Reviving Blenheim Palace gardens to create 'The English Versailles'! - with head gardener Andy Mills

This week we welcome Blenheim Palace head gardener Andy Mills to the Horticulture Week Podcast.

A year into the role, Andy says he is still getting his bearings with the garden: "A place as diverse as Blenheim takes quite a while to get your head around - ask me the same question in about 3-5 years!"

Andy is merging hands-on gardening with garden history in his role at Blenheim, with plans to restore and transform the Formal Gardens, which aims to reinstate many of features and elements which have disappeared across the last three centuries.

"It would be really nice to go back through 300 years of history and speak to every single Duke and the designers and say 'Why? When? How?'" he says. 

The 10-year-plus project will be the biggest change to its 90 acres of gardens in over 100 years and Andy has been told the Oxfordshire gardens "have been in aspic for the last 40 is time for a change". 

But with changing climate conditions, the updates to the garden will involve a degree of evolution: "Gardeners have always had to roll with it and evolve with it. Blenheim is such a big influential property, what we do here, hopefully echoes what other people do, because it always has."

He waxes lyrical about the hundreds of charming details he is discovering daily as he wanders the estate: "I'm finding new interesting details all the time"

But as well as delighting in hidden wonders, Andy has discovered that what would have been an "amazing plant collection...has slowly disappeared" and species he would expect to see "are just not there".

Andy talks about how he is reviving a "rewilding" approach at Blenheim, and has left some 60 acres of the grass uncut rather than "mowing it tight as a billiard table". He is making the Secret Garden "more secret", refining the hedges in the Italian Garden which currently look like "office carpet", introducing some "big drifts" of plants in the borders inspired by his work at the National Trust's Packwood House.

Longer term Andy hopes his work will elevate the gardens on the world stage:

"I'd see Blenheim very firmly established on the world gardening map...I mean this is the English Versailles!

He adds: "I'd like to see not just Blenheim Palace but Blenheim Palace and Garden...because the garden is way more important!"

Presenter: HortWeek senior reporter Rachael Forsyth
Producer: HortWeek digital content manager Christina Taylor

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