Hornbeam and Lavender are the signature plants in the gardens of Ham House. They are among the few large C.17th gardens that survived the attentions of Capability Brown and his landscaping acolytes…
Hornbeam and Lavender at Ham House
Ham House was built alongside The Thames in 1610 and extended in 1670 by when it had become the centre of the Restoration court. The gardens were laid out over the same period. But though they somehow avoided the attention of the English Landscape Movement, they did succumb to the much slower, but equally pervasive, effect of time. By the start of the 1970s, they were a shadow of their earlier glory. Fortunately, the house and gardens had passed to the National Trust…
1975 was European Architectural Heritage Year and to mark the occasion, the Trust decided to restore the gardens to their C.17th plans. They followed the designs of John Slezer and Jan Wyck (c.1671-2) who had themselves been inspired by the earlier plans of Robert Smythson from c1610 that had been laid out by James I’s Knight Marshall, Thomas Vavasour.
Hornbeam and Lavender – The Wilderness
One of the key features of the gardens is The Wilderness, though the name is deceptive. Back then a wilderness was created by:
“dividing the whole Compass of Ground, either into Squares’ Angles, Circles, or other Figures, The Walks are commonly made to intersect each other in Angles, which also shows too formal and trite for such Plantations, and are by no means comparable to such Walks as have the Appearance of Meanders or Labyrinths, where the Eye can’t discover more than twenty or thirty Yards in Length; and the more these Walks are turned, the greater Pleasure they will afford. These should now and then lead into an open circular Piece of Grass; in the Centre of which may be placed either an Obelisk, Statue, or Fountain.”
To create ‘the appearance of Labyrinths’, Hornbeams are planted to create a maze-like effect. Hornbeams were also used for the avenues. If you like Carpinus Betulus, this is the place to come.
Hornbeam and Lavender – The Parterres
Another major feature is the elaborate and geometric parterres, planted extensively with Lavenders. The intricate patterns look good in autumn and winter – and glorious in spring and summer.
Hornbeam and Lavender are two of England’s most iconic plants. Lavenders speak for themselves while Ham House demonstrates that Hornbeam deserves to be admired for its own sake. It’s much more than just an alternative to Yew.