Dry spell reveals Knebworth House’s Victorian gardens design

Published:
7:00 PM July 28, 2022



Updated:
7:11 PM July 28, 2022

The long, hot summer weather has unveiled the original ornate Victorian design of the gardens at historic Knebworth House.

Over the past month the UK has been experiencing an extremely dry spell, with temperatures in Hertfordshire reaching a record 39.2°C in Buntingford on July 19.





Knebworth House Sunken Lawn before the current dry spell.

– Credit: Chris Orange / Knebworth House

It has been interesting to see how the hot weather has dried out the once luscious green Sunken Lawn of Knebworth House to uncover traces of its Victorian heritage, offering visitors a glimpse into the past.


The Sunken Lawn during the Victorian era, bottom, compared with how the gardens at Knebworth House look today.

The Sunken Lawn during the Victorian era, bottom, compared with how the gardens at Knebworth House looked in the spring of 2020.
– Credit: Knebworth House

During the 1840s, as well as making alterations to Knebworth House, novelist, playwright and politician Edward Bulwer Lytton had a formal garden known as a parterre created to his design.

It featured ornate symmetrical box-edged flower beds, set among gravel paths, with fountains and lots of statues.


The Victorian garden plans for Knebworth House.


The Victorian garden plans for Knebworth House.

– Credit: Knebworth House

The Knebworth House Archive records show that more than 30,000 bedding plants were used to fill the beds and the garden required 14 gardeners to look after it.

The archive at Knebworth House also discovered the original designs.


The gardens at Knebworth House in 1875.


The gardens at Knebworth House in 1875.

– Credit: Knebworth House

In 1910, the renowned architect Edwin Lutyens, who had married into the Lytton family, redesigned the Sunken Lawn area, sweeping away the Victorian parterres and simplifying twin avenues of pollarded lime trees. He also added a central square reflective pool.

It is believed this was done at a difficult time for the Hertfordshire estate to help bring down maintenance costs for the gardens. 

Lutyens 1910’s design remains today, but during a dry summer, the old layout of the Victorian parterre is revealed through the parched lawn.


The grass dried out on the Sunken Lawn at Knebworth House, revealing the Victorian garden design.


The grass dried out on the Sunken Lawn at Knebworth House, revealing the Victorian garden design.

– Credit: Knebworth House

Head Knebworth gardener Kevin Hilditch said: “As the summer has progressed it has been fascinating to watch more of the Victorian Garden layout appear on the Sunken Lawn, although I would be much happier if it would rain sometime soon.”


Knebworth House from the gardens, 1906.


Knebworth House from the gardens, 1906.

– Credit: Knebworth House


An archive picture of Knebworth House's garden


An archive picture of Knebworth House’s garden

– Credit: Knebworth House


How the gardens at Knebworth House once looked


How the gardens at Knebworth House once looked

– Credit: Knebworth House


How the gardens at Knebworth House once looked


How the gardens at Knebworth House once looked

– Credit: Knebworth House


An archive picture of Knebworth House and its gardens


An archive picture of Knebworth House and its gardens

– Credit: Knebworth House


The grass dried out on the Sunken Lawn at Knebworth House.


The grass dried out on the Sunken Lawn at Knebworth House.

– Credit: Knebworth House