Located on the banks of the Thames at Richmond in the Surrey, Ham House is one of the best preserved and grandest 17th-century mansions in England. Originally built for a courtier in 1610, Ham House passed a few years later to William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart. Upon his death in 1655, his daughter Elizabeth inherited this magnificent property.
Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart, Duchess of Lauderdale, in her youth(1626-98) by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), painting in the Duchess's Bedchamber ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
Elizabeth was quite a character. Ambitious and beautiful, she was renowned as a political schemer during the Civil War and is believed to have used her influence with Cromwell to save the life of her soon-to-be second husband, John Maitland. She is also rumored to have belonged to the Sealed Knot, the secret organization that worked to restore Charles II to the throne.
North front of Ham House ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
Following her marriage in 1672 to John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, the ambitious, flamboyant and extravagant couple performed major changes to the house and gardens, transforming the property into one of the grandest Stuart houses in England.
The Great Hall at Ham House ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
After Elizabeth's death, very little changes occurred and this amazing estate was transferred from descendant to descendant for the next 300 years.
The Queen's Bedchamber ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
The 9th Earl of Dysart died in 1935 and Ham House passed to the National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) in 1948. A major restoration of the gardens was undertaken in 1975 on the basis of 1671 plans for the garden of John Slezer and Jan Wyck.
John Slezer and Jan Wyck plan for the garden, c.1671-2, in the Library Closet ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
Following this design of 1671, the 'Cherry Garden', which used to contain over 80 cherry trees in Elizabeth's days, has been transformed into a spectacular diamond-pattern box parterre, which is filled with Dutch Lavender, dwarf Cotton Lavender and clipped topiary. At its center is a lovely statue of Bacchus, a survivor from the 17th-century Lauderdale's garden.
The Cherry Garden, or East Garden, at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson
Running alongside the 'Cherry Garden' on the East side is a wonderful arch tunnel of hornbeam, where to enjoy a leisurely and serene walk.
Hornbeam tunnel at Ham House in Surrey ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson
The upstairs windows of the House afford a fantastic view of this fabulous garden and its surrounding hornbeam tunnel.
A view from an upstairs window of the Cherry, or East, Garden in May. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
Large numbers of prestige plants used to be displayed on the 'South Terrace' in pots and boxes, including citrus trees, considered the height of luxury at the time of the Lauderdales. During the winter, they were kept in the 'Orangery', with other exotic trees such as orange trees, valued for their evergreen foliage, delightfully scented flowers and attractive fruit, or white Spanish jasmines, myrtles, pomegranates, tuberoses or oleanders. The 'Orangery' is one of the oldest free-standing examples in England. It now serves as the café. Replanted in a formal 17th-century style, today this South Terrace border displays cones of yew alternating with flowering shrubs, such as hibiscus and pomegranates, as well as attractive herbaceous plantings.
Terracotta pots on the Terrace ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson
Below the South Terrace is a parterre of 8 square lawns and gravel walks, providing the perfect pleasure garden for the Duke and Duchess to entertain guests. And lying beyond it is the 'Wilderness', a maze filled with hornbeam hedges, maple trees and flowery meadows, following a geometric pattern. Four circular summerhouses still provide shelter for a quiet contemplation. Also following the 17th-century layout of Slezer and Wyck, the 'Kitchen Garden' is divided into 16 compartments with gravel, presenting what was grown in the 17th century and how. A real step back in time. Neatly planted rows of vegetables are interspersed with culinary and medicinal herbs and flowers, while wall-trained fruits edge the perimeter. Here is a joyful mix of marigolds, cornflowers and poppies in the Kitchen Garden.
Kitchen Garden at Ham House ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson
The garden products are used by the Orangery Café. Ham House and Garden used to impress its visitors back then and still does today! Over 1o0,000 people visit this remarkable estate each year and enjoy a wonderful glimpse of the past.