Gardens, Landscape History, Parks

In the Royal Domain: Drottningholm

June 3, 2014


While we might never be royals we can appreciate their proclivity for creating landscapes and gardens that are available to the public, particularly those that are free of charge.

Sweden’s first World Heritage site, the Royal Domain of Drottningholm, is such a place; an ensemble of architecturally significant structures comprised of a palace, a perfectly preserved theater dating from 1766 and a Chinese pavilion set within 315 acres of gardens, parks, farmland and natural areas.


The Theater Complex

Deemed the best royal residence built during the 18th century in Sweden, Drottningholm is also the finest example of a northern European royal residence inspired by the work of French landscape designer Andre Le Notre.


Known as “The Domain” Drottningholm’s palace and landscape have evolved throughout three centuries of ownership by the Swedish Royal Family.  Portions of the palace and all of the gardens and landscape are accessible to the public year round. I visited last June.

I am embarrassed to share that until I glimpsed an aerial view of  Drottningholm on my flight into Stockholm it was not a garden with which I was familiar.  What I did discover is that the magnificent Baroque gardens, so visible from the air, are complemented by a series of aditional landscapes including a romantic garden in the English style. The gardens from each period remain intact and provide a rare opportunity to experience the evolving taste in landscape styles.  The plan below illustrates the two garden plans with the formal and naturalistic gardens visible.

img052Records reveal that Drottningholm has been owned by the Royal family since the 16th century. The name Drottningholm (“Queen’s islet”) derives from this period when a stone palace was built by John lll of Sweden for his queen, Catherine Jagellon.

Catherine, on the left in the image below, was the first of three Queens whose imprint can be found on the gardens today. Dowager Queen Eleonora Hedvig (1636-1715), center, is credited with the grand vision evident in the palace and layout of the Baroque gardens while the Chinese Pavilion and gardens were a birthday present for Queen Louisa Ulrika, (1720-1782) on the right, in 1753.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.59.30 PM

In 1661 Queen Eleonora Hedvig, 23 years of age, initiated planning for the palace and accompanying grand garden after an original structure, begun in 1576, was destroyed by fire. To achieve her vision she employed Sweden’s most famous architect, Nicodemus Tessin the Elder (1615 – 1681). His design for the landscape, heavily influenced by André Le Nôtre’s work at Vaux-le-Vicomte in France, included formal avenues, embroidered parterres and a series of canals.

The image below, “The Noble Swedish palace to Drottningholm against the garden” is attributed to Jean Benoit Winkler, 1700.

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Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (1654-1728) assumed responsibility for the garden’s completion upon his father’s death and expanded the original design so completely that the work is considered his own independent creation.  The image below, a wall fresco at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm by Swedish artist Carl Larsson, depicts architects Nicodemus Tessin the Younger and Carl Hårleman.

Slottsbygget med Nicodemus Tessin dy och Carl Hårleman.

Influenced by Le Nôtre, Tessin the Younger traveled extensively in Europe studying in Italy, England and France.  On a visit to Versailles it is reputed that he toured the garden with King Louis XIV. It is also speculated one of Drottningholm’s garden plans (dated 1665) was drawn in France under the supervision of Le Nôtre. The sketch plan of Vaux le Vicomte, seen below, is attributed to Tessin the Younger.


Laid out in the 1680‘s the Embroidery Parterre with its borders of flower beds, grass, gravel, crushed brick and black hyperite stone was the first area of the Baroque Garden to be built. It combines with a water parterre to create a series of outdoor rooms extending the Palace’s interior into the landscape. The parterre was restored in 1998.



The Baroque garden, extends from the Palace westward in four sections. A formal parterre connects to the water garden followed by cascades and bosquets leading to a large wilderness known as the star.


The Crown Fountain, sited on the central axis of the garden is a pivotal feature in the garden. It is by Flemish sculptor Adriaen de Vries.


Avenues of European limes form a three-dimensional framework for the Baroque Garden reinforcing its longitudinal axis.


