Dominated by the spire of the thirteenth century Cathedral, the beautiful medieval city of Salisbury lies nine miles south of the prehistoric stone circle at Stonehenge. Although it’s been in the news recently for the poisoning of the former Russian military office and double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, it’s worth spending a day here. Pick up a leaflet from the information centre and make sure you include on your list: the Poultry Cross, the Cathedral, Salisbury Museum and Mompesson House. A beautiful eighteenth century townhouse overlooking The Close, Mompesson featured in the award-winning film Sense and Sensibility and has a walled garden with a pergola and herbaceous borders.
#1 Wilton House
Earl of Pembroke | Historic Houses Association | SP2 0BJ
Twelve minutes by car from Salisbury is Wilton House. Lying in the centre of the village, the house is home to the Earl and Countess of Pembroke and their family. Explore the beautiful gardens and parkland which lie in an idyllic setting bordered by the Rivers Nadder and Wylye. The house and gardens have been open to the public since 1951 and Wilton has often been used as a film location; the Double Cube Room is used to represent one of the formal rooms at Buckingham Palace in The Crown while the Palladian Bridge and gardens were featured in Blackadder II. Several events are held each year within the grounds so check out their website before visiting.
HISTORY: Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII gave the estate to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke. Pembroke built a house on the site of the nunnery; the only surviving part of this building is the tower on the east façade. The 4th Earl decided to extend the house starting, as was usual in seventeenth century, with the garden. In 1615, Pembroke appointed Isaac de Caus to create the garden under the supervision of Inigo Jones. As the area was flat, the garden was based on the Venetian gardens rather than the terraced gardens of Rome or Tuscany. However, by the time the house was built in 1636, the Earl’s fortunes had considerably diminished and the house was much smaller than originally planned. Sadly, none of the excitement of de Caus’s garden remains as the 9th Earl redesigned the grounds and gardens between 1733 and 1750 and grassed over the parterres and built a Palladian bridge over the River Nadder. Sir William Chambers designed the Casino on Temple Hill although this can only be seen in the distance and is not open to the public. A nineteenth century three-arched loggia is sited near the exedra or whispering seat which marks the end of the herbaceous borders. In 1990s a Japanese garden was created and for the Millennium, William Pye designed a water feature.
Opening times are complex and subject to change so check out their website before visiting. The grounds are wheelchair accessible although there are some ramps and gravel paths; a companion is advised. No dogs are allowed. There is a café on site.
#2 Heale House
Privately owned | Historic Houses Association | SP4 6NT
Eighteen minutes due north of Salisbury is Heale House – make sure you follow the brown signs for the garden as the SAT NAV can take you to the wrong side of the River Avon. The gardens at Heale House are full of surprises. Entering by the small cafe, it’s as if you are entering the stage from the wings. First, the Japanese garden lies to your right while to the left is the magnificent Walled Garden, a perfect place to sit on a warm, sunny day. From here it’s a short stroll to the Terrace in front of the house with steps down to a landing stage by the River Avon. Make sure you also visit during the snowdrop season, as another part of the garden designed by Harold Peto, is open to the public.
HISTORY: There are several versions of the early history of Heale House and with little documentary evidence, none are certain. It is known that in 1894 Heale House was bought by Louis Greville who employed Detmar Blow as architect and Harold Peto to layout the garden. Greville had been Secretary at the British Embassy in Tokyo and was inspired to create a Japanese Garden at Heale. The Tunnel Garden lies to the north of the Japanese Garden and is a raised rectangular garden divided into four quarters by a grass and paved walk. This was originally laid out by Peto as a rose garden and the only survivors from this period are the central pond encircled by four round box bushes. The gardens lie beside the River Avon and on the far side of the house is the snowdrop walk which is only open in February; check their website for opening times.
For further history, check out my website
The gardens are only open for part of the year so check their website for details. Seventy per cent of the garden is accessible for wheelchair users but telephone before visiting as the car park is in a field. Dogs are not allowed. There is a café on site.
