Back to its full flower of glory

Tuesday 22 Jun 2010

Chiswick House Gardens return to full bloom as grounds are reopened to the public

Recently reopened to the public, Chiswick House Gardens is an immensely popular summer venue with local communities and tourists alike. Once inside the garden walls, visitors are blissfully distracted from the distant sound of traffic rumbling to and from the Hogarth roundabout by the hidden treasure of such peaceful green serenity. This is certainly not a ‘keep off the grass’ kind of place, but rather somewhere for all park-goers including dog walkers, kids playing football and the quiet afternoon stroller. The garden restoration, conceived by English Heritage and supported by a Heritage Lottery grant of £7.9m, recovers the original vistas and design from decades of disrepair and underfunding, and fully restores the statuary and garden buildings. The result is an inspiring balance between a historic landscape and a public park.

Highlights include over 1,600 newly planted trees, including those propagated from the original 18th century cedars of Lebanon, the opening up of historic views from the Classic Bridge and the complete restoration of the 19th century conservatory, housing a rare and internationally important collection of camellias. A host of native trees and shrubs have also been planted in the Northern Wilderness whilst the Walled Gardens have seen a complete restoration and will be opened to the public on special-event days throughout the year. Originally created by Lord Burlington and William Kent, the gardens were developed throughout the 1720s and 1730s as a setting for Lord Burlington’s magnificent Chiswick House – the birthplace of the English Landscape Movement.

Suitably located to the east of Chiswick House is a new café, where a collection of stable buildings once stood. Aptly adopting the motif of the arcade, the structure sports a stone colonnade across its main elevations, terminating in a portico-like front. Its elevation recalls the arcaded facades of the stable wings of country villas in Italy, using Roach bed Portland stone akin to the volcanic touffa grottoes – a modern incarnation of Palladian design. The build was the first cafe project for architects Caruso St John, who kept these concepts firmly in mind throughout the design process. Peter St John explains: ‘Some of the best al fresco lunches I have ever had were in Italian gardens, so we tried to re-create a small dream of Italy.’ With the climes of London not quite comparable to those of Italian shores, Caruso St John have created space for 80 inside and 100 outside diners as well as an intermediate space for covered exterior seating around the main area of the café, from which visitors have a panoramic southerly view of the surrounding lawns and mature trees.

Whilst it is a wonderful place to simply wander the afternoon away, Chiswick House Gardens also offers a vast programme of activities – an open air film festival, opera and an arts and crafts fair (‘House Festival’ hosted by Soho House) to name a few. A volunteer scheme has also been introduced which has been well received by the community who make up some of the grounds’ workforce, including the kitchen garden, which provides the café with some of its produce. This £12m restoration project is not only one of importance to English Heritage but also to the local community. 2010 is the International Year for Biodiversity and the London Borough of Hounslow now pride themselves as being one of London’s best green boroughs. As well as epitomising Italian influenced British architecture from the 18th century, Chiswick House Gardens is also a hub of social activity for the community - long may it continue!

Tessa Schubert

The Gardens are open every day from 7am until dusk, all year round. There is no charge for visiting. Click here for more information on Chiswick House Gardens.

From 1st May-1st Nov the house is open 10am-5pm Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed and bank holidays; closed Thu, Fri and Sat. Chiswick House ticket prices: adult £5, children under 15, £2.50; family ticket (two adults, three children) £12.50; concs £4.30; children under five and English Heritage members free.

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