Saturday, 22 December 2012

In the Shadow of the Great and Good

You may know Kensington's Holland Park. You may have visited the Dutch Garden and the Japanese Garden. You may even have attended an opera - with peacock accompaniment. But you have probably not visited the secret garden that takes part in Open Garden Squares Weekend and where you can gain the best idea of the original architecture of Holland House.

A Distinguished History

The original house was built in 1607 for Sir Walter Cope, James I’s Chancellor, whose heiress married Sir Henry Rich, later Earl of Holland. Rich built the magnificent stables (since largely rebuilt, with a splendid modern sequence of murals depicting a garden party held in the 1870s by the then Earl of Ilchester) and the coach house, west of Holland House, beyond which is the Dutch Garden with its intricate beds of triangles and rectangles. The back wall now forms part of the Belvedere restaurant, and past the toddlers ’play area is the Orangery and the rose garden.

In front of the line of brick arches, formerly part of the old stable block, now a hard surfaces area with benches, was where the 3rd Lady Holland raised some of the first dahlias to be grown in England, in the early 1800s.

By 1860, when the 4th and last Lord Holland died, his widow came into increasing financial difficulties and Holland Park only now survives because in 1874 Henry Edward Fox-Strangways, 5th Earl of Ilchester and a descendant of the 1st Lord Holland, agreed to take the mortgaged estate in return for allowing the dowager Duchess to live at Holland House for the rest of her life. The 5th Earl added a water and rock garden in the 1890s and a Japanese garden (to the north of the Dutch garden), which, fifty years after the WW2 bombing, was re-created with Anglo-Japanese funding.

An Admirable Present

During WW2 the house was bombed and destroyed by fire. Afterwards the remains of one wing were repaired. With new buildings designed by Sir Hugh Casson and Neville Condor, this now forms the King George VI Memorial Youth Hostel, officially opened by HM the Queen in 1959. With 10 rooms and 200 beds, it serves 50,000 hostellers a year, mainly in groups.

The Gardens

The public gardens, including the Dutch Garden and the Japanese Garden, lie mainly to the west of the house, though they extend south of the surviving garden front, with the famous Inigo Jones gates.

The special part of the garden, which takes part in Open Garden Squares Weekend, lies within the grounds of the youth hostel on the east side and is normally only visible through the perimeter gates. From here you can gain the best idea of the original architecture of Holland House, with its arcading and Dutch gables. There is a large well-stocked pond, visited by mallards, moorhens, herons and peacocks.

Open Garden Squares Weekend

Holland House Garden will be open to Open Garden Squares Weekend visitors on Sunday 9th June 2013 from 10am to 5pm. Tea and coffee will be available - and a barbecue if the weather permits.

The garden is a convenient one to visit between gardens to the south of Kensington, such as Edwardes Square, and those to the north, such as Ladbroke Square.

Further Reading