Key elements of the Godolphin gardens are directly inspired by those designed by John Gerard for Lord Burghley at Theobalds in Hertfordshire. The Side Garden in particular has close similarities with the Great Garden at Theobalds, with nine square compartments joined by walks. Furthermore, it is thought that the King's Garden is based on a smaller version of the very ornate walled Privy Garden at the same place.
The design of the garden followed the fashions of the time. The use of raised walks in the Side Garden, the King's Garden and possibly the semi-ornamental orchard is also typical of other distinguished gardens of the period. Water management was very fashionable and this could account for the prominence of the vivarium (pond for breeding fish) which is found up hill of the Side Garden's raised walk.
Theobalds was England's most famous garden of the period, built between 1575 and 1585 to entertain Queen Elizabeth I. In the summer months the Queen would often take a tour of the country, go on a 'progress'. She would stay in notable houses around the country which were expected to host her and the entire royal retinue. The host was expected to provide lavish entertainment, summer plays, banquets and masques. The garden was the main backdrop for these events and many were designed purely for entertaining a particularly demanding monarch.
Although Godolphin's gardens are too far from the heart of London to have ever received the Queen they could have been intended for a similar purpose, if not to entertain royalty to entertain royally. As Governor of the Scilly Isles, Sir Francis was one of the most important inhabitants of Cornwall. The Scillies were strategically vital for the realm becuase of the severe threat of invasion from Spain throughout the later Elizabethan years. As a close correspondent with Lord Burghley, Sir Francis was sufficiently ambitious and cultured to have commissioned a garden so favoured by royalty.