Su­san Jenk­ins mar­vels at the former mag­nif­i­cence of Boughton’s gar­dens, the sub­ject of a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­hi­bi­tion

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

The own­ers of Boughton house in Northamp­ton­shire have long had an in­ter­est in gar­den de­sign. As this small ex­hi­bi­tion cu­rated by Paul Boucher demon­strates, gen­er­a­tions of Mon­tagu de­scen­dants have been closely in­volved in cul­ti­vat­ing the es­tate.

Richard, 10th Duke of Buc­cleuch and Queens­berry, ex­plain­ing the in­spi­ra­tion for ‘Vis­tas of vast ex­ten­sion’, writes that ‘part of the fas­ci­na­tion rests in the nuts and bolts of how my fore­bears set about gar­den cre­ation and how over the years tastes evolved… It is our am­bi­tion that vis­i­tors will step from the study of sto­ries and plans from cen­turies past di­rectly into Boughton’s vast land­scape, bet­ter able to un­der­stand why a con­tem­po­rary like Daniel De­foe could write that “even in Italy, I have never seen the like”’.

De­foe was one of sev­eral en­thu­si­as­tic vis­i­tors to Boughton in the 1720s who wrote ad­mir­ingly about the house and its mag­nif­i­cent gar­dens. Along with many other tourists, he came to en­joy the ex­ten­sive for­mal gar­dens cre­ated by Ralph ‘the Mag­nif­i­cent’, 1st Duke of Mon­tagu (1638–1709), who, as Charles II’S am­bas­sador to France, was in­spired by Louis XIV’S gar­dens at Ver­sailles. his walks, wa­ter­works and for­mal plant­ing no longer sur­vive, but their ex­tent can be ap­pre­ci­ated in a draw­ing of about 1730, at­trib­uted to gar­den de­signer Charles Bridge­man.

An­other con­tem­po­rary vis­i­tor, Charles Perry, de­scribed the im­pres­sive wa­ter fea­tures: ‘But the Gar­dens, good God! The gar­dens are won­der­ful! Ter­race walks, groves, wilder­nesses, a canal above a mile in length, a pond of two acres in the mid­dle of the gar­den com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the canal… then the cas­cade was a noble sight! The basin large, the pipes that threw up the wa­ter, nine in cen­tre, four in cir­cum­fer­ence and 13 play­ing from the up­per­most steps of the cas­cade, with as mighty a tor­rent as can be imag­ined!’

Such ex­ten­sive land­scap­ing was an ex­pen­sive in­vest­ment, both for Ralph and his son, John, 2nd Duke of Mon­tagu, known as the ‘Planter Duke’. The ex­hi­bi­tion demon­strates their close in­volve­ment in gar­den de­sign through the dis­play of a series of fas­ci­nat­ing draw­ings and doc­u­ments. Ac­cord­ing to the con­tract on dis­play, for in­stance, in 1709, Leonard van der Meulen, the 2nd Duke’s head gar­dener, was paid the princely sum of £250 per an­num, with an ad­di­tional allowance of three horses, all the tools, iron rods for the yews and ju­nipers and char­coal to pre­serve the bay

trees and or­ange trees in frosty weather and any fruits, roots and herbs not re­quired by the Planter Duke.

Also on dis­play are con­tem­po­rary gar­den trea­tises from the fam­ily’s li­brary, in­clud­ing the in­flu­en­tial de­signer Stephen Switzer’s The No­ble­man, Gentle­man and Gar­dener’s Re­cre­ation (1715) and The Prac­ti­cal Hus­band­man and

Planter (1733). In ad­di­tion, a copy of Sir Hans Sloane’s Voy­age

to Ja­maica (1707 and 1725) is on view. Not only was Sloane a botanist who was land­lord and pa­tron of the Chelsea Physic Gar­den, but he was also physi­cian to the 1st Duke’s sec­ond wife, the wid­owed Duchess of Albe­marle.

The 2nd Duke over­saw a num­ber of im­por­tant de­vel­op­ments on his Boughton es­tate. These in­cluded plant­ing 23 miles of in­ter­link­ing tree-lined av­enues. He was as­sisted by the cel­e­brated botanist Philip Miller, Sloane’s cu­ra­tor at the Chelsea Physic Gar­den, and by his friend, the an­ti­quary and ar­chae­ol­o­gist the Rev Dr William Stuke­ley.

Stuke­ley’s first draw­ing of Boughton’s parterre was made in 1706, but he con­tin­ued to visit and, in 1744, he de­signed an early Gothic Re­vival bridge to go over the River Ise. It wasn’t built, but can be ap­pre­ci­ated through the draw­ing and model on dis­play in the ex­hi­bi­tion.

‘Vi­sions of vast ex­ten­sion’ ends with two films of­fer­ing a drone’seye view across the sur­viv­ing land­scape at Boughton. These sat­isfy the 10th Duke’s am­bi­tion for the vis­i­tor to ‘step from the study of sto­ries and plans from cen­turies past di­rectly into Boughton’s vast land­scape’. The films af­ford a glimpse of the lat­est im­prove­ments to the es­tate, in­clud­ing Kim Wilkie’s Or­pheus, com­mis­sioned in 2009 as ‘a new land­form for the 21st cen­tury’, with an in­verted grass pyra­mid de­scend­ing 23ft be­low the level of the re­stored ter­races.

Un­der the guid­ance of the present Duke, Boughton’s land­scape con­tin­ues to evolve with his ‘huge project of restora­tion’. The Grand Etang’s jet of wa­ter has re­cently been re­stored and the cel­e­brated Cas­cade, once sur­mounted by 13 foun­tains that fell over five stages flanked by stat­ues, may fol­low suit. A visit to the ex­hi­bi­tion, which is open through­out Au­gust, fol­lowed by an ex­cur­sion into the gar­dens, pro­vides unique in­sight into the past, present and fu­ture of a great es­tate.

‘Vis­tas of vast ex­ten­sion: A cel­e­bra­tion of 460 years of gar­den­ing at Boughton’ is at Boughton House, Ket­ter­ing, Northamp­ton­shire, un­til Au­gust 31 (www.boughton­house.co.uk; 01536 515731)

Left: Ralph ‘the Mag­nif­i­cent’, 1st Duke of Mon­tagu. Above: An aerial view of Boughton gar­dens and park (about 1730), prob­a­bly by Charles Bridge­man

Above: Stuke­ley’s un­built bridge for the 2nd Duke of Mon­tagu. Right: One of a pair of Sèvres vases (1758) made for Mme de Pom­padour

Kim Wilkie’s Or­pheus, an in­verted grass pyra­mid that de­scends 23ft be­low the ter­races, with the 18th-cen­tury mount be­hind

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