|Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire was once home to the five infamous Mitford sisters|
It's not often that you can see a beautiful garden and enjoy a sculpture exhibition at the same time (although Sculpture Al Fresco has returned to Great Fosters this year), but if you can find the time this week, do try and get to Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire. This magnificent property is open daily until 15th July and you can wander through the garden with its wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and marvel at the large collection of stone sculpture on offer there - all part of the biennial "on form" exhibition.
|"on form" 2012 features 28 different artists, including work by Jonathan Loxley|
Asthall Manor is probably best known for its connection with the five Mitford sisters, who were raised here by their father Lord Redesdale in the 1920s. Nancy Mitford wrote about her home in her novel, "The Pursuit of Heaven". The property has changed hands several times since then and today Asthall has a very different reputation from the roaring 20s. The current owner has restored both house and garden to their former glory and opens the gates alternate years to show a selection of stone sculpture in June and July.
|Isabel and Julian Bannerman redesigned the gardens at Asthall Manor in 1998 and added the sloping parterre|
And even though the relentless rain this year has made garden visiting difficult (the car park here carries a large sign saying "4 x 4's only"!), it's a perfect venue to view the numerous stone exhibits - displayed in the six-acre garden and adjacent Norman church and churchyard. This year sees 28 different artists exhibiting, with just as many well-known names as newcomers and there are more than 150 pieces on display.
|The garden is Grade II listed and retains many original features alongside the Bannerman additions|
Rosie Pearson moved here in 1997 and restored both house and garde - the latter with the help of garden designers, Isabel and Julian Bannerman, who came up with original ideas like a sloping, hillside parterre at the rear of the house and the substantial yew hedges on the next level of the garden. The hedging is particularly effective for displaying sculpture because it acts as a series of galleries, giving plenty of space to each exhibit, and allowing visitors to reflect on the pieces displayed.
The house is built of Cotswold stone and dates back to the 17th century and has wonderful views over the unspoilt Windrush valley below. The gardens here are Grade II listed so the Bannermans added their stamp to the grounds by adding new features while retaining the structure of the garden and enhancing many of the original garden concepts including the borders next to the house. With so much to see here, the entrance fee of £6.50 is well worth paying, and garden lovers will certainly enjoy the grounds. Open daily from 12.00 - 18.00.
|The "on line" exhibition extends into the adjacent Norman church and churchyard|
But you need to hurry if you're going to enjoy the charm of Asthall Manor, because it's only open until next weekend (15th July) and after that the doors will close again until the next summer exhibition in 2014. Close to many other great Cotswold manors including Hidcote and Snowshill if you want a day out, as well as some of the Oxford gardens.