History of our Park & Gardens

A Walk through the Past

By Blenheim Palace

Palace and Italian Gardens AerialBlenheim Palace

Park & Gardens

The foundation stone for Blenheim Palace was laid on June 18th 1705 and, at the same time as architect John Vanbrugh’s creation began, landscape gardener, Henry Wise started to shape and form the perfect setting for the home which was to be a monument to the great achievements of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. 

Sunshine over The South LawnBlenheim Palace

South Lawn

Wise created symmetry and formality in the gardens – as was the fashion at the time – he designed a vast parterre which was to be found where the South Lawn now sits, an immense walled kitchen garden surrounded by a 14 feet high wall to protect the fruit and vegetables from marauding deer and planted a ‘woodwork’ of mature trees with winding pathways for the ageing Duke to enjoy in the last two summers of his life.

Column of VictoryBlenheim Palace

Column of Victory

He continued the symmetry by planting a line of elms to lead from the outside world up to Flagstaff Lodge and a great avenue of elms, almost 3000 metres long, planted 4 deep leading from the Column of Victory all the way up to Ditchley Gate in the north of the Park

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

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown

The landscape matured and remained largely unchanged for the next few decades until in 1764, the 4th Duke of Marlborough commissioned Lancelot Brown to realise the full ‘Capability’ of the gardens.

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

Fashions had changed and Brown favoured a more natural look to replace the formality which had been popular during the earlier part of the 18th century.  He swiftly did away with what remained of the Great Parterre and laid it to lawn.

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

He grassed over Great Court, planted Cedars of Lebanon – exotic at the time and a sign of great wealth – and went on to create a belt of beech trees around the perimeter of the Park to give the Duke the feeling of privacy and seclusion that he craved.    

The Great Lake

Brown’s greatest achievement at Blenheim was probably the creation of the Great Lake.  When Vanbrugh built his bridge, it spanned the River Glyme, a trickle of water which made the enormous structure look completely out of place.  

By creating the Lake, Brown gave the bridge the setting it deserved; it took 1000 workers 10 years to complete the work and once the Lake had been dug out – by hand – Brown dammed the river in order to fill it and then built the Grand Cascade to add drama and  and sound to his magnificent work.

Rose GardenBlenheim Palace

Rose Garden

The 4th Duke was succeeded by his eldest son in 1817; a well-known botanist who had already established the outstanding grounds at his former residence at Whiteknights, Reading, he set about the Blenheim grounds to create a number of varied plantings – a Rose Garden, a Rock Garden and a Botany Bay Garden to name but a few.

The Water Terraces

During the Victorian period, the gardens remained largely unchanged until the time of the 9th Duke.  His marriage in 1896 to wealthy American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, furnished him with the funds to make further changes to the setting of the Palace.

He promptly restored the Great Court and disposed of the grass laid down by Brown.  He then employed the French landscape architect Achille Duchêne to carry out major works to the east and the west of the Palace.

On the east, Duchêne created the Italian Gardens – the Duke’s private gardens - and to the west he replaced the ‘crooked lawn’ with the Water Terraces – a venture which began in the late 1920s and which involved moving many tonnes of earth to create the two terraces complete with statues and topiary which we enjoy today.

Bernini Fountain at Water TerracesBlenheim Palace

Bernini Fountain at The Water Terraces

The 10th Duke added moving water to the Water Terraces by introducing fountains in the basins of the upper terraces – something which his father had always resisted.  

Bernini Fountain at Water TerracesBlenheim Palace

The Palace opened its doors to the public in 1950 and as more and more visitors began to arrive, the Duke felt the lack of a garden which he could enjoy in private away from the eyes of the thousands of people who came to enjoy the rest of the surroundings.

Secret Garden PondBlenheim Palace

The Secret Garden

To remedy this, he created his Secret Garden, an area which became neglected in later years but which was restored to its former glory by his son, the 11th Duke of Marlborough.  It was reopened in 2004 and today its quiet beauty can be enjoyed by all. 

Temple of Diana. Winston Churchill proposalBlenheim Palace

Temple of Diana

The grounds at Blenheim continue to evolve and develop; 2015 saw the opening of the Churchill Memorial Garden designed by Kim Wilkie. Situated beside the Temple of Diana where Winston proposed to his beloved Clementine, the garden was created to mark 50 years since the great leader’s death and marks out many of the milestones in his long life.

Sunset over Blenheim PalaceBlenheim Palace

As with all gardens, those at Blenheim continue to change and adapt and to give pleasure.

The next phase in the life of this wonderful space will be to restore the Kitchen Gardens created by Henry Wise over 300 years ago, and to create another area which can be enjoyed by visitors from all over the world.

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