Led by the recently-appointed kitchen garden keeper Vicki Cooke, professional gardeners in the kitchen garden are recreating the pathways and planting pattern laid down by the palace’s Georgian gardeners.
The palace’s 2.4ha tiltyard, made legendary by Henry VIII for jousting and which saw some of the most significant moments of his long and often scandalous reign, was transformed into a kitchen garden in 1702 by royal decree, after jousting fell out of favour.
Queen Anne ordered the site to be dug up and cropped with ‘severall varietys of Eatables, the most proper for Her Majesty’s Use.’ The garden fed the Queen and her court not only at Hampton Court, but at royal residences across the capital.
Gardeners are working from historic evidence and John Roque’s plan of 1736 to make the garden as true to the period as possible, right down to the now-rare heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables which will be grown there. As well as being a gardener Cooke is also a vegetable historian.
The new addition will allow visitors to explore the untold history of food production at Hampton Court, with on-site displays helping to showcase some of the traditional techniques employed by royal gardeners to tend crops fit for a king. Their modern counterparts have grown all the produce from seed on-site and started planting box hedging and soft fruit plants in February, with planting work still going on.
Herbs and vegetables familiar to the palace’s Georgian cooks will be reinstated, from Italian celery to borrage, skirret and swelling parsnips. Apricots, nectarines and peaches will return to the garden in their original fan shapes. And even a melonry, complete with hot beds of straw and manure, will be recreated by the palace’s team of expert gardeners.
As the garden matures, Historic Royal Palaces hopes to be able to run vegetable growing classes at the palace- reconnecting the great kitchens at Hampton Court with the locally sourced produce which once stocked them.
Cooke, who has been in post for just a few months, said: "This is the realisation of a massive amount of research, planning and labour by the team, and will give visitors a real taste of the work involved in supplying a royal kitchen.
"Our ambitious planting scheme showcases a whole range of less well known fruit, vegetables and herbs which would have gone into the lavish meals prepared for the monarchs who lived here, and will mean that each passing season brings new crops waiting to be discovered.’
Hampton Court’s kitchen garden was moved by Queen Victoria in the 1840s to Frogmore House, Windsor where she spent more of her time. By that point Hampton Court was no longer used as a residence.
The opening of the Royal Kitchen Garden is part of a wider celebration of the Georgians across Historic Royal Palaces in 2014, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian Accession to the British throne.