The gardens were designed by Henry Hoare II and laid out between 1741 and 1780 in a classical 18th-century design set around a large lake, achieved by damming a small stream. The inspiration behind their creation were the painters Claude Lorrain, Poussin and, in particular, Gaspar Dughet, who painted Utopian-type views of Italian landscapes. It is similar in style to the landscape gardens at Stowe.
Included in the garden are a number of temples designed to show off the Hoare family’s education and wealth. On one hill overlooking the gardens there stands an obelisk and King Alfred’s Tower (a 50-metre-tall, brick folly designed by Henry Flitcroft in 1772); on another hill the temple of Apollo provides a vantage point to survey the magnificent rhododendrons, water, cascades and temples. Amongst the woodland surrounding the site there are also two Iron Age hill forts: Whitesheet Hill and Park Hill Camp. The gardens are home to a large collection of trees and shrubs from around the world.