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Hampton Court Palace

East Molesey, Surrey, KT8 9AU.

The gardens and estate at Hampton Court Palace, like the palace itself cover several periods of history and are fascinating for the garden enthusiast. Some of the trees are hundreds of years old and will have been there when famous Kings and Queens wandered past. Some of the gardens have been replanted to exact historical records and give the viewer a sense of what they would have been like at a particular period in history.

View of the Privy Garden at the rear of Christopher Wren's Palace extension .
View of the Privy Garden at the rear of Christopher Wren’s Palace extension
which was replanted in 1995 to plans of 1702

The parkland at Hampton Court covers 750 acres and there are 60 acres of formal gardens to view which are all laid out in a loop of the River Thames. You may wan to see the Great Vine which was allegedly planted by Lancelot “Capability” Brown when he was Royal Gardener in 1768. It is said to be one of the oldest grapevines in the world, but if you are like me and have come to see the topiary head straight for the Privy Garden which is a splendid recreation of King William the Third’s garden complete with all the original types of planting and marble sculptures. Depending when you read this will depend on how mature the topiary shapes have become but there is already and overall wow factor due to the layout of the whole area with gravel paths. The parterres of King William the Third lasted into the middle of the Eighteenth Century when the topiary were left to grow out and the statues were removed due to the changing fashion. By the mid nineteenth Century the area had become almost overgrown with tall trees.

William 111's Privy garden.
William 111’s Privy garden complete with
grass sculpture known as gazon coupé

Of interest also are the ancient yew trees in the parkland which date back hundreds of years and will have been seen by famous residents and visitors such as Henry the Eighth himself. These are still clipped but because of their great age they have grown to immense girth and each have a character of their own. THey make a particularly great sight from inside the palace.

The ancient yews
The ancient yews

According to the publication produced by Hampton Court Palace there would have been topiary in the sixteenth Century. “The German, Thomas Platter, who was shown the Privy Garden towards the end of Elizabeth I’s reign in 1599, described his impressions of the topiary: ‘There were all manner of shapes, men and women, centaurs, sirens, serving maids with baskets, French lilies and delicate crenellations…trimmed and arranged picture-wise that theirequal would be difficult to find.”

The avenue of yews showing their different shapes
The avenue of yews showing their different shapes

Of course Hampton Court Palace is also famous for its hedge maze crafted in yew. It was begun in 1690 for the entertainment of King William III and was originally planted in Hornbeam which would have lost most of its leaves in winter. It was one of two mazes planted in the wilderness garden. This was an area where the king could go unmolested by subjects to chat with his courtiers and was not a wilderness as we would think of it today. Interestingly enough “Lancelot “Capability” Brown had an office very near the maze and the man who was responsible for digging up so many formal gardens in other parts of the country to make his landscapes was expressly
forbidden from touching the maze by the king. Fashion was not allowed to get in the way of enjoyment.

Nowadays it covers one third of an acre and has half a mile of paths between its seven foot high yew walls. Don’t go in if you are short of time as the journey to the centre takes at least 20 minutes if you don’t lose your way and then of course you’ve go to get out. Unlike some mazes I have seen there is no peeping over the tops of the hedges to guess your way.

The entrance to Hampton Court Maze
The entrance to Hampton Court Maze

All photographs by Anthony Blagg

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