A garden fit for a king, Hampton Court Palace
Graham Ross heads to the southwest of London to the palatial gardens of England’s most flamboyant king, King Henry VIII, and interviews the head gardener about those infamous yew trees and a great living treasure known as the Great Vine. Watch Graham exploring the historic Hampton Court Gardens on his brand new TV SPECIAL called Great Gardens of the World, Thursday 31 March 8:30 on 7.
Hampton Court Palace in London is a magnificent way of understanding how England’s royal family lived during the 16th and 17th centuries. Henry VIII and his successors really knew how to build a decent country house.
The regal interiors are matched by exquisite formal gardens. Parterres and sunken gardens originally started by King Henry VIII and adapted by Queen Elizabeth! But it wasn’t until King William III came to the throne that these privy or private gardens really flourished.
They were designed by the King’s architect, Sir Christopher Wren, in the baroque style, forever changing the style of English garden design. The garden beds were filled with Queen Mary’s collection of rare and exotic plants like calendulas, salvias, lavender and roses. The garden continued to evolve through the centuries and in 1995 it was completely restored back to its former glory.
There are 60 acres or 24 hectares of formal palace gardens, including the palace’s world famous maze. A team of 40 dedicated gardeners tend to the grounds, including Nigel who has been clipping and loving the palace plants for over forty years.
I asked Nigel if it was difficult to keep the plants locked in to a baroque style of design: “Yes, there are strict regulations. Plants need to be clipped about 2 foot round and they don’t generally like to be two foot round. Its actually quite hard work keeping them like that.”
Hampton Court is renowned for it’s enormous yew trees, some of which are over 300 years old. According to Nigel over there are over 180 yews in the gardens, each of which is pruned annually in late July. Over 18 thousand plants of trimmed buxus hedging form one of the most famous mazes in the world, and I can only imagine how much maintenance is involved to keep it in impeccable shape.
The sunken garden is one of my favourite places, with an interesting history. It originally started out as a fish pond filled with freshwater fish grown for the enormous kitchen of King Henry VIII. Later on, King William III filled the ponds so they could grow all the beautiful plants in Queen Mary’s collection.
Have a look at this, the world’s largest grapevine. At 230 years old, it’s a real old timer. It is also the oldest plant here in the gardens, and was originally planted by Capability Brown. It grew so big that the glasshouse had to be extended in 1790. Some of the branches are 50m long and one measured last year is 75m long. The plant produces a fantastic crop of table grapes each year, and apparently in King George’s time he donated all the grapes to local hospitals.
Ironically William, the monarch who did more than anyone to shape the Hampton Court we know and love today, never got to enjoy his creation. He died after a bad fall from his horse in the palace grounds in 1702.
1737 marked the final year the royal family would use the entire palace. A century on, a young Queen Victoria decreed the palace would be open to her subjects.
You will find Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo) www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/
TV GARDEN SPECIAL
Watch Graham exploring Hampton Court Palace Gardens in his new TV special called Great Gardens of the World, Thursday 31 March 8:30 on 7. This exciting new program will not only take you through the very same Hampton Court Palace gardens but he’ll explore Claude Monet’s famous French masterpiece, and the inspiration for his iconic art works, his home garden at Giverny in Normandy; the magical ‘Sound of Music’ garden called Mirabel Palace in Salzburg, Austria, the location for that classic movie, ‘The Sound of Music’; and finally stepping into the 21st Century with the $4bn ‘Gardens by the Bay’ in Singapore with its 50m tall Supertrees. Each garden sits in a completely different century, over four centuries, but have passion, flowers, colour, plants and great garden design in common. Graham added, “It’s been a huge thrill to film them and now even more exciting to share these wonderful gardens in a one hour special program”.