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October 20, 2015

Studley Royal

This garden is on our 2016 garden tour itinerary.

Studley Royal, this idyllic English garden was created in the first half of the 18th century in the scenic Yorkshire Skell river valley. The main approach to the house is a long allee of trees focused on the Ripon Cathedral almost 3 miles on the horizon. The formal part of the garden is isolated from the Palladian house that burned down in 1946 but a similar Palladian style stables remains on 800 acres parkland. The raised valley floor anchored a series of straight and curved canals controlled by numerous weirs. The center of the valley and garden is a series of Moon ponds, one full circle, one half circle and two crescent that may represent the waxing and waning of the Moon. The ponds are laid out in an asymmetrical form that echos the natural serpentine valley floor and is reminiscent of natural oxbow lakes. Clipped yew hedges separate the formal water & Parterre à l'Angloise from the planted native tree hillside. Steep and angular turf banks frame the valley floor. Here the light and wind play off the water surface and the tree canopy. Everywhere the sound of water.

Numerous statues by Andrew Carpenter reside in the garden with many placed in a formal succession along the straight canal. Other features include buildings and follies some of which no longer exist. Some of these are a Palladian Banqueting house in the woodlands above the valley floor, the Palladian East Gate, the Temple of Piety (Temple of Hercules) in front of the full Moon pond, a Gothic Octagonal Tower, rustic stone bridge and arch, and a large freeform lake at the river’s exit to the countryside. The final vista looks up the river valley to the ruins of the medieval Fountains Abbey which at this period in history was not a part of the garden but could be considered borrowed landscape feature.

Studley Royal was created during the first phase of English Landscape Garden which is defined by the softening and opening of the garden to countryside. Purchased at the end of the 17th century by John Aislabie he began work on this garden that lasted over a 30-40 year period. He was an amateur garden designer who became an unpopular Whig politician soon after he purchased the land. Without power, he retreated to the countryside as many disgraced politician had before. Studley Royal was created in a garden style popular before the Hanover succession in 1714. This was a grand time for both Aislabie and the Whig party. The grand canal is a Dutch feature combined with Parterre à l'Angloise that wiped out a natural river valley. Asymmetrical Moon ponds help loosen the formal parterre. He used the notion of vice with many of these statutes most notable the lusty Priapus, Bacchus and 2 Romans wrestling naked. The presence of Hercules was a nod to the ruling monarch. He added a Gothic temple and a Chinese valley on one side of the main garden with a little bridge and house above. His use of the natural topography is an early example the Picturesque movement. Finally the vista that overlooks the valley with the medieval abbey in the background embodies that sublime moment of a real ruin. This in a time where mock ruins were all the craze.

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