New gardens at Kensington Palace now openTodd Longstaffe-Gowan Landscape Design
New landscaping and gardens reconnect Kensington Palace to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.
The gardens at Kensington Palace have recently been re-presented as part of a £12 million project to transform the palace and its surroundings. The new gardens make the palace more open, and more welcoming and accessible to visitors and to the local community of Kensington and Chelsea. These changes have been made through the collaboration of Historic Royal Palaces, English Heritage, Historic Royal Palaces Access Group, The Royal Parks, John Simpson Architects and Todd Longstaffe-Gowan Landscape Design.
Until recently Kensington Palace was a virtually invisible - an unloved royal backwater, set behind forbidding railings, heavily embowered with shrubs and trees, and the approach to the front door was to many potential visitors so confused and labyrinthine that few attempted to persevere.
Among the most important achievements of the Kensington Project has been to move the public entrance from the north to the east front of the palace, where it is more visible and welcoming to the millions of souls who cross the Broad Walk every year. No less important has been the removal of great swathes of clutter - including benches, dustbins, security railings, trees and shrubberies to the northeast and southeast of the palace - to recover important and expansive eighteenth-century views over Kensington Gardens.
The aims of the new garden were simple: to create a more coherent and dignified setting for the palace, to recover important historic views to and from the garden, and to reconnect the palace to the neighbouring park, thus restoring Kensington Palace to its place at the heart of Kensington Gardens. The new ten-acre royal garden builds upon, and complements the bold ‘unaffected Englishness' of Charles Bridgeman's early eighteenth-century landscape. They are, however, a new layer in this most layered of gardens, and a contemporary response to the palace, the park and the needs of a modern audience.
The building of our new east gardens, has like that of the earlier ones at Kensington, involved extensive earthworks: 7,000 cubic metres of soil were excavated to form a gently-sloping ramp between the new palace entrance and the raised level of the Broad Walk. Sixty-four mature trees were felled to reveal the palace and to open historic views linking the palace and the gardens. Two new gravelled walks were laid out on the slope, as well a series of crisp grass terraces studded with playfully clipped yew sentinels. The uppermost terrace of this ‘Palace Lawn' forms a verdant plinth for the gleaming white marble statue of Queen Victoria. This statue, now encompassed by an octangular reflecting pool, was sculpted by her daughter Princess Louise, and erected in 1889 as a tribute to the Queen's generosity in throwing open the gardens and the palace to the public.
Drawing on a lost Bridgeman bastion, a new mount has been raised on the north side of Palace Lawn, and new lozenge-shaped ‘slips' bedizened with flowering shrubs and herbaceous plants have been laid out on the south side of the garden adjacent to the Grand Walk. A wildflower meadow has been formed on the south lawn, traditional park fencing has replaced high security railings, and the Golden Gates have been stripped of their modern extensions. The Wiggly Walk - a 90 metre long sloping path adjacent to the Queen's Wing that snakes through a clipped hornbeam plantation - is among the more curious additions to the gardens, and has been laid out to provide ramped access between the lower gardens and the Orangery Lawn and the Cradle Walk. The walk's winding layout mimics the paths that once threaded Bridgeman's wilderness gardens.
Our landscape scheme has been informed by a detailed analysis of the long and complex history of the development of the palace and its setting. It does not, however, represent an historical recreation of an earlier phase.
The landscape improvements that took place at Kensington between 1689 and 1735 have had the greatest influence on our ultimate design. This was the most significant period in the development of the gardens - the bones of which survive and have been reinforced in the course of our work. William III and Mary II got the ball rolling in 1689 with the purchase of Nottingham House, a modest suburban villa on the western edge of Hyde Park. Shortly afterwards the Queen gave the first of several orders to encroach upon the park to enlarge the palace gardens, which were subsequently embellished with embroidered parterres, a mount, bowling green, banqueting house, wilderness gardens, and a menagerie filled with curious wild fowl, tortoises, snails, and ‘tygers'.
From 1702 Queen Anne, also keen to make her mark, banished the stiffness of her predecessors' efforts to give an ‘English model to the old-made Gardens', creating a new Wilderness, Mount and Sunken Garden north of the palace, raising an Orangery, and large Alcove. She, too, extended the gardens further eastwards into Hyde Park to form new paddocks for her ‘zoological garden'.
The most imaginative and enduring contributions to the gardens were, however, made by Queen Caroline - consort of George II. An ardent supporter of the fashion for a more ‘natural style' of gardening, the Queen and her co-conspirator, the royal gardener Charles Bridgeman, created a landscape of plain nobility - one which pleased and amazed by its ‘well judg'd Vistos', its long tree-lined and serpentine walks, and its impressive waterworks, including the Round Pond and the Serpentine. This was the last thorough remodelling of the gardens until our own recent efforts. From the 1760s to the recent past they were colonised and subdivided to serve as ‘grace-and-favour' apartments for members of the Royal family and household, and were even used as a nursery ground by the Royal Parks. One of the only positive changes was the creation of the Orangery Lawn and the Sunken Garden in 1908.
The new gardens, designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan and James Fox, have once more restored Kensington Palace to the heart of the 625 acres that constitute Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.
Historic Royal Palaces is an independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. They help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built. HRP receives no funding from the Government or Crown, so depends on the support of their visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors. The palaces are owned by HM The Queen on behalf of the nation, and they manage them for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. HRP believes in four principles. Guardianship: giving these palaces a future as long and as valuable as their past. Discovery: encouraging people to make links with their own lives and today's world. Showmanship: doing everything with panache. Independence: having our own point of view and finding new ways to do our work.
Todd Longstaffe-Gowan Landscape Design
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