The Tudor period was heavily influenced by new ideas arriving from France and Italy. Gardens signified control over nature as well as displaying a person’s wealth and importance. And for the Elizabethans, the garden was ‘a canvas for earthly pleasure and spiritual enrichment’.
After a fire in 1497, Richmond Palace was rebuilt by Henry VII. A contemporary account describes the ‘most fair and pleasant gardens, with royal knots alleged and herbed; many a marvellous beast, as lyons, dragons and others such divers kynde, properly fashioned and carved in the ground, right well sanded and compassed in with lead, with many vines, seeds and strange fruit, right goodly well beset, kept and nourished, with much labour and diligence.’ There were also wooden painted obelisks and ‘pleasaunt galerys and housis of pleasure to disporte inn’
These ‘housis’ also known as ‘types’ or banqueting houses were used for entertaining, especially for eating. They usually had windows so that the family and their guests could look down on the garden and outwards over the wider landscape. It was also somewhere to escape from the prying eyes of servants. Some were built on the roof (Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire; Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire) while others were part of the formal garden. (Montacute House, Wiltshire).
Symmetrical knot gardens were enclosed by low hedges of clipped evergreens and filled with a variety of patterns or designs. Woody, scented herbs such as lavender, hyssop, marjoram and thyme were often used for edging. [Box was seldom used in the sixteenth century, as it was believed that its flower killed bees ‘and corruptheth the aire by the stinking smell it hath’ However by 1629, John Parkinson was recommending box ‘above all other herbes…to set out any knot, or border out any beds’.]
The gardens at Hampton Court (c1529) were created to celebrate the ‘triumphant reigne’ of Henry VIII. Surviving accounts confirm that there were a large number of heraldic beasts carved by Harry Corantt of Kyngston: 38 of the Kynges and the quenys Beestes, in freeston, barying shyldes wythe the Kynges armes and the Quenys ; that ys to say, fowre dragownes, seyx lyones, fyve grewhoundes…fyve harttes, foure Innycornes, servyng to stand abowght the ponddes in the pond yerd at 26s. the pece …[and]…a lyonand grey-hound in freestoon, that is to say, the lyon barying a vane with the Kynges armes”, together with “the pyllers of freestoon that the beastestandyth uppon”. [A pair of stone leopards has recently been returned to Hampton Court. They were rescued from a skip in Surrey, travelled to France but on realising their significance, the beasts were returned and can now be seen in the State Apartments.] Other ‘beestes’ were cut from wood and ‘for payntyng of 30 stoon bests standing upon bases abowghtt the pondes in the pond yerd, for workmanship, oyle and covers, at 12d, the pece.’
Other features included the Pond Yard (which included a knot garden), the Privy Orchard, the Privy Garden and the Mount Garden.
Mounts were often planted with fruit or other trees with a winding path leading to the summit. At Hampton Court, Henry built his near the entrance gate. Apart from being used to see over the garden and the landscape beyond, for Henry, they also illustrated his dominance. To emphasize this, Henry built a two-storey banqueting house at the summit, topped by a gilded crown.
Henry VIII also had numerous sundials at his Royal Palaces. They had become a popular garden feature, linking the transitory nature of the garden with life itself.
The Tudor period also saw the publication of The Profitable Art of Gardening, the first book by an Englishman which was ‘exclusively dedicated to the subject of gardening.’ Gardening was reaching a wider audience with many different trades springing up including ‘botanists, florists, fruit-growers, herbalists, horticulturists, market gardeners, nurserymen, plant merchants, seedsmen and sowers’.
In 1575, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester created a theatrical setting at his garden at Kenilworth in Warwickshire. Filled with symbolism and designed to win Elizabeth I’s hand in marriage, it had fountains, fish, an elaborate aviary decorated with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires made from glass or mosaics as well as ‘plants and fragrant earbs and floourz, in form, cooler and quantitee so deliciously variant, and fruite Trees bedecked with their Applz, Peares and rype Cherryez’. There were also numerous birds, an integral part of the spiritual enjoyment. It was ‘woorthy to be called Paradis’.
As the century progressed, water became an obsession. One of the earliest examples of water being the main feature of the garden was at Beddington. [It’s still possible to see the crystal clear waters at Beddington, worth visiting the Park if you’re near.] Created by Sir Francis Carew in 1570s, this ‘most lovely garden’ was divided into different areas with Lilliputian figures liberally sprinkled. A visitor in 1610 described:
‘a very fine fountain with neatly made fishes, frogs etc. swimming in the fountain as if they were alive…in the other garden we saw a great number of figs, oranges, lemons…Not far away ther is a stream of water cheerfully running out of a little hill which is handsomely furnished with all sorts of neatly made animals and little men as though they were alive. Further down are two little corn mills…driven by the water. There are also small boats and a little naval vessel lying at anchor on the water.’
as well as two pleasure houses or grottoes. Recent research at Beddington has revealed pieces of pottery similar to those produced by Bernard Palissy, a French Huguenot potter and hydraulics engineer. As Carew visited Paris in 1561, it is likely he visited the Tuileries, the gardens of Catherine de Medici. Amongst the parterres, fountains and labyrinth, there was a grotto decorated with plants and animals made from tin-glazed pottery by Palissy.
By 1590s, gardens were also getting bigger.
Examples of Tudor Gardens can be seen at: