Garden of the Season – Holyrood PalaceNovember 5th 2021
Holyrood Palace began as a monastery in 1128 and grew to become the Monarch’s official residence in Scotland. Over the course of 900 years it has witnessed great events of state as well as some of History’s darkest moments and kings, queens, statesmen and scoundrels have strolled in its gardens and enjoyed the parklands that stretch to Salisbury Crags.
Story of the Garden
When James IV established the first royal palace on the site in 1503, he used the grounds for hunting, hawking and archery. And he had a menagerie with lions, tigers and bears.
Mary Queen of Scots practiced archery in the grounds and walked in the Privy Garden with her entourage.
At one time the Palace would have been surrounded by extensive formal gardens and evidence for these can be found in the remarkable ‘Bird’s Eye View of Edinburgh from the South’ an engraving executed in 1710 by Andrew Johnston. In this famous artwork, which is held in the National Galleries of Scotland, gardens are laid out behind all the houses on the Royal Mile while surrounding the Palace are allees, orchards and parterres in the French style.
Later in the 18th century it became fashionable for wealthy landlords to erect romantic follies and create grottos in order to lend drama to their estates. At Holyrood Palace there was no need for such artifice as the gardens already contained the walls of a ruined abbey and lay in the shadow of an extinct volcano.
By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, the gardens were neglected but Prince Albert set about transforming them, creating a new carriage drive and sweeping away the Privy Garden.
From inside the gardens the high walls that surround it are hidden by shrubs, hedges and mature trees. These ring the perimeter in order to allow space on the expansive lawns for garden parties and other royal events and they create the impression for visitors of being in a country park and not in the heart of Scotland’s capital city.
In 1670 a small physic garden was established at the Palace and this would eventually become the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Last year a new Physic Garden was opened on the site, growing the sorts of plants that would have been raised in the 17th century and allowing community groups and schools the opportunity to discover more about the links between plants and wellbeing.
Anything Else To Look Out For
Seven greenhouses are in constant production, supplying plants and flowers for the many state events that take place within the Palace. These can include tea parties, state occasions and visits by the British royal family and by visiting heads of state.
Best Time To Visit
In frosty days in winter, when snow has settled on Arthur’s Seat, the full drama of the setting is evident and views outwards are unobstructed, as they can be when leaves are on the trees.
Recommendations In The Area
Tucked away behind the Scottish Storytelling Centre in the High Street is one of the secret gardens that are scattered up and down the Royal Mile. This one is a beautifully-designed small space that offers a quiet spot amidst the bustle of one of Edinburgh’s busiest streets.
The Palace of Holyrood House sits at the southern end of the Royal Mile.
Open daily 9.30am until 16.30pm.
Ask for tickets to be treated as a donation and have them stamped by a warden and they can be used as a 1-year pass.
images: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021. Photographer: David Cheskin.