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The history of the garden at Cliveden

A view from the terrace through stone balustrades across the parterre at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire
The terrace and parterre at Cliveden | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The garden at Cliveden is as well-known as the house for its grand parterre, terrace and many distinct features. The various owners of Cliveden have left their mark on the design of the garden over the past 300 years.

The terrace

In the 1670s the Duke of Buckingham embarked on a major project to build the first house at Cliveden. However, before he could start on the house, he had to level the hill top creating the Parterre and build the Terrace that rises above. Since then, the Terrace has provided the foundations for three mansions and is the perfect spot from which to admire the views that Buckingham fell in love with.

Significant alterations were made to the terrace façade and stair as part of Charles Barry’s 1851 designs, which were drawn up for the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland after a second fire at Cliveden destroyed most of the house above. Barry intended the sweeping design to make the garden feel like an additional room in the great house, and for the owners and their guests a central part of the Cliveden experience, as the gardens are today.

A view down the pale cream stone south terrace steps onto the parterre at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire
The south terrace steps at Cliveden | © National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole


When the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland purchased Cliveden in 1849 they worked with Head Gardener John Fleming to transform what was then a simple, large lawn into the innovative design you see today. Fleming was a pioneer of ribbon and carpet bedding and under his guidance Cliveden’s garden displays became horticulturally famous and set a precedent for gardens the world over.

The water garden

William Waldorf Astor first started to create water garden features in an area known as Captains Field shortly after purchasing the estate in 1893. He enlarged the pond for skating and created the island by digging a canal around it.

The pond was enlarged again by the 2nd Lord Astor in 1905, and by 1910, the island could be reached by crossing the steppingstones, with a footbridge leading off the island to the bank. The oriental-style Water Garden was then created, the pond with shrubs surrounding it, clumps of bamboo and irises, the hexagonal wooden pagoda and a rustic wooden bridge.

A scence across a pond covered with water lilies to a green painted pagoda surrounded by trees and flowering shrubs
The water garden at Cliveden | © National Trust Images/Claire Shuter

The tortoise fountain

The fountain, the stepped path, and the balustrade were originally installed for William Waldorf Astor, the eccentric American and passionate collector who lived at Cliveden from 1893 – 1906. The fountain was gravity fed with a water supply from the Clock Tower water tanks, passing down buried pipework, through the fountain and then running off down the hillside to the River Thames below.

The Pagoda

The Oriental Pagoda was originally formed part of a temporary structure built for Paris’ Exposition Universelle of 1867. Emperor Napoleon III’s exhibition celebrated the achievements of the Second Empire France, world culture and industrial manufacturing. Among displays from around the world, the Pagoda was part of the Chinese exhibition, which also included a Chinese garden.

Blenheim Pavilion

George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney lived at Cliveden from 1696-1737. He was a celebrated soldier and a major player in the famed battle of Blenheim in 1704. Despite his renown, he was a shy, modest gentleman and Cliveden became his country retreat. He set about making his mark on the estate, hiring Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni to design two beautiful structures: the Octagon Temple (now the chapel) and Blenheim Pavilion in 1727. Leoni’s original drawings suggest the Pavilion was designed for dining, relaxing and even bathing.

Aerial view of Cliveden, Buckinghamshire

Discover more at Cliveden

Find out when Cliveden is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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