Re-imagining the formal garden

Preparing the pattern of meadow flowers

This year, we are working on a large project in the formal garden at Ham to re-imagine the platts, the large squares of grass behind the house. The whole area will burst into colour from early spring to late summer 2019 with 500,000 bulbs planted and vibrant summer meadows. The project is inspired by history, nature and creating a ‘wow’ for our visitors.

Visitors to Ham in the 17th century would have been in no doubt that their hosts were people of great wealth and taste - from the grand front entrance to the opulent interiors, everything was designed to impress. Naturally, the gardens were no exception. After taking a moment to admire the Great Hall, visitors would have been ushered through to the mansion’s south front, the ideal vantage point to look out over Ham’s principal walled garden, complete with its (vast) expanse of perfectly-manicured lawns. To the 17th century eye, this was a truly awe-inspiring sight, possible only through the dedication and expertise of an entire team of gardeners.

Moving forward a few hundred years, Head Gardener Rosie Fyles has made it her mission to reignite that sense of awe and wonder for today’s visitors while developing a garden area that works better for nature with her re-imagining of Ham House’s formal garden. Using modern planting techniques and design ideas, Rosie and her team will be creating a brand new display that will bring exuberant colour and lyrical shapes to this formal setting. With 500,000 bulbs and four beautiful wildflower parterres, it promises to be a fitting homage to the spirit of those 17th century gardeners and their aim to inspire and delight, while also offering visitors ideas of what can be achieved simply at home.

The Platts at Ham House ready for planting
The Platts at Ham House ready for planting
The Platts at Ham House ready for planting
" Making this huge area of Ham’s garden inspirational again is also making it more beautiful and diverse. We are encouraging the wild back in to our formal garden using simple techniques that can be used easily at home."
- Rosie Fyles, Head Gardener

Autumn planting on a grand scale

Influenced by the checkerboard marble floor of Ham House’s Great Hall, alternate 900m2 grass lawns – known as ‘plats’ - were mechanically planted with 500,000 bulbs in mid-October. Working with a team from Dutch bulb suppliers Jub, the bulbs were planted using a tractor-mounted planter over a period of a day and a half.

Bulb planting on the Platts at Ham House and Garden
Bulb planting on the Platts at Ham House and Garden
Bulb planting on the Platts at Ham House and Garden

Spring show late February to April

Chosen for a long-flowering season and their role in attracting bees and insects, from February there will be a spring flowering sequence of early purple crocus, romantic pastel-coloured tulips and vivid muscari – together creating a vast display of intense, natural drifts of colour. We have chosen bulbs that are often not used in a formal setting, but are excellent for wildlife. By June, these plats will be returned to the 17thcentury formality of short-mown grass, providing the perfect space to relax and enjoy the garden over the summer.

First tulips to bloom in the 'four centuries of tulips exhibition' at Ham House
First tulips to bloom in the 'four centuries of tulips exhibition' at Ham House
First tulips to bloom in the 'four centuries of tulips exhibition' at Ham House

Summer meadows from June

Taking inspiration from the scroll design that features on much of the furniture in Ham’s collection, alternate grass plats are being transformed into native wildflower meadow parterres, full of colour, plant diversity and insect life. We will be using the pre-existing wildflowers in the turf and adding additional native species to encourage new diversity, vibrancy and form to take shape from May through to July. By applying meadow management techniques used at Petersham Meadows and Ham Meadow, we are seeking to increase wildflowers, insects, butterflies and birds.

Wildflowers to be seen in the meadow
Wildflowers to be seen in the meadow
Wildflowers to be seen in the meadow