The Garden at Hampton Court, with the possible exception of Chatsworth, is the grandest in England. It owes its present form to King William m and his wife, Queen Mary, who had passed their early married life in Holland, and were much influenced by the continental style of gardening then prevalent. Perhaps Dutch William dreamed, once he became king of England in 1688, of having a garden to rival that of his enemy, Louis xiv, at Versailles. If so, he never achieved it, though he made a brave attempt. The temperature – political rather than climatic – in England does not favour too grandiose conceptions on the part of her kings. Hampton Court is but a modest echo of Versailles, but echo it is, and an impressive one.
Hampton Court, as everyone knows, was built by Cardinal Wolsey and given by him, with some ill grace, to Henry vin; and it is of the garden in Henry vm’s time that we first have records. We know that he laid out bowling greens, built a tennis court (it still exists) and archery butts. He planted a rose garden to supply roses for his current wife, Anne Boleyn, especially, and threw up the fashionable mound, with a glass-paned summer house on top. The most striking part of the garden in Tudor times was a parterre embellished not only with, but with high poles painted white and green, the Tudor colours. On top of these poles were garishly coloured carved figures of the ‘King’s Beastes’, a series of heraldic animals such as the Black Bull of Clarence, the Griffon of Edward m and that strange animal, the horned and walrus-toothed Yale of Beaufort.
All the Tudors loved their palace on the river Thames. So did the succeeding Stuarts. Charles 11 wanted to emulate the gardens he had seen on the continent in his days of exile, but never had the money to complete his ambitious schemes. However, he had the still-existing canal dug, and planted the lime avenues which still radiate from the palace: during his reign, the gardens must have presented a gay appearance, with ladies and gentlemen such as.Lely painted walking in it, and enjoying to the full, as the visiting Duke of Tuscany disapprovingly recorded, ‘snug places of retirement, in certain towers’.
Jamess reign was short, and saw little change at Hampton Court. It was not until the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that the gardens took the form in which we see them today. William and Mary, with the aid of Sir Christopher Wren, not only transformed Wolsey’s palace, but made great alterations to the garden. The Maze was planted, the Long and Broad Walks were laid out, and the Great Fountain Garden was designed below the east facade of the palace: to make room for this, some of Charles IT’S canal had to be filled in. The Great Fountain Garden, still one of the most spectacular parts of the pleasure grounds at Hampton Court, owes much to King William’s native Holland, and something to France, with its broderie of box trees in an almost Baroque design of flowerbeds set withor tulips, or relying for colour on powdered brick – brique pilee, such as Le Notre used for his stupendous creation at Versailles.
Two famous names now take their place in the story of the garden at Hampton Court, Daniel Marot and Jean Tijou. Marot certainly had a hand in the design of some of King William’s parterres, and Tijou made the drawings for the twelve beautiful grilles, which still grace the garden: two in their originalin the Great Fountain Garden, and the others in the Privy Garden.
Only the renewed outbreak of war with France prevented further changes. As it was, the last vestiges of the Tudor garden were swept away, including Henry vin’s tilt yard and famous mound.
Queen Anne came often to Hampton Court. As the smell of box made her sneeze, much of William’s parterre was uprooted. But Anne’s association with Hampton Court has been caught for us in an amber moment by Alexander Pope in the opening lines of The Rape of the Lock:
Close by those Meads for ever crown’d with Flow’rs Where Thames with Pride surveys his rising Tow’rs There stands a Structure of Majestic Fame, Which from the neighb’ring Hampton takes its name. Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey, Dost sometimes Counsel take – and sometimes Tea
Tea, in those days, being pronounced ‘Tay’.
George 11 engaged both William Kent and Charles Bridgeman to do some work at Hampton Court, and under their sway more of the formal gardens were swept away in deference to the fashion of the day for natural gardening, or, as it was called on the continent, le jardin anglais. Under George in the famous Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown laid his hands on the place, but though a dedicated advocate of the natural style, he spared much of what was left of the formal gardens. It was he who planted the Great Vine which today is one of the wonders of Hampton Court.
George ill’s granddaughter, Queen Victoria, made the last and most sensational move in the history of the garden. She opened it to the public. This was a most unusual thing to do at that time, and in the first year 120,000 people thronged to see it.
Modern additions to the garden are splendid plantings of tulips in spring, followed in summer by a blaze of colour provided by two of the most spectacular herbaceous borders in the country; and a new knot garden re-echoes, after four centuries, the original Tudor flavour of Wolsey’s palace.
OPEN November – February: 9.30 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Monday, Saturday, Sunday: 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.). March, April, October: 9.30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Sunday: 2 p.m. -4 p.m.). May – September: 9.30 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Sunday: 11 a.m. -6 p.m.). LOCATION On north bank of the river Thames at Hampton, south-west of London.