The Berkshire Botanical Garden is honored to welcome guest lecturer Alan Power for our 2015 Winter Lecture taking place on February 14th, 2015 titled “STOURHEAD GARDEN: The Genius of the Place“. Below is a brief article about the magic of Stourhead written by Alan Power, our 2015 Winter Lecture speaker, the Head Gardener at Stourhead:
Stourhead is one of the finest landscape gardens in Europe, and I would argue, in the world. Wrapped in and protected by the rolling hills of the ancient landscapes of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset, Stourhead has evolved over the last 300 years around a valley originally called ‘Paradise’. Before this period, the land was occupied by the Stourton family from 1448 until the early 18th Century. Human settlements have been recorded here since before the Iron Age. Lived in, admired, journeyed to, shared and recorded by millions of people during the centuries, Stourhead deserves the fame and importance it receives. Folk travelled across Europe and from America to admire Stourhead in the early days. Its fame and talk of its beauty spread fast and within 15 years of its conception, before it was fully complete, it had gained national and international recognition from experts at the time.
After almost 20 years working in (and now managing) the garden and estate at Stourhead my love and commitment to the place grows every day. Often referred to as a pleasure ground in the past, the garden at Stourhead has far exceeded the original ambition of the great Henry Hoare in the early 18th Century. Not only is it a pleasure to gaze upon at all times of the year but it is also a wonder to explore and experience with close friends, family and loved ones. It’s an experience to be shared, talked about, treasured and passed on. One part of the work I do that really moves me is when I witness the heart-felt way in which the beauty of Stourhead can take someone over. I am proud of the work we do and achieve at Stourhead, just as I am so proud of the work we, the National Trust, do at all of our properties.
However, it is our vision for the future of Stourhead that I am most proud of. Working in the knowledge that we hope to care for this magnificent place, secure its future, understand more of its past and inspire the next generation through sharing the Stourhead experience makes every day here a pleasure. Our ambition for the garden is a simple yet deeply important one. If all goes according to plan, we will have the landscape garden and its superb architectural features in as good of a condition as possible by 2020. We will also re-introduce some of the missing elements of the plant collection while adding the 21st century layer to the collection in the Pinetum. All this while we continue to re-introduce other lost elements of the plant collection. It’s incredible to think that this process continues 300 years after the Hoare family moved to this beautiful corner of Wiltshire, gave Stourhead its name and created a legacy for the nation.
Alan Power on Alan Power: From Cork (close to the south coast of Ireland) I grew up surrounded by and spending time in one of the most beautiful natural landscapes, walk- ing in the mountains of Kerry and hanging on the cliffs off the Old Head of Kinsale. From an early age, I knew my life needed to be outdoors and close to nature. From my father who worked in the retail business, I learned that interacting with and helping the public was important to me and from my mother I inherited a keen interest in gardening. It was the soil that really got me interested, so much cap- tured in the soil to be released and absorbed by the plants and seeing the giant trees supported and anchored to the soil fascinated me. So I began to study horticulture at Writtle College and subsequently Arboriculture at Merrist Wood College. (Trees and gardens- my heaven!) After a while exploring the industry and working at Marks Hall Arboretum in Essex, I knew that his- toric gardens were for me. Stourhead had been brought to my attention during my studies as had the tree collection there – it became a dream of mine to work in such magnificent surroundings and eventually the opportunity arose not just to be a gardener but also to climb the trees as the property’s arborist. That’s where it all started for me 19 years ago; as a climber and gardener at Stourhead, then the Assistant Head Gardener. I did however head off for a while to the beauty of Northern Ireland to work at Mount Stewart Gardens – a plant collection second to none! It was there that my interest in garden history, plant collections and plant introductions deepened even further, and I was able to explore and learn about the fascinating family of the Londonderry’s. As much as I enjoyed that position, the jobas Head Gardener at Stourhead was advertised and off I went -that was over 10 years ago. I have genuinely loved every minute here as the Head Gardener. I am closer to the garden, the people that created it, the plant collection and the visitors, than I ever thought was possible. It feels like home. My interests now firmly sit in the history of the garden, the plant collection and the people that created it and kept it going through the years. It’s an amazing story and one that continues to expand the longer that I am here.