Originally planted in 1684 the avenues took 40 years to complete and contain 792 trees arranged in ditches dug and filled with soil, fertilizer and peat. Between 1997 and 2011 the National Property Board, which manages the Palace property, rejuvenated the lime avenues one section at a time. As part of the project cuttings were taken from trees near the Palace and force grown until they were large enough to plant in later stages of the restoration.

Garden of the Chinese Pavilion:


In 1753 on a rise in the hunting park, a Chinese Pavilion and park were constructed as a birthday gift for Queen Lovisa Ulrika. She  described her delight in a letter to her mother;

“He led me to one side of the garden and suddenly to my surprise, I found myself gazing upon a real-fairy tale creation, for the King had had a Chinese palace built, the loveliest imaginable.”


Queen Lovisa Ulrika, founder of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities was a formidable collector of art and natural history objects.  Within the Palace she created a forum for scholarship and intellectual exchange. The Chinese pavilion, sited at a distance from the Palace and designed in a new, informal style offered refuge from the rigidity of Palace life.

The pavilion, built in 1769 to replace a wooden pavilion from 1753, is considered one of the most important examples of this type of structure conserved in Europe. The French Rococo architecture has an exotic character, with Chinese and oriental elements, the height of fashion during the period. The interiors are considered among the most splendid in Swedish Rococo. The exterior of the Chinese Pavilion was renovated in 1943-55 and the interior in 1959-68.


The garden with flower beds surrounded by box hedges included aviaries, pheasantries and a menagerie complemented by walks lined by chestnut trees.  Its naturalistic design contributed to its appeal.


Seating, promenades and viewing areas were arranged within the surrounding woodlands where, as a complement to existing conifers, large stands of deciduous trees were planted.  Queen Louisa Ulrika and architect Carl Frederik Adelcrantz collaborated on the landscape design.  The plan below, was drawn by surveyor Lars R. Kokeritz in 1779.


When the Chinese Pavilion was rebuilt the garden was modified to include a series of lime bosquets adapted to the contours of the land.  Aviaries and trellis pavilions planted with honeysuckle, lilacs and mulberries added to the romantic, secluded feel of the landscape  providing a sense of being in a cabinet de verdure, a secret green room.

Today the landscape areas near the Chinese Pavilion include a series of educational gardens and displays.


The gardens designed for the Chinese Pavilion provide a transition for the English landscape garden that was to follow.

The Landscape Garden:


In 1777 King Gustav III assumed possession of Drottningholm and began work on an “English Park” in an area north of the Baroque gardens.  While an active participant in the design process, Gustav  collaborated with Adelcrantz and architect and landscape designer Frederick Magnus Piper.

Piper, like Tessin the Younger before him, traveled extensively in Europe, spending time in England where he apprenticed with William Chambers a Scottish-Swedish architect based in London. Familiar   with the theory and practice of the “new” English style of gardening Piper visited and recorded Stourhead, Painshill and The Leasowes and used his experiences to inform the design of the new landscape park at Drottningholm.


IMG_2361Nature reigned supreme and the formal paths of the Baroque landscape were modified to complement a series of picturesque elements including ponds and islands. Access was by meandering footpaths through meadows and fields punctuated with artistically sited stands of trees and classical sculptures.



Sculptures acquired by Gustav in his travels abroad were artfully juxtaposed within the natural landscape. Buildings and monuments were added to the landscape including a Gothic Tower in 1792.


In 1797 Piper developed a master plan of the gardens and grounds of Drottningholm. The watercolor drawing below depicts site lines as well as the formal elements sited within the naturalistic landscape.


During the 19th century the park and gardens were not well maintained and the manicured French character of the landscape was partially lost. Inscribed a World Heritage site in 1991, the landscape and gardens continue to be restored.


The 2007-2012 Drottningholm World Heritage Site World Heritage Management Plan notes the area is an important garden and park environment. The palace establishment “includes three distinct stylistic ideals, with the Baroque garden, the gardens around the Chinese pavilion in Rococo style and the English Romantic landscape park.The gardens and parks with their clear characteristics bear witness to both changing style ideals and long continuity.”

Accessible by ferry from Stockholm Drottningholm receives more than 500,000 visitors a year.



Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved



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  • Reply Gallivanta June 5, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed your post on Drottningholm.

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