The magnificent gardens of Blenheim Palace were winners of the 2008 ‘Garden of the Year’ Award sponsored by the Historic Houses Association and Christie’s. The Formal Gardens owe much to the 9th Duke of Marlborough who, in the 1920s, with the help of the French landscape architect Achille Duchêne, redesigned the gardens to provide the Palace with the formal majestic setting that visitors see today.
The Water Terraces
It took five years, from 1925 to 1930 for the Water Terraces to be built and involved an immense amount of thought and planning. Today, these terraces are reminiscent, on a smaller scale, of the Parterre d’Eau at Versailles. On the lowest terrace stands the scale model made by Bernini for his famous fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome. The narrow second terrace is divided from the third terrace by shallow steps guarded by two sphinxes. The head of each sphinx is that of Gladys Deacon, second wife of the 9th Duke. Also on show, flanked by tiers of shells, are the caryatids carved in situ by Visseau, which support the first terrace. The Arboretum lies beyond the lower Water Terrace and winds past the Temple of Diana, built for the 4th Duke by Sir William Chambers. It was here, during the summer of 1908, that Sir Winston Churchill proposed to Miss Clementine Hozier, who was to become Baroness Churchill.
The Italian Garden
This ornate garden is the Duke’s private garden, but it can be seen from the raised public walkway. In the early 20th century the 9th Duke of Marlborough redesigned the Italian Garden on the advice of his French architect, Achille Duchêne. Formal symmetrical scrollwork parterres in box and yew replaced the earlier scheme of carpet bedding and a new bronze fountain by the American sculptor, Waldo Story, was installed. These box-hedges are kept in pristine condition – each of them trimmed using spirit-levels, and string, as well as many hours of dedicated hard work.
The Secret Garden
This newly renovated garden lies to the east of the South Lawn. The present Duke restored this garden as part of the Battle of Blenheim tercentenary celebrations in 2004. Whilst introducing many new features, His Grace ensured that he retained much of the original layout designed by his father. In contrast to the formal gardens and sweeping parkland it is a secluded area where winding paths lead over bridges to tranquil water, ponds and streams. Its informal style and the fact that the plants are named provide a welcoming atmosphere for keen gardeners and families alike.
The Rose Garden
The Rose Garden is contained within a circular walk, arched over by slender hoops supporting climbing roses of a delicate pink. The central feature of a statue is surrounded by symmetrical beds of roses in shades of red, pink and white in a delightful display of floral beauty.
From the Rose Garden a short walk takes the visitor past the Temple of Flora and on to the newly restored Grand Cascade, designed by ‘Capability’ Brown in the 1760s.
The Pleasure Gardens
Constructed in part of the old kitchen garden, this area is dedicated to families and can be reached by the miniature train from the Palace. It is the perfect place for families to enjoy exotic butterflies in the Butterfly House, visit the ‘Blenheim Bygones’ Exhibition, or let off steam around the Marlborough Maze and the Adventure Play Area. The Marlborough Maze is the world’s second largest symbolic hedge maze, designed to reflect the history and architecture of the Palace. The maze covers an area of just over an acre (0.4 hectare) and has two high wooden bridges which provide perfect vantage points. Within the maze area is a model of a Woodstock street, putting greens, as well as a giant chess and draughts set.
‘Capability’ Brown landscaped Park
At Blenheim Palace the overriding legacy is ‘Capability’ Brown’s, and it is this setting which helped Blenheim Palace to gain its World Heritage Site status. The landscape setting he devised in the 1760’s provided a sublime form of beauty and harmony that every generation of the Marlborough family has endeavoured to preserve. Glorious views were created both to and from the house, the finest of which is the majestic panorama observed on entering the Park through Hawksmoor’s Triumphal Arch at Woodstock - the shimmering expanse of the lake, the Grand Bridge, and the dense canopy of trees on the rising ground beyond.