Privately owned | Historic Houses Association | SO20 6LQ
Houghton Lodge is sixteen miles east of Salisbury and a few miles from the flourishing town of Stockbridge. The Grade II listed fishing lodge lies on the banks of the famous fly-fishing chalk stream, the River Test, and is surrounded by five acres of garden which includes a grotto to the south-west, a magnificent walled garden, beautiful herbaceous borders and a water meadow. Parts of the garden are sometimes closed for an event but when this happens, the entrance fee is halved and the tearoom remains open.
HISTORY: The fishing lodge or cottage ornee was probably designed by John Nash for the Pitt-River family at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The estate has been owned by the Busk family since 1910 and they have continued to develop the garden. The walled garden is enclosed by a cobb wall and houses over thirty-two varieties of apple tree while the 350ft herbaceous border spans the length of the east facing outer wall. Other features include the water meadow with its resident Alapacas, the peacock topiary garden, the woodland grotto and the dragon and mercury border which was created by Anthea Busk and her grandson, Oliver.
The gardens are only open part of the year, check their website for details. Due to the topography of the site, some areas in the garden are not accessible by wheelchair and mobility scooters. Dogs are allowed. There is a café on site.
Marquess of Salisbury | BH21 5PP
Cranborne Manor lies seventeen miles south-west of Salisbury and is about beauty, understatement and simplicity. There is no grand entrance at Cranborne and although the door at the far end of the Cranborne Garden Centre is not covered in ivy, it’s like entering into the pages of the book The Secret Garden. Inside the garden, there are no signs telling you where to go or what not to do, no magnificent views or brightly coloured bedding plants but instead a beautiful garden, dotted with modern sculpture. Prepared to be seduced by its charm.
HISTORY: The hunting lodge built by King John at the beginning of the thirteenth century was in decline when it was bought from the Crown at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Robert Cecil. Between 1608-12, Cecil created the garden and employed William Arnold to improve and extend the house; Arnold was also responsible for Wadham College, Oxford and nearby Montacute. During this period, Cecil was also building Hatfield House, and employing Mountain Jennings and John Tradescant to design the garden. Tradescant visited Cranborne in 1610; he was paid in November of that year for the planting of cherries, peaches, apricots and plums. The Manor was sacked after the 2nd Earl of Salisbury supported Parliament against King Charles and the family didn’t live in the house until 1863 when the 2nd Marquess restored the house and garden. The gardens have continued to be developed horticulturally and aesthetically by the late Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury and more recently by her daughter-in-law, the current Marchioness. The series of gardens include walled gardens, a kitchen garden, a blue and white garden, yew hedges, water and a wild garden as well as several modern sculptures.
The gardens are open every Wednesday between 1st March and 30th September from 9.30am until 4.00pm with last entry at 3.00pm. Apart from a few areas, the majority of the Manor Garden is accessible by wheelchair. Dogs are allowed. Tickets are bought in the Shop with entry through a door at the far end of the Walled Garden. The Shop and café are part of the excellent Cranborne Garden Centre which is open all year round except over Christmas and the New Year. The Centre also has special events throughout the year so check out their website.
National Trust | SO51 0LP
Thirty-three minutes south-east of Salisbury is Mottisfont. It is a wonderful example of a monastic building that was transformed into a house in the sixteenth century with parts of the earlier structure still visible. Wander around the gardens which border the River Test and make sure you visit the far side of the house with the pleached lime walk created to reflect the property’s beginnings and the summerhouse which has unfortunately been vandalised. The National Trust has recently redeveloped the kitchen garden which lies within the Walled Gardens where you can also find the magnificent Rose Garden; enjoy the smell of the roses at their best, by visiting on a warm, summer’s evening when the gardens are open late. Exhibitions are often held in the house so check out the website before visiting and also make sure you visit the stunning Whistler Room.
