Nonsuch Tudor Palace Garden in Ewell, Surrey

The autumn weather was beautiful and I went to see the Nonsuch garden today. Little survives and I agree with the local Nonsuch historians that it represents ‘both a responsibility and a challenge.. [regarding] the proper management, preservation, and presentation of the site of one of the great houses and gardens of England’. A simple first step would be to attempt a re-creation of one of the Knot gardens shown on John Speed’s plan of Nonsuch. The plan was drawn in 1610 and a re-created knot would make a great contribution to garden history, for a small outlay. Since various interpretations of Speed’s drawing are possible, a different knot could be produced each year and they could become famous.

The photograph of Nonsuch (and the painting on the board) are approximately from the bottom of the palace plan

The photograph of Nonsuch (and the painting on the board) are approximately from the bottom of the palace plan

16 thoughts on “Nonsuch Tudor Palace Garden in Ewell, Surrey

  1. Marian

    I love the idea of different knots being produced. Presumably, much as the decorations on the walls of the inner court were designed to show the young prince the duties he should fulfil and the pitfalls he should avoid, the varying successes of the differently designed parterres could fulfil the same role for receptive gardeners, designers and historians.

  2. Christine

    The first printed record of a knot garden is said to have been in Venice in 1499. Thereafter knot gardens became popular in Italy, France (with the invasion of Naples by Charles VIII in 1494) and then to England.

    So do the knot gardens of Venice predate the knot gardens in Naples?

    I wonder where the knot gardens of Nonsuch Palace (Early Tudor period 1485-1558) fit within this chronology and the development of knot gardens? If the plan is circa 1610, do the knot gardens belong to the early Tudor period or do they introduce new developments in knot garden design?

    A poem about the knot gardens at Hampton Court written in 1520 (within the Early Tudor period):

    “My garden sweet enclosed with walles strong
    Embanked with benches to sit and take my rest.
    The knots so enknotted it cannot be exprest,
    with arbours and alleys so pleasant and so dulce.”
    (Gardens at Hatfield, Sue Snell 2005 p41.)

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    Marian, the comparison with the didactic decorations at Nonsuch is brilliant. They should make new knot gardens, quickly. Instead of doing this the council gardeners waste their time on a poorly conceived ‘formal garden’, whatever that means, around the eighteenth century mansion house in Nonsuch Park (on the site of the former Little Park).

    Christine, the 1499 illustrations, in the Hypnertomachia Poliphili were a design fantasy by a highly sexed Benedictine monk (I will do a blog post on this). Commentators have noted that he seems to know too much about passion to have been without some practical experience. His drawings of knot gardens must also have been related to fifteenth century designs but they should not be taken as drawings of gardens which were ever built. Nor were they called ‘knot’ gardens – the word knot derives from the Old Teutonic knutton, meaning ‘An intertwining… of anything flexible enough’. The oldest drawings of ‘knot-like’ patterns (actually of labyrinths, probably made with herbs) date from the first half of the fifteenth (eg Giovanni Fontana c1420). Re Nonsuch, there are textual descriptions of the gardens in the mid-sixteenth century but the first drawing to show the knots is 1610.

  4. Christine

    Thanks Tom. The ‘Hypnertomachia Poliphili’ is a strange book sometimes considered a work of pastoral literature and sometimes attributed to Leon Battista Alberti. Perhaps it follows from the literary work of Dante which he called ‘Dolce Stil Novo’. Note the themes of death and redemption.

    Braden Frieder in ‘Chivalry and the Perfect Prince: Tournament, Arms and Armour at the Spanish Hapsburg Court’ describes it as “an illustrated book about the migration of the soul from lower to higher things.’

    It seems to have been influential on English garden design through William Kent. And may also have some connection with the suburb of Elephant and Castle (see the Elephant and Castle illustrations).

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    I am sure Frieder is correct about ‘the migration of the soul from lower to higher things’ and if Francesco Colonna was celibate then it could be that his love for Polia was sublimated into a religious passion. Maybe the European passion for gardens is also a sublimation? The Hypnertomachia Poliphili had an enormous influence on Renaissance, Baroque and Romantic garden design.

  6. Poppy

    Not far from my home, so I went there with my friend today when it was sunny….unfortunately,it began to rain, so two girls liked drowned rats. British weather!

  7. Tom Turner Post author

    The life expectancy of medieval peasants was 30 years and even kings and queens had a rough time (Elizabeth I’s teeth were black from eating too much sugar) – so a bit of suffering should be part of the experience in visiting Nonsuch!

  8. Christine

    Perhaps Anglo Saxon England also had an impact on the Christianisation of Scandinavia?
    [ ]

    The map of London in 1553 suggests a semi-rural environment around Busshopes Gate.
    [ ]

    Perhaps the South entrance to St Helen’s Church has some clues?
    [ ] and [ ]

  9. Poppy

    I went there again yesterday and cycle most of the paths.It was not busy there ,but it was a wonderful place to recreate.I checked some trees and there grow well, then I took a seat in front of the place masion. The garden is very artificial,not very harmonize with surrounding.But it seems that they are all well enough. So, I am interested what made you think ” Little survives”?:-)

  10. Tom Turner Post author

    I know the picture but I had no idea that it was by Braun and Hogenberg. Their images are wonderful but sometimes accurate and sometimes largely imaginary. It is hard to tell which category the Nonsuch image falls into. The palace is carefully drawn and the written description is good. But the countryside looks too hilly and could be an invention, though the field pattern looks realistic. This was a period when landlords were trying to enclose the ancient openfield landscape and the famous Star Chamber was set up to protect the rights of the decling medieval peasantry. The figures in the drawing are more gentry-like than peasant-like.

  11. Mike Sparey

    Does any one know if there are any records regarding staff at Nonesuch Palace, I am interested mainly in the gardeners, any help would be much appreciated



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