England’s answer to Versailles has a spectacular new garden, now open to the public for the summer.
In 1684 Ralph Montagu, Ist Duke of Montagu and Ambassador to Louis XIV, inherited the 700-acre estate of Boughton, near Kettering, Northamptonshire, an hour’s train-ride from London.
Around the house, partly modelled on Versailles, he planned formal gardens to rival the French King’s. Three centuries later his descendant, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, has restored 150 acres and made an important addition: a vast upside-down grass pyramid 50-metres across, with a shallow "lake" at its base.
Called Orpheus, after the "underworld" man who went down to Hell to rescue his wife, Euridyce, it was designed by Kim Wilkie, of V&A garden fame.
Next to a looming flat-topped grass pyramid called the Mount, Orpheus reflects both the Mount and the sky above. Its sides, are created by a gentle downward spiral of wide grass "ramps"; you can easily and safely stroll down - and up - and sit on its grassy banks. Orpheus continues the intelligent, geometric, cosmic sensibility of the 16th and 18th centuries; designed to be simply beautiful, while encouraging contemplation of the universe.
Boughton’s ambitious scale must be seen to be believed: man-made canals, a lily lake, vistas stretching to the horizon, as well as intimate gardens of flowers and scent.
Boughton House itself, which famously has 52 hearths, has a rare painting of Elizabeth I and opens daily, from 1 May to 1 September. For more details, visit www.boughtonhouse.org.uk.