Historic Royal Palaces: A visit to the Hampton Court Tulip Festival

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I was writing about “sheltering in place” on the Big Island of Hawaii.. at the start of the lock-downs and travel restrictions.

Looking back, it would have been nice to have stayed in our little corner of paradise, but with the pandemic worsening, my visa running out (and the fact that it wouldn’t make much financial sense to be renting a house in two countries!), we eventually had to make the long journey back to the U.K. (You can read about that experience here:) The “New Normal”: Travelling long-haul in the time of Coronavirus

Fast forward 12 months, and we have now spent around a year in various states of lockdown here in our small corner of Greater London, with nothing much to do except wait for the world to re-open, and get out walking or cycling (the latter is not an easy thing to do in London!) when the weather permits. 

With travel or any regular activities completely banned, I have been seriously neglecting my blog writing!

As we start to emerge from the latest lockdown, in line with Boris Johnson’s “roadmap”, we are intending to do some adventures and exploration of our local area, and then further afield in the U.K. Hopefully later in the year, we can start thinking about some International travel!

In the meantime, there is a lot to keep us occupied around where we live, with several royal palaces, parks and botanical gardens within a few miles radius. When I saw that Hampton Court Palace was hosting a tulip festival, I took the opportunity to get out for a mini adventure!

The whole of the UK is steeped in a fascinating and unique history, going back hundreds and thousands of years. You don’t have to travel far to unearth some of its intriguing heritage.

Being British, and born and raised in the U.K., I probably tend to take a lot of the historical buildings and sites for granted, and there are plenty of counties and areas I have yet to visit. When you spend a lot of time travelling in the rest of the world, it’s easy to forget all the attractions in your own country.

Unfortunately, the weather this year has been some of the coldest since records began, with April apparently being the coldest since the 1920s! We’re now well into May, and still only seeing highs of around 15 degrees (C), with a lot of wet weather. 

With the Hampton Court Tulip Festival only running until the beginning of May, we were going to miss our chance if we waited for better weather. So we donned our rain gear, jumped on our bikes and set off for a mini adventure..

Hampton Court Palace was originally built in the 16th century, under the instruction of Cardinal Wolseley, who wanted a palace fit for entertaining the King of England.

It was so grand that Henry VIII decided to live there himself, and collect wives along the way (my husband said this sounded like something I would do – commandeering a palace for myself, not collecting wives..)

Later, in the late 17th Century, William III commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build an elegant new baroque palace. Over the centuries, additions have been made, and it was opened up to the public by Queen Victoria in the 1800’s 

View of the palace from the Privy Gardens, under a threatening sky!

The palace interior still wasn’t open at the time of our visit, due to the Covid restrictions. We were still able to explore the stunning (60 acres!) of formal gardens. You can read about the various palace gardens here https://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/history-and-stories/the-gardens-at-hampton-court-palace/#gs.1k82xl

If you have read my blog before, you may know that I lived in The Netherlands for nearly 4 years, during which we visited the famous Keukenhof gardens nearly every year, usually by bike.

Having been lucky enough to visit probably the best tulip festival in the world, I was interested to see how the displays at Hampton Court would compare…

As we made our way into the Kitchen Garden, to the West of the main palace, I was immediately impressed by the colourful displays.  The palace gardeners had created some beautiful colour combinations, oranges and reds, purples and pinks, interspersed with stunning bi-colour varieties.

Quick tulip fact: The Rembrandt Tulips (with streaks of yellow and red), were originally caused by a virus in the tulips, spread by aphids. They became prized for their interesting colours in The Netherlands, starting a craze in the 1600’s known as “Tulipomania” (If you haven’t read the novel Tulip Fever, I highly recommend it!)

There were also some darker purple colours, including one of my favourites I remember from Keukenhof, “Queen of the Night”

Back at the main palace, we walked through to Fountain Court – the Baroque masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren.  Here mixed varieties of tulips in vivid oranges, pinks and reds, encircled the central fountain, with Triumph tulips in the planters around the edges of the court. 

Continuing outside, the huge expanse of the Great Fountain Garden was planted with beds of Darwin Hybrid tulips – large, classically tulip-shaped flowers, with a broad base narrowing at the top.

Queen Mary II created geometric flower beds in the Great Fountain Gardens in the 1690s, and for over 100 years, the palace gardeners have been planting tulip displays like the ones above.

We continued our exploration of the beautiful palace gardens, back through the Privy Garden, and past the Pond Gardens, which are probably my favourite area. The larger one was planted with beautiful geometric borders of purples and mauves, dotted with brighter pinks.

Close by, the Knot Garden was planted with an eye-catching display of Single Late Tulips, with the “First Proud” in white, towering over the purple varieties. This created an evocative visual display, almost like snow falling among the gardens…

Heading back into the Palace courtyards, the Base Court and Clock Court had planters with stunning Lily-Flowered tulips, alongside Double Early Tulips. These resemble peonies, with double rows of petals. The “Fire Wing” and “Pretty Woman” varieties were striking against the background of the cobbled stone courtyard, and red brick walls.

Despite the typical British weather, we really enjoyed our visit to the tulip festival, and it was definitely worth braving the elements! The palace gardeners have put in so much work over the winter to create these beautiful displays. We actually got quite lucky, as we dodged the rain long enough to cycle home afterwards, and warm up with a pot of Fortnum’s tea!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour among the tulips, and that some of you will be able to visit the historic palaces once it becomes easier to travel again.

Once Hampton Court court opens up fully, I’ll be heading back to tour the interior of the palace, which I’ll post about soon.

Historic Royal Palaces is a self-funding charity, which looks after six of the unoccupied palaces in the UK. They are not supported by the Government or Crown, and been severely affected financially because of closures during the pandemic.

With events such as the tulip festival, the palaces are hoping to attract more visitors until they can open fully.

So, visit if you can, and help them to continue their important mission to protect our heritage and history. If you’re interested, you can read more about their work, and how you can help to support them here: https://www.hrp.org.uk/support-us/#gs.1411uf

If you’ve enjoyed this post, do let me know, and please feel free to follow me using the buttons below.  You can also follow my Instagram and Twitter feed to see what other adventures I’m up to!

Charlotte 🙂

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