After walking down one of the long allees you finally come to the entrance of Paleis Het Loo, and enter its front courtyard. The large space feels immense, making the Paleis Het Loo that much grander. Paleis Het Loo means the 'Woods Palace' and is not actually a palace but it was used as a 'pleasure house'.
Paleis Het Loo is a Baroque building which was built between 1684 and 1686. It was the residence of the House of Orange-Nassau from the 17th Century until the death of Queen Wilhelmina in 1962, who ruled the Netherlands for fifty-eight years. In 1960 the Queen declared for the Paleis to be given to the State upon her death.
I had the pleasure of visiting this garden two times, the first as a visitor, and the second as a guest of the head gardener. It was interesting because even though I thought I took it all in while there the first time, you never really understand a place until you have an inside view.
Even before entering the gardens, you see the many Laurel trees and Orange trees in the wooden planters associated with Paleis Het Loo. It was customary to paint the square tubs white and the round tubs green, which are also throughout the gardens. These plants are put out in the warmer months and put back into the Orangery in the cooler months.
Wooden planters themselves didn't show up until the 1600s, so Paleis Het Loo was right on course with the times.
It is a different experience going to a historical garden. While you think you can understand what is going on, it is important to really scratch the surface and seek out the details that help define it.
The gardens are designed in the Dutch Baroque style. A Baroque garden is one that follows a formula that includes, perfect symmetry (which mirrors the house, thus bringing more attention to it), an axial layout with gravel paths and walks radiating outwards, and parterres that encompass fountains, basins and statues. These hedges can be with or without flowers planted amongst them.
There are a few areas to cover on the grounds. There is the King's Garden, the Lower Garden, the Queen's or Princesses Garden, and the Upper Garden. The King's garden has a bowling green which was used for various games and a parterre hedge of Boxwood. Here in the planting mix was a Geranium that had been staked so the plant grew up and displayed it's blooms on top, rather than it's typical habit of sprawling all over it's neighbors. This makes for a much more tidy effect. It is hard to see in the photo,
so I included a sketch from my garden journal to get an idea of how it was staked. Large gardens can seem so overwhelming sometimes to the eye and one way around this is through repetition. This can be done with shapes, colors, forms, plants and materials. Even the shadows play along with this theme using the embankment as their backdrop. Here the plants and pots are repeated and notice too that some of the plants used actually prefer the hot dry conditions that they are in. This means less maintenance on the pots and more time on other areas for the gardeners. The Lower Garden here, shows everything the Baroque garden represents, statues included. Formal gardens were a way to show status and also to show what could be done when nature and art were combined.It is exciting for me to look at the sculptures and ornamental vases in the garden too, since each has it's own story. Vases are used in the garden to accentuate changes in level and immediately brings the eye into perspectives. They help lead the eye up to take in the garden as a whole. This vase represents virtue, Virtus, with a woman holding a laurel wreath, above two cherubs and a globe. Another detail not lost were the cascading fountains flanking both sides of the descending stairs into the Lower Gardens. These fountains represent two rivers- the Rhine and the Ijssel, with thePaleis Het Loo being built in the middle.
Here is another view of the Lower Gardens and it's plantings. Through the head gardener I was told that only plants pre-1700 are used in the planting scheme. History first is important with the bedding plants. Some plants, like Lobelia, just made it in though, coming in at 1699. phew..Here is a cascade with Arion, who is the god of quick decision making.
My favorite is the Narcissus cascade. The story of Narcissus goes as follows: He loved no one else until one day, while thirsty, he bent down to take a drink and caught sight of his own reflection in the water. He became fascinated and obsessed with his reflection, and while looking at himself he fell in and drowned, and was then turned into the flower of the same name. What is also interesting is that his mother was a nymph whose name was Liriope, which is the name of another plant. The south-west parterre holds the sun god Apollo,and the north-west parterre holds Pomona, the goddess of fruit, especially those grown on trees. The south-east side of the garden holds Flora, goddess of flowering or blossoming plants.
and to the north-east Bacchus, the god of wine.
If you think about the statues, it represents all that should be enjoyed in a garden- sun, fruit, flowers and wine...
On one side of the Paleis Het Loo, there is the Queen's or Princess's Garden. This was the private garden of Queen Mary, who lived in the apartments just above and therefore had a birds eye view of the parterre hedges. In this garden the plants used have flowers that have more of a feminine touch. Flowers associated with the Virgin Mary such as Aquilegias and Lilies are perennial plants used in these beds. These arbored pathways were incredible, not only for the skill it took to grow, train and shear them but with how they resembled the architecture around them, thus linking house and garden seamlessly. The Fountain of Venus serves as a central axis in the Lower garden,and a small fountain detail. There are tree lined canals which quietly usher you into another area of the garden. Originally Beech, Fagus sylvatica, were used but these were switched to Oaks during the restoration of the garden. This was so the branches of the full grown trees would be able to be pruned up the trunk so the view of the gardens beyond were not spoiled while looking from the Paleis.
The fountain acts as a focal point on the main axis while looking back to the Paleis.
Perspective is another trick that gardeners like to use, whether it is to create more space or some other trick to the eye. At Paleis Het Loo, once you reach the furthest end of the garden, you notice just the Paleis slightly rising from the hedges and the fountain as a focal point to emphasize how grand the gardens were.
There was a tour with the head gardener that took us to the boat house which had their Fucshia standards,a walk down a Medieval allee, and past a building called the elephant house where the exotic menagerie was kept. I was told that Napoleon tried to steal the elephants that were kept in this building from Paleis Het Loo, but they did not want to go to Paris. Eventually they were coaxed into going by feeding them biscuits soaked in gin.
It was a treat to get to see the cutting garden on the grounds. Paleis Het Loo is well known for its impressive floral arrangements that are displayed throughout the palace interior. Some of the cut flowers seen were Agapanthus, Tagetes, Crocosmia, Zinnia, Snapdragon, Amaranthus, Cornflowers, Nicotiana, Lathryus and many others. In some arrangements I had also seen Liriodendron tulipifera foliage mixed in for effect. For a cutting garden, this idea seemed to make perfect sense. A post was put into the ground, and around them sunflowers or dahlias would be planted. A string would then be tied around them to prevent them from flopping and falling over.
I leave you with one of the many beautiful arrangements seen inside...