Chiswick House celebrates 300 years of design

Image above: Chiswick House; photograph by Nick Raikes

Exploring the theme over the coming year

Chiswick House & Gardens are one of W4’s finest assets. Definitely something to shout about. But when? That is the question. They are 300 years old-ish. The formation of the gardens was well under way before the Palladian house was built in the late 1720s and the whole process took over a decade.

‘Chiswick House Gardens 300-ish anniversary’ does not look so good on a banner, or a coin, so Chiswick House Trust has decided to make 300 years of design “a loose theme” in 2023 rather than a definitive all-singing, all-dancing anniversary, and have just appointed a curator whose job it will be to explore that theme over the coming year.

The eighteenth century travel writer John Macky wrote in his journal A Journey Through England in familiar Letters from a Gentleman here to his Friend abroad about “What is Curious” in the counties he visited, which included Middlesex.

He wrote in 1714 that Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, was “a very hopeful nobleman” who “hath a good Taste in Painting and Gardening.”

Ten years later he noted the nobleman had fulfilled his potential. Writing about the earl’s gardens at Chiswick he says:

“The whole Contrivance of ’em is the Effect of his Lordship’s own Genius, and singular fine Taste.

Image above: Vignette of the arcade at Chiswick House from map maker John Rocque’s map of Chiswick, c.1735. This shows a greenhouse, but one of a different design was actually built; the arcade was planted in 1727

The building of the current Chiswick House was not started until 1727 but by 1723 the gardens were well under way. The ha-ha and deer paddock were created in 1719, the deer house added in 1720 and three of the earl’s antique marbles brought to Chiswick in 1722.

By the time John Macky wrote of his Lordship’s Genius in 1724 Richard Boyle had added the Summer Parlour and Temple by the Water and meandering paths in the Wilderness to the gardens. Over the next few years the canal was dug and filled, yew hedges planted extensively and 68 orange tree tubs created.

The gardens were beginning to take shape in the way we might recognise them today. The stone lions were added in 1738; the Classic Bridge not until 1774.

Image above: Chsiwick House Gardens; Photograph Dawn Wilson

Birthplace of the English Landscape Movement

Chiswick, created by Richard Boyle and William Kent, is acknowledged as the birthplace of the English Landscape Movement, and influenced gardens from Blenheim Palace to New York’s Central Park.

READ ALSO: A history of Chiswick House Gardens by David Jacques Part 1

READ ALSO: A history of Chiswick House Gardens by David Jacques Part 2

READ ALSO: A history of Chiswick House Gardens by David Jacques Part 3

READ ALSO: A history of Chiswick House Gardens by David Jacques Part 4

Garden historian and conservationist David Jacques chose 2022 to publish his book Chiswick House Gardens – 300 years of creation and re-creation. He wrote a series of articles for The Chiswick Calendar on the history of the Gardens and how they had evolved over the centuries.

A carpet of spring flowers

There should be a spectacular display of spring bulbs this year, as November saw the planting of one of the Garden’s biggest planting initiatives in recent years, with over 35,000 bulbs planted.

Head Gardener Rosie Fyles, who joined Chiswick House & Gardens from Ham House in February 2022, is taking inspiration from the heritage site’s 300 years of garden design. She is endeavouring to re-establish the historic central axis, a walkway running through the centre of the estate, a fashionable concept that originated in France in the 17th Century.

Rosie hopes to achieve this by planting over 15,000 bulbs in the borders either side of the Kitchen Garden entrance path. This particular route will be visible from the impressive linked central path which runs through the formal Italian Garden and Conservatory and which, in the 17th century, would have stretched right to the River Thames.

The conservatory is currently closed, but the Trust says it hopes to have the central dome open again in March, in time for the public to catch the collection of heritage Camellias in blossom.

Images above: Heritage Camellias; photographs by Jon Perry, Marianne Mahaffey and Michelle Chapman

Conserving the Camellias

Rosie and her team of volunteers have been planting up the Garden’s shrubbery with historic varieties of Camellia propagated from specimens originally housed in the conservatory. Planting them outside is an attempt to future-proof plants for generations to come, as Camellias do better outside, especially as climate change is making the temperature under glass too hot for them.

Talking about planning her first spring season at Chiswick, Rosie said:

“Planning for my first full spring is all about bringing new colour, different textures and long flowering for pollinators and people.

“With the unique historic context of mature trees and historic walls, this bulb planting on scale will be part of a vivid celebration of the Gardens. I am also taking the opportunity to plant as many varieties as possible of our conservatory camellias outside, where long-term, they will thrive in predicted climate changes”.

Images above: Les Enfants du Paradis

Gifford’s Circus back this year – with an extra week at Chiswick House

Gifford’s Circus will be back this year at Chiswick House, with an extra week planned, as Chiswick is the only London venue and the show is so popular.

The Circus has just announced its 2023 theme – Les Enfants du Paradis – “our most lavish show yet!” taking its inspiration from French Romanticism in the mid-19th Century and promising “some of the most intriguing, exciting and beautiful acts ever to appear at Giffords.”

Among the acts will be Antony Cesar, a 20-year-old aerialist who won the golden buzzer on ‘France’s Got Talent’ in 2020, whose parents have also performed with Gifford’s. His mother Kate is Giffords Circus choreographer.

Also appearing will be Sergi Buka, an llusionist, shadow artist and lanternist, who will perform a poetic Chinese shadow act. The Skating Medini (Asia and Dylan Medini) – a dynamic high-speed roller-skating act from one of Italy’s oldest circus families. Amanda Sandow with her beautiful liberty pony act. Foot juggling and aerial artistes Romy and Alex Michael and The Luna Girls – aerial hoop duo Marina Alvarado de Luna and Markia Ashley Gould.

Returning also are the Ethio-selam Troupe, an Ethiopian acrobatic troupe, managed by Bibi and Bichu, who have appeared in more than ten Giffords Circus shows and are back by popular request.

Gifford’s Circus will be at Chiswick House from 2 – 19 June.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Artists At Home celebrate 50 years in 2023

See also: Ljubima Woods exhibition of photographs at the Hogarth Club

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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