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Visit the beautiful gardens at St Paul’s Walden Bury

PUBLISHED: 15:20 11 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:20 11 May 2018

View across lake to a 'temple' - one of many lovely vistas that open up to the visitor (photo: MMGI / Marianne Majerus)

View across lake to a 'temple' - one of many lovely vistas that open up to the visitor (photo: MMGI / Marianne Majerus)

MMGI / Marianne Majerus

You’ll find surprises and secrets in the stunning and historically important gardens at St Paul’s Walden Bury

A walk along one of the long beech-lined avenues in the gardens at St Paul’s Walden Bury near Hitchin is one of adventure and yet tranquillity. These spectacular and romantic avenues were laid out between 1720 and 1730 when the house was built. At the time, landscape design was influenced by the baroque and Jacobean trends in French and Dutch gardens where notable designers like André Le Nôtre created formal super-sized gardens. These ornate gardens were a showcase to enhance the status of the owner, but were also places to socialise and entertain, with areas for plays and concerts.

Broad avenues were a key element of the French baroque garden style, designed to lead the visitor to key features and then on to woodland, countryside or other features outside of the garden. Later, avenues were created that radiated out in different directions, a design feature known as patte d’oie or goosefoot. These were avenues along which people in France often travelled in carriages. When this trend reached England, these broad avenues were used for that typically British pastime of taking walks in the fresh air.

The house at St Paul’s Walden Bury is set on a hill with far-reaching views of the surrounding north Hertfordshire countryside. It still maintains its patte d’oie avenues radiating from the house and has kept the original concept of a formal woodland garden.

The house, built in the early 18th century, was the childhood home of the Queen Mother (photo: Philippa Pearson)The house, built in the early 18th century, was the childhood home of the Queen Mother (photo: Philippa Pearson)

The garden reflects the surrounding landscape, and grass avenues lined with clipped beech hedges and allées flow out into the countryside, where features such as the church are drawn into the design, and trees are left to grow naturally. Pathways lead to temples, statues, lake and ponds, and to a terraced outdoor theatre. The original plantings of clipped hornbeam hedges were replaced in the 1930s with beech to the same design. It takes two people six weeks to cut the hedges once a year.

One of the exciting features of the garden is that the visitor is frequently surprised. As you stroll along the main avenue where a towering statue of Hercules beckons you from the end of a gentle hill, openings in the hedges suddenly reveal unexpected views of temples, more statues, hidden glades and ponds. These temptations cause a delightful pause in the journey as you ponder whether to carry straight on or explore these newly-revealed areas. It makes the garden a delight for both adults and children.

In late spring, visitors are offered wonderful displays of rhododendron from the Himalayas and China, late flowering magnolias, and other woodland flowers, while banks of cowslips above the lake and bluebells in the woods add further interest. Wildflowers are encouraged in many grassy areas, with some by statues, which creates a lovely wild juxtaposition to the garden’s geometric structure.

Bluebells in the woodand areas reflect the mix of formal and natural design (photo: Philippa Pearson)Bluebells in the woodand areas reflect the mix of formal and natural design (photo: Philippa Pearson)

There are not many examples of French-influenced baroque gardens in the UK, so St Paul’s Walden Bury is very special, and its Grade I listing (the only garden in Hertfordshire to have this) reflects its importance.

Not long after many great estate owners had designed their gardens in the French style in the late 17th early 18th centuries, a young landscape gardener appeared on the scene with a radically different vision, and from the 1740s, gardens began to change. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was much in demand to design and create gentle English naturalised gardens and parkland which swept away almost all the remnants of previous formal styles. The gardens at St Paul’s Walden Bury remained untouched however, so what you see today is very much how the garden was planned and envisaged in the early 1700s.

Another reason the house and garden is special is because it was the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The estate has been in the same family since 1725, and today is run by Simon Bowes-Lyon, nephew to the late Queen Mother, and his wife Caroline.

Beech hedges keep their leaves during winter and spring, retaining the formal lines (photo: Philippa Pearson)Beech hedges keep their leaves during winter and spring, retaining the formal lines (photo: Philippa Pearson)

This wonderful garden has been open regularly for the National Garden Scheme since 1927, when the project, which raises funds for many causes, began.

Visit the garden

Running Footman statue reflected in a formal pool and showing the small opening into the area - a design device to create surprise (photo: MMGI / Marianne Majerus)Running Footman statue reflected in a formal pool and showing the small opening into the area - a design device to create surprise (photo: MMGI / Marianne Majerus)

St Paul’s Walden Bury, SG4 8BP

Opening dates:

Views along avenues open up to vistas inspired by the Classical world (photo: Elizabeth Keates)Views along avenues open up to vistas inspired by the Classical world (photo: Elizabeth Keates)

Sundays May 13 and June 10 from 2-7pm for the National Garden Scheme.

Admission £5 adults, £1 children. Homemade teas. Dogs on leads welcome. On June 10 the opening is combined with Open Farm Sunday, with free tours of the estate’s farm.

The house and garden can also be visited by appointment for a charitable donation (£15/£7.50 garden only)

A concert for Tilehouse Counselling Hitchin takes place in the house on Friday May 18, see the website above for details.

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