Let’s start in the south of the UK on the Isle of Wight where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Osborne House in 1845 as a country retreat. They demolished the original property and built one in brick but rendered the house and terraces in concrete to make it look like stone. The concrete weathered and failed so recently it was repaired by way of doff cleaning to remove the dirt, moss and algae. Doff is an alkali chemical, so it has to be applied carefully.
Prince Albert started planting on the terraces in 1850 with magnolia grandiflora, now 167 years old, and wall trained myrtle, which has been used for royal wedding bouquets. There are vines among the pergolas that were planted in 1851 and camellias on the lower terraces in 1855, replanted in the mid 1990s. Albert was endeavouring to capture the scenic Italian coast as he looked out from the terraces. English weather might not have come up to expectations.
Across the Solent there’s another royal garden. This one belongs to Prince Charles, a keen gardener and fan of organic and sustainable gardens. Does he talk to his plants? That’s what I would like to know.
Highgrove House gardens in Gloucestershire has been transforming for 30 years with the addition of a carpet garden, southern hemisphere and sundial garden, and a stumpery. Stumpery is a garden feature like a rockery but instead of rocks, it uses parts of dead trees, or floorboards or even rail sleepers. The first stumpery was built in 1856 at Biddulph Grange and is described as a one of those ‘Victorian horticultural Oddities’. Great for shade loving plants.
Prince Charles received help for his garden ideas from Miriam Rothschild, who worked as a codebreaker at Bletchley during the war before becoming an authority on the flea. There was Lady Salisbury, who restored Hatfield House and Rosemary Verey… More on her later.
Now we’ll head east and to London for Buckingham Palace. The garden was originally part of Goring Great Garden which belonged to an earlier house on the site, and was designed by Henry Wise for Queen Anne. There’s a mulberry tree that dates back to James I and in the 19th century the lake was home to flamingoes. Around 1762-63, Capability Brown drew up plans for two schemes for the gardens, but only the trees were planted – the oval lake was never built. Brown was the head gardener with responsibility for maintenance of the gardens and at other royal residences, too. In 1825 George IV decided to rebuild Buckingham House (as it was) into a royal palace. The Baroque garden laid out by Henry Wise was removed (none of Wise’s gardens seemed to have survived the landscapers!) and the botanist for Kew Gardens, William Townsend Aiten designed the new gardens. The gardens are now listed – meaning they can’t be messed about with.
The garden is the setting for the Royal garden party which takes place every summer with tea and cakes in the marquee. The Queen greets specific guests chosen from those attending, usually people of national interest or holding public office, in her private tent. It’s all very civilised and English.
Further north in Norfolk is Sandringham, the Queen’s winter home. The gardens were laid out in the 1860s. The original lake was filled in during Edward VII reign and replaced with parterre, which in turn went in favour of two new lakes bordered by rockeries and grottoes using pulhamite stone.
Now across the borders into Scotland and a quick trip to Balmoral, which is the Royal families late summer’s residence…the grouse shooting season. The garden was started by Prince Albert and the kitchen garden was created by the Duke of Edinburgh. There’s a vegetable plot used when the royals are home and plenty of Victorian glasshouses.
So far it seems the royal men lead the way in gardening. But at Glamis House, which was home to the late Queen mother’s Scottish family, it is Countess Cecilia, the Queen Mum’s mum who laid out an Italian garden with yew hedges, a walled gardens that features a Monet style bridge and ornamental pond. The Italian garden has fan shaped parterres with gravel paths and two gazebos.
Gazebos? These have been fixtures in gardens for centuries and sometimes referred to as summerhouses, kiosks or pavilions comprising of a roof and supporting pillars to provide shelter and shade, and often octagonal. The earliest recorded… Ancient Egypt! The Egyptians believed that after death their gardens and gazebos would follow them to heaven. The Persians used gazebos to conduct business, the Greeks used them in public spaces, as we do with band stands in parks, whereas the Romans preferred them as private places for relaxation. Nowadays they are purely ornamental and useful for BBQs.
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