This past week I have been receiving daily updates from the Royal Horticultural Society’s Hampton Court Flower Show. Twice the size of the Chelsea Flower Show (which has become almost too crowded to enjoy) more plants and flowers are sold per square meter during the show than anywhere else in the UK (according to the RHS).
Hampton Court Palace is strongly associated in most people’s minds with King Henry VIII, during whose tenure the topography of today’s gardens and landscape was established. The fabric of the gardens, however, was developed by subsequent royal residents including King William III and Queen Mary II.
A passionate collector of rare plants, Queen Mary II planted exotic species in Henry’s Pond Garden and built the Orangery. It is she who would most delight in the Hampton Court Flower Show with its 98 specialist nurseries and national plant collections from around the world.
And although it wasn’t until Queen Victoria’s reign that Hampton Court opened to the public, I like to envision Queen Mary II, whose “Exoticks” are designated a national plant collection, mingling amongst the crowds, swapping plant stories with her fellow collectors.
The images below, are from the Hampton Court Palace Florilegium Society’s Queen Mary Exotiks Gallery.
Sited on the banks of the Thames River, approximately 15 miles from London, Hampton Court Palace is a unique horticultural and historical resource.
Its 60 acres of formal gardens and 750 acres of parkland have been cultivated since the medieval period and have been rebuilt and remodeled consistently making them a textbook of English royal gardening styles.
A privy, or private garden, has existed at Hampton Court since 1533, when King Henry VII resided here. The garden was redesigned by King William III in the Baroque style in 1702.
The redesign included the installation of wrought iron screens by Jean Tijou. Restored in 1995 to its original 17th century design and historic planting plan, the privy garden’s symmetrical pattern is a showcase for its magnificent marble sculptures.
Also dating from the reign of King Henry VIII, the Sunken Pond Gardens held freshwater fish for the court’s consumption. Repurposed by Queen Mary II for exotic plant species, today the Pond Gardens are planted with spring and summer flowers.
The Great Garden Fountain is the last that remains of thirteen, laid out for King William III and Queen Mary II in what was the “great parterre,” an ambitious endeavor designed to be one of the largest of its time.
Today the Great Fountain Garden is framed by clipped yew trees, curiously looking like lemon drops, planted by Queen Anne. It is on axis with the Grand Canal and is a great spot for relaxing.
A herbaceous border, planted in the 1920’s and described as the longest in the world (at 580 meters in length), borders the great parterre.
Designed by George Loudon and Henry Wise and commissioned around 1700 by King William III, the Great Maze, the last remaining feature of the Wilderness, is a third of an acre in size and is the UK’s oldest surviving hedge. Trapezoid in shape, the Great Maze, was planted with hornbeam hedge and later replanted with yew.
One of Hampton Court’s most famous features is the The Great Vine planted in 1768 by none other than Lancelot “Capability” Brown, often described as England’s greatest gardener. Brown served as Chief Royal Gardener at Hampton Court from 1764 until his death in 1783 and felt strongly that the historical importance of the landscape be preserved, helping to assure that the gardens and parks retain their surviving fabric from the eras of Henry VIII and William and Mary.
The Great Vine produces an annual crop of dessert grapes and is officially recognized as the largest grape vine in the world.
Installed in 1924, the knot garden was designed by historian Ernest Law as an example of the type of garden that existed at Hampton Court during Henry’s reign in the 16th century.
Using paintings and engravings as a guide, the Kitchen Garden is a restored approximation of its 18th century layout. It is planted with historically accurate vegetable and fruit crops and pays homage to the many gardeners who worked its soil. Fruits and vegetables from the garden are sold to the public throughout the year.
The landscape of Hampton Court has been described as internationally significant. The plan below details the formal garden area. Its border is based on details derived from the iron work designed by Tijou surrounding the gardens.
While a prime tourist destination there are plenty of opportunities to explore the historic landscape away from the crowds.
It seems appropriate to conclude with Queen Mary II and the Lower Orangery and Garden Terrace built under her direction to support and display her plant collection, one of the largest private collections of plants in the world, which included imports from the Mediterranean, Virginia, the Caribbean and Mauritius. While once in danger of being lost, Hampton Court’s Garden and Estate staff have recreated Mary’s collection of 215 species and they are now planted in the Orangery and Privy gardens.
Perhaps her name should be added to the show’s title, The Queen Mary’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
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