From plans to planting: the Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace

Follow the story of William III's stunning Privy Garden, from 18th-century plans to the modern reconstruction.

By Historic Royal Palaces

Aerial view of Privy Garden (2015)Historic Royal Palaces

The Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace is a stunning reconstruction of the original design from 1702.

A unique example of English baroque garden design, it is one of the most accurately reconstructed historical gardens in the UK.

Privy Garden, Hampton Court Palace (2017) by Aerial VueHistoric Royal Palaces

The modern restoration of the current Privy Garden is based on the 17th-century design, which was commissioned by William III.

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

This 1707 view of the Hampton Court Palace gardens shows the original formal layout of William's garden bordering the River Thames, to the south of the palace.

The height of baroque fashion

William and Mary hired the best gardeners and craftsmen and used the most fashionable plants to create a garden fit for Christopher Wren's elegant new palace.

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

The Tijou screen in the Privy Garden was designed by Jean Tijou and constructed in 1690.

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

The screen can clearly be seen in the 1707 panoramic view of the gardens.

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

It includes 12 panels depicting the emblems of England (the rose), Ireland (the harp), a thistle for Scotland, William and Mary's monogram, the garter star and Fleur de Lys.

Designs for elements of the Tijou Screen at Hampton Court Palace (1693) by Jean TijouOriginal Source: Historic Royal Palaces image library

These are Tijou's designs for elements of the screen, published in 1693.

Tijou explained that the collection of prints depict gates, balconies, staircases and panels, mostly either made for Hampton Court Palace, or for the great houses of the English nobility.


Tijou states that the prints were 'all for the Use of them that will work Iron in Perfection and with Art', ie. other craftsmen.

Designs for elements of the Tijou Screen at Hampton Court Palace (1693) by Jean TijouOriginal Source: Historic Royal Palaces image library

This was the first pattern book for ironwork to be published in Britain.

The Tijou Screen, harp panel, Hampton Court Palace (2015) by James BrittainHistoric Royal Palaces

This beautiful screen can still be seen at the end of the Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace.

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

In their efforts to create gardens to rival the Palace of Versailles, William and Mary spent an estimated £100,000 on the Hampton Court Palace gardens in just 13 years. This was a huge amount of money by 18th-century standards.

Such was Mary's passion for gardening that she employed her own botanist to look after her collection of exotic plants and citrus trees.​

Plan view of Palace Gardens (1736) by John Rocque (fl. 1738) CartographerHistoric Royal Palaces

The result of their spending, and the efforts of other Stuart royals such as Charles I and Charles II, can be clearly seen in this plan from 1738.  

Unfortunately, the Privy Garden was William's last commission and neither King nor Queen lived long enough to enjoy strolling through it.

After William and Mary

After the palace fell out of favour in the late 18th century, the once-clipped topiary was allowed to grow as nature intended and the garden changed substantially from its original design.

By the mid 20th century, the Privy Garden was unrecognisable.

Privy Garden, Hampton Court Palace, c.1930, From the collection of: Historic Royal Palaces
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The Privy Garden, Hampton Court Palace, Early 20th century, From the collection of: Historic Royal Palaces
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Reconstructing the Privy Garden

It wasn't until the 1990s, when the East Front was restored, that the Privy Garden was brought back to life.

Detailed accounts left by the original gardeners and craftsmen after William’s untimely death helped the modern gardening team to recreate their work.

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

The reconstruction project took five years and the garden was opened in 1995 by HRH Prince Charles.

Gardeners in the Privy Garden, Hampton Court Palace (2015) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

The gardens team have meticulously restored the Privy Garden to its former glory using historically accurate plant varieties and techniques.

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

The spacing between the plants and the mounded beds is a style you don’t see in modern gardens.

The garden today

Today, the challenge is to keep the Privy Garden looking its royal best, for present and future generations to enjoy.

Citrus trees, Privy Garden, Hampton Court Palace (2019) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

As well as continuing traditional gardening practices from the 18th century, the gardens team are also recreating Mary's collection of citrus trees, which are displayed in the Privy Garden each summer.

Here, Horticultural Manager Greg Leeson explains how his team moves Mary's citrus trees, along with thousands of summer flowers and exotic palms, into the gardens — a tradition started by William and Mary to add seasonal interest to the Privy Garden.

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