The Making - and Re-Making - of a Dutch Baroque Garden
In 1684 a young couple called William and Mary bought the small Netherlands castle of Het Oude Loo and commissioned a new summer residence next door. Located at a low point in the middle of the Veluwe moorland with a plentiful supply of fresh flowing water, it was ideal for both hunting and horticulture.
Five years later, William was crowned King William III of England, Ireland and Scotland and the modest summer residence he and his wife had planned transformed into a royal palace. Paleis Het Loo was conceived as a repost to the Palace of Versailles, built for William's French rival Louis XIV, and the gardens were every bit as important as the house.
The Great Garden has a central axis and radiating walls designed by the mathematician Daniel Marot. The many parterres are planted with complicated configurations of box hedges and flower borders, and everywhere there are cascades, statues, and impossibly elaborate fountains. The fountain in the Lower Garden, for example, featured a large Venus sculpture and four swans, while the King’s Fountain at the entrance to the Upper Garden sent a jet of spring water more than 13 meters into the air – making it the highest fountain in Europe.The fountain in the Lower Garden, for example, featured a large Venus sculpture and four swans, while the King’s Fountain at the entrance to the Upper Garden sent a jet of spring water more than 13 meters into the air – making it the highest fountain in Europe.
The low-lying King’s Garden and Queen’s Gardens, situated to west and east of a grand pavilion, were both a showcase for the couple’s collection of flowers and plants from Asia and South America (obtained thanks to their connections with the Dutch East India and West India companies), and the backdrop to William and Mary’s royal life. In the Queen’s Garden, Mary and her ladies-in-waiting spent hot days strolling in the cool shade of branching hornbeam arbour walks, while in the King’s Garden, William entertained guests with games of ‘Kolf’ (a forerunner of golf).
Decline and Re-Growth
After the king’s death in 1702 the Dutch royal family kept the palace as a summer residence, but it proved expensive to maintain and when, in 1795, William V fled to England, the garden was plundered by French soldiers and fell into ruin. Rescue came in 1806 when Louis Napoleon, who was appointed King of Holland by his brother Napoleon Bonaparte, took up residence. As well as covering the outer walls with white plaster (leading to the palace earning the nickname ‘Het Witte Loo’), King Louis also made radical changes to the garden. Out went the baroque and in came a romantic, English landscape garden.
The palace remained a summer-residence of the House of Orange-Nassau until 1963 and the death of Queen Wilhelmina. The former crown properties surrounding the palace then became property of the Dutch State and eight years later, the Paleis Het Loo was converted into a museum, a project which involved restoring parts of the interior to their 17th century splendour and the reconstruction of the baroque garden.
The remaking of the garden was made possible by two things: the availability of a large number of historical sources including contemporary descriptions, historical engravings and drawings, bills and lists of plants, and a stroke of good luck. Queen Mary had asked her husband’s personal physician, Walter Harris, to make exact notes of everything he saw as the Het Loo gardens took shape, notes which in 1699 were published in a book. Excavation work unearthed these notes and they proved invaluable. Reconstruction work began in 1980 and, over the following years, the gardens were transformed back to their baroque glory. The basic structure, water basins and foundation of the fountains were all retrieved, and research was carried out into which plants were common at the time and how they were planted. For example, plants were spaced much further apart than today to allow all aspects of their growth to be observed.
The grand re-opening took place on 20th June 1984. It was a warm day, and the sound of splashing fountains could be heard, roses perfumed the air and the colonnades provided cool shade and a splendid view of the baroque parterres and water features. It was as if William and Mary were still in residence.
Paleis Het Loo underwent another major restoration in the 21st century. As well as a 5,000 square meter extension beneath the forecourt and a recreation of the 17th-century apartments where William and Mary stayed, this latest iteration of Paleis Het Loo (which opened to the public in April 2023) also boasts a reconstructed orangery with 200 citrus trees and a newly restored King's Fountain. Visitors marvelled at this water sculpture when it was first built and, more than 300 years later, both the fountain and the elegant gardens it graces, still cause visitors to stop and stare.
Come and discover this spectacular garden with us on our tour to the Historic Gardens of the Netherlands