HISTORY: Recorded as belonging to William the Conqueror in the Domesday Book, Mottisfont was owned by William Briwere by the end of the twelfth century; he founded a Priory of Augustinian monks c.1201. Pilgrims would stop at Mottisfont on their way to Winchester to worship a relic, said to be the finger of St John the Baptist. The Priory was disbanded during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and given to Sir William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys who transformed the priory buildings into a house centred around two courtyards with two wings either side of the existing church nave. By 1922, the house was empty and the garden derelict but twelve years later, the estate was rescued by Gilbert and Maud Russell. They restored the house and gardens commissioning Norah Lindsay to design a box-edged knot-garden in front of the house with Geoffrey Jellico creating the pleached lime walk to the north of Mottisfont. The Russells gave Mottisfont to the National Trust in 1957 with Graham Stuart Thomas designing the famous rose garden in 1972.
The gardens are open throughout the year except over Christmas. There are wide, accessible gravel paths through much of the grounds although the meadow walk can become boggy in wet weather. Dogs are not allowed on the formal lawns behind and in front of the house or inside the Walled Rose Gardens.
National Trust | BA12 6QD
Stourhead lies to the west of Salisbury and takes forty-five minutes by car. You may have seen photographs and read about its history but nothing can prepare you for your first glimpse of the landscape Stourhead; it’s one of the most stunning gardens in the world. It can get busy but as the estate covers over 2,650 acres, don’t be put off by the overflowing car park.
HISTORY: The Stourton family owned the estate before the Norman Conquest and sold it to Henry Hoare, a member of the Hoare banking family, in 1717. Hoare commissioned the architect Colen Campbell to rebuild the house as a Palladian Villa; it was finished by 1724. The following year, Henry’s son, also called Henry, inherited the property and in about 1733 he began to extend the garden to the west by a formal terrace. After he returned from his Grand Tour in 1741, Henry abandoned the seventeenth century formal garden and laid out one of the most impressive Arcadian landscapes in England. In 1902, the house was almost completely destroyed by fire although many of its contents were saved; it was rebuilt in a nearly identical style. Scholars have theorised about Hoare’s intentions in the gardens at Stourhead with many arguing that a walk around the lake represents Aeneas’s descent in the underworld. With my limited classical and literary knowledge, I will leave their arguments aside and instead take you on a walk around the landscape.
The circuit walk can be accessed from the house but I prefer entering from near the Spread Eagle Inn. Leaving the Inn, walk between the medieval cross and the cottages and climb the short track to the gate and the National Trust kiosk. From here the path goes to the right and suddenly the landscape opens out with a view across the water of the Pantheon dedicated to Hercules. Henry Flitcroft’s Temple of Flora lies in front of you, shaded by beech, rhododendron and yew. Keeping on the lower circuit, a dark, flint lined passage leads to a dimly lit central chamber where the springs of the Stour flow out, past the statue of the Sleeping Nymph and into a deep plunge pool. On the left is a framed view of the lake which Joseph Spence recorded in 1765 was ‘coverable with a sort of Curtain, when you chuse it’. Hoare and his friends often bathed naked here and on the wall is the recently restored pseudo-classical poem translated by Alexander Pope: Nymph of the Grot these sacred spring I keep; And to the murmur of these water sleep; Ah! spare my slumbers, gently tread the cave; And drink in silence or in silence leave.
Ahead, across an opening is a statue of a bearded god by John Cheere of 1751 who, while pouring water from his pitcher, beckons people back to the lake. After a small Gothic cottage, the circuit leads to the Pantheon or as it was originally called the Temple of Hercules. Higher up and overlooking the lake is the circular Temple of Apollo built by Flitcroft in 1765. In Henry’s day it was a prime tourist attraction and can now be hired for weddings.
The landscape garden is open for most of the year except over the Christmas period. There are gravel paths with a marked route for wheelchair access although some of the routes are steep in places. Dogs are allowed in the gardens at certain times so check out the National Trust website for details.