The Water Garden at Cliveden

Autumn colour surrounds the pagoda in the Water Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire

The Water Garden is a far cry from the duck pond that formed the starting point for William Waldorf Astor’s ‘Japanese Garden’. Today, the oriental inspired garden has year-round interest with spring blossom and autumn colour providing particular highlights.

A place of contemplation and play

At the turn of the twentieth century there was huge interest in all things oriental. Inspired by the latest fashions William Waldorf Astor created a space for reflection that he paired with entertainments for his guests including ice-skating on the lake and the giant maze.

The centrepiece of the garden is a six-sided Chinese pagoda, originally made for the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle. It was brought here in 1900 by Lord Astor from the sale of Bagatelle, the Marquess of Hertford’s villa near Paris. When combined with the flowing water, rocks and planting, the pagoda completed Astor’s new oriental garden.


Restoring the Pagoda

With the help of early paint scrapings, we were able to restore the Chinese pagoda back to its original colour scheme; green with intricate gold patterns. The design is very detailed and all was painstaikingly applied by a specialist historic decorator. As well as restoring the gold patterns, the same ‘tricks’ used in the original design were used to ensure the structure look as elaborate as hoped. For example, by using different shades of green, they have been able to make the column surface look fluted rather than flat.

Painting the pagoda in the Water Garden at Cliveden
A decorator hand paints the pagoda in the Water Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire
Painting the pagoda in the Water Garden at Cliveden

Planning your visit

Whilst early spring and autumn are popular times to visit, there’s a host of oriental plants such as bamboo, ginkgo and drifts of irises that mean there’s plenty to see throughout the seasons.

The Water Garden is also a favourite with families on route to the play area thanks to the koi carp that can be spotted in the ponds whilst ducks, geese and on occasion our friendly heron keep watch from the banks.  Don’t forget to leave time to see if you can solve the maze.