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Blenheim Palace Head Gardener reveals ambitious plans to restore and transform Formal Gardens

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Andy Mills, Head Gardener at the world-renowned Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, has revealed bold plans to restore and transform the stunning Formal Gardens at one of Britain’s greatest palaces – the biggest change to its 90 acres of gardens in over 100 years.

 

His 10-year vision will see the reintroduction of many ‘lost’ features and elements which have disappeared across the last three centuries.

Work has already begun on the long-term project, which includes:

  • Bringing back the sharp 1920s lines of The Italian Garden and Water Terraces, by drastically reducing the hedges, returning the definition, grandeur and majesty to these pieces of garden art
  • Excavating ‘lost’ ponds at the Walled Garden and the Rose Garden, which will enable the capture of more rain water to use for irrigation; add more movement and water life to the Walled/Rose Garden; and by the process of being near to water and seeing water perhaps cool visitors down; in addition, the water at the centre of the Rose Garden may help cool the area down and encourage blooms to last longer
  • Restoring the Croquet Shed and Lawn to restore the symmetry to the area
  • Planting new herbaceous beds flanking the path through Churchill’s walk by the Temple of Diana, and re-establishing the scenic path running from the Rose Garden down to the Temple of Flora
  • Building a brand new rockery at the accessible entrance above the Water Terraces to reflect the larger one above Capability Brown’s Grand Cascade at the lower end of the main lake
  • Restoring the Cascade to its original grandeur with a host of features and elements, including new planting, seating, bridges and an octagonal summerhouse

Andy commented: “Our aim is to strengthen Blenheim Palace’s place on the World Garden map. We are blessed with 90 acres of inspirational gardens; these plans will make them even more stunning than ever and truly blow people away. Hopefully, our visitors are already starting to see the changes which we’ve started to introduce.”

He added: “One of the most interesting discoveries was around the gardens down by the Cascade, comprising a fountain; an extensive rockery with choice plantings; spinning boulder gate; a subterranean spring with glass skylights; rock seats and niches; a druids’ table and seating; and rustic bridges over the river to an island, which had a rustic octagonal summerhouse. We intend to restore this area to its original grandeur.”

The Formal Gardens, created over the centuries by esteemed designers such as Henry Wise and Achille Duchêne, reflect a journey through the horticultural styles of the ages, with many of the previous Dukes of Marlborough making their mark by introducing or removing certain elements.

Since his appointment in August 2022, Andy has been researching the garden’s history to help formulate his ambitious plans.

“I began by taking a walk around the gardens and noting down what needs to be done now, next week, next month, next year and so on – developing a plan; I then spent time working alongside each member of the garden team asking many questions and listening to their ideas.

“In addition, I spent many happy hours trawling the internet for images of the Garden from the past and looking at the depicted areas now. I have been asking a lot of questions of the Garden team, plus I have been sending a lot of enquiries to the Blenheim archivist and our social historian.

He added: “There are a number of very well-written historical reference books about Blenheim with some amazing anecdotes about the different Dukes and their preferred garden styles; a large part of my role is to identify who did what, why, when and who removed it and if it is feasible, sensible and worthwhile restoring it.”

Visitors can already see some of the transformational changes taking place at the UNESCO World Heritage Site  – with an Annual Pass allowing them to track the project across the seasons; you can book tickets here.

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