500 years of gardens at Hampton Court Palace: part 1

Meet gardeners from 500 years of history at Historic Royal Palaces. In this part, we explore the Tudor and Stuart periods.

By Historic Royal Palaces

The Great Fountain Garden, Hampton Court Palace (2016)Historic Royal Palaces

In over 500 years, the gardens of Hampton Court Palace have been transformed from relatively modest enclosures and vast hunting grounds to lavish pleasure gardens with parterres, statues and fountains.

The gardens landscape we see today is the result of a unique partnership between kings, queens and the best gardeners of their day.

Reconstruction of the South Front and Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace in the 1530s (2016) by Peter ScholefieldHistoric Royal Palaces

The Tudor gardens

When Henry VIII moved into Hampton Court Palace in 1528, he commissioned one of the best gardens in the country.  

Henry's private, or privy, garden was laid out in heraldic fashion with 20 regular sections filled with flowers and bordered by low rails and poles, which were painted in Tudor colours. Onto these were fixed heraldic beasts holding up gilded metal weather vanes.

20th-century design for the Pond Garden, Hampton Court Palace (1903)Historic Royal Palaces

The King developed a tiltyard or jousting area, ornamental orchards and a pond yard. He also extended the hunting grounds. 

Henry VIII's Kitchens, Hampton Court Palace (2017) by Simon JarrattHistoric Royal Palaces

Millicent Alesbury and William Huggins are recorded as making sweet waters for the Tudor kings, which suggests that they might have been among the first members of the court involved in the care of plants in these gardens.

Chapel Court, Hampton Court Palace (2015) by Robin Forster PhotographyHistoric Royal Palaces

Henry's gardens at Hampton Court defined English garden design until James I's reign. The Chapel Court garden is a reconstruction of how we think these magnificent Tudor gardens might have looked.

The Long Water, Hampton Court Palace (2017) by Aerial VueHistoric Royal Palaces

The Stuarts

The Stuarts invested heavily in the gardens of Hampton Court Palace. Charles I created a new formal Wilderness garden in the French ‘bosquet’ style and celebrity designers such as Andre Mollet were commissioned to create magnificent new features.

One of these grand new features was Charles II's Long Water canal, which was created in preparation for the arrival of his bride, Catherine of Braganza.

The couple honeymooned at the palace and boats in the shape of swans sailed up the canal in a dramatic romantic gesture.

The Great Fountain Garden, Hampton Court Palace (2015) by Robin ForsterHistoric Royal Palaces

As more money was spent on the royal estate, the role of Keeper of the House Park and later, Superintendent of the Royal Gardens, became an even more prestigious office to hold. 

The Privy Garden and Tijou Screen, Hampton Court Palace (2016) by Andrew ButlerHistoric Royal Palaces

Under William III and Mary II, the gardens at Hampton Court became famous for their beauty and exquisite baroque design. Large sums of money were lavished on creating them - over £100,000, which is equivalent to millions today.​​

Aeonium arboreum, Hampton Court Palace (2019) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

Such was Mary II's passion for plants and gardens that she created a collection of over 2,000 exotic plants and employed her own botanist, Dr Leonard Plukenet to look after them.

She also commissioned Dutchman Hendrick Floris to build the first greenhouses at Hampton Court Palace to protect her collection.

The Maze, Hampton Court Palace (2017) by Aerial VueHistoric Royal Palaces

Under William and Mary, Henry Wise and George London completed the famous Hampton Court Maze and helped create the grandest baroque garden in England.​

A panoramic view of Hampton Court Palace and gardens (1707) by Johannes KipOriginal Source: Historic Royal Palaces image library

When viewed from above, these gardens looked like an elaborate carpet of plants. ​  

During these years of lavish spending, the French master of parterre design, Daniel Marot, was employed to design the Privy Garden and the original fountain garden with 13 fountains set in an intricate pattern of flower beds and coloured gravels.

Unfortunately, the fountains never worked very well due to a lack of water pressure.

The Great Fountain Garden, Hampton Court Palace (2016)Historic Royal Palaces

After William III's untimely death in 1702, Queen Anne had the garden altered to make the three tree-lined avenues with a single central fountain that we see today. 

Conscious that she would have to reduce spending on the gardens, Anne appointed Henry Wise as Royal Gardener in 1702, believing he would know '...what is due and what expense will be necessary for the future of the gardens'.

Perspective View of the Royal Palace and Gardens at Hampton Court (1775)Historic Royal Palaces

Wise was to remain Chief Gardener at Hampton Court Palace for 26 years but made few changes after 1702.​ He worked with Joseph Carpenter and subsequently, Charles Bridgeman, who also created the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

Portrait of Lancelot 'Capability 'Brown (c1780) by John Keyse Sherwin (1751-90) Role Engraver Attribution After Nathaniel DanceHistoric Royal Palaces

The Georgians

After Bridgeman, the title of Master Gardener was given to George Lowe and John Greening before Lancelot 'Capability' Brown took over under George III in 1764. 

Brown was the most famous gardener of his day. He commanded the largest gardener's salary in the country, at £1,300 a year, and lived in Wilderness House in the grounds of Hampton Court from 1764 until his death in 1783. 

Engraving of the Great Fountain Garden, Hampton Court Palace (1798) by Heinrich Joseph Schutz, after Franz Joseph ManskirchHistoric Royal Palaces

Brown was known for removing formal baroque gardens and adding sweeping naturalistic landscapes in their place.

However, with the King no longer in residence, and money being spent elsewhere, Brown left Hampton Court largely unchanged. This view from 1798 probably shows the garden as he left it.

The Great Vine, Hampton Court Palace (2015) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

Planted under Brown's tenancy in 1768, it's now the oldest and largest grape vine in the world.​  

Print of the interior of the vine house (1840) by S Turrell JnrHistoric Royal Palaces

Brown's other legacy at Hampton Court was the Great Vine, which still produces fruit today. 

Aerial view of Great Fountain Garden (2017) by Aerial VueHistoric Royal Palaces

As a result of Brown's tenancy, the yews in the Great Fountain Garden were left to grow and some are now over 300 years old. Over time, they have acquired a distinctive mushroom shape, but still get a yearly trim.  

Today, the Great Fountain Garden is a unique survivor from the great baroque garden era.​  

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