to make a booking.

Tickets for the summer openings can be booked in advance by calling 01536 515 731 or purchased on a first come, first served basis at the gift shop on the day.

Visit for more information on upcoming summer events and to arrange a group tour of the Estate out of season.