It is funny to think that a garden so grand as Hatfield House was in part planned as a place for women and children to take exercise. A huge, ornate and beautiful gym for 18th century members of the house to walk or ride up and down.
Of course, the gardens are much more than that: they date back to the early 17th century when Robert Cecil and John Tradescant the Elder amassed a collection of trees, bulbs, fruit trees and plants from all over Europe at Cecil’s home. Many of these had never been grown before in England. And the Tudor Old Palace itself was home to Elizabeth I for much of her childhood.
Those unusual specimens remain in the gardens today, including medlars, quinces and mulberries. In fact, one of the mulberry trees at Hatfield House dates back to James I, who wanted to establish a silk industry in England. Unfortunately, he ordered the wrong species – the black mulberry – when silkworms prefer to live off the leaves of the white mulberry.
The gardens are divided into a series of different rooms, including a scented garden, a knot garden, the West garden, the East garden and a wilderness garden.
For those delicate young women who were carefully kept from the sun in the 1700s, the Lime Walk provided a much-needed location for them to walk up and down, and later a location for Queen Victoria’s Prime Minister to ride his tricycle up and down the paths.
And when he wasn’t riding his tricycle, the Marquess would walk up and down the Holly Walk, practising his speeches for Parliament.
This is a lot of history. But the garden is still moving. In the Privy Garden, David Austin roses planted in the 1970s mingle with iris, penstemons, poppies, lupins, rudbeckia and Michaelmas daisies.
And in 1980, the Dowager Lady Salisbury planted the Knot Garden, which consists of three knots and a foot maze, planted up with plants from the 15th-17th centuries. The grassy banks surrounding the garden are carpeted with native spring flowers such as primroses, cowslips and fritillaries.
For more information on Hatfield house, and to visit, go to their website.