Every garden has its own personality. Some gardens have a unique history, others an individual design. Some have a practical function, growing food or medicinal plants, while others are works of art in themselves. But the Burghley House Gardens, near Stamford in Lincolnshire, have something for all tastes. A magnificent Elizabethan house surrounded by acres of beautifully landscaped parkland. And two speciality gardens: the Garden of Surprises and the Sculpture Garden.
Burghley’s Garden of Surprises
I always like something that’s a bit different so I was intrigued by the idea of a garden of surprises. It turned out that this is an old concept, going back to Elizabethan times. The first Lord Burghley, who was Chief Advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, had a similar garden at his other house in Hertfordshire. It included a maze, statues and fountains with concealed pipes (one of the surprises was that unwary visitors might be sprayed with water as they passed).
Burghley’s Garden of Surprises is modern but it copies many of the older ideas, with statues, a shell grotto and numerous fountains. There are unexpected jets of water, too – make sure you don’t get caught in one of the “water curtains”! And there are mirrors everywhere, including an unusual mirror maze and a pair of mirrors that have been carefully angled so that you can’t see your own reflection (I found this one rather spooky).
And there’s more. But as this is a garden of surprises I won’t tell you everything…
The Burghley Sculpture Garden
Just next to the Garden of Surprises is the Sculpture Garden, a landscaped area with more than twenty specially commissioned sculptures. Some of the sculptures are startling, such as the disembodied head of Vertical Face II. Some are quirky, like the boulders in the grass that turn out to be grinning Pacman faces. And others, like the stag on an island or the Living Willow Tunnel, blend in with their surroundings.
Even apart from the sculptures, this is a lovely garden in its own right. The sculptures have been positioned to make the most of the undulating landscape and of the features of the garden, including the lake, the trees and a wildflower area. There is even an artwork inside the old icehouse.
House and Parkland
The extensive parkland around the house dates from the 16th century, but the stately avenues, the lake and the Lion Bridge are all the work of the landscape architect Capability Brown. There are miles of walks around the grounds: you can spot a field of grazing deer and even walk along part of an old Roman road. Events are hosted in the park, most notably the annual Burghley Horse Trials.
The house itself is billed as “England’s Greatest Elizabethan House”. Unfortunately it wasn’t open that day, but I have been told since that it lives up to its reputation, with a spectacular interior. But we had seen enough for now, and the Orangery was open for lunch. We ate an excellent meal overlooking the Rose Garden and started to plan the return visit.