Chiswick House Garden Tour

The classically inspired garden at Chiswick was created from the 1720s by Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington and his protégée, William Kent, and have been admired by tourists and visitors for centuries. Justifiably the gardens have been identified by historians as the birthplace of the ‘English Landscape Garden’. The partial de-formalisation of the landscape was influenced by the writings of Anthony Ashley-Copper, 3rd  Earl of Shaftsbury (who William Kent knew personally from his time in Rome). In reality this meant a softening of the landscape where the formality of the regulated garden coexisted with areas where nature was allowed to express itself without being unduly tamed by human intervention.

Another important reoccurring theme within the gardens at Chiswick was Lord Burlington’s attempt to emulate the outside spaces, both domestic and religious, of ancient Rome, and, in doing so, to attempt to evoke a tangible sense of the Roman past. In this regard the Emperor Augustus was viewed as the figure who should best be emulated as it was believed by Burlington and many of his contemporaries that Augustus was the fairest, most majestic and powerful of all Roman Emperors (architecturally it was Augustus who ‘found Rome clay and left it Marble’. He was also believed to be the patron of the architectural theorist Vitruvius).  

Lord Burlington’s gardens were also amongst the first landscapes to contain a number of different gardens structures in the form of classically inspired buildings (‘fabriques’) including temples, pavilions, orangeries, bridges, bagnios and cascades (grottos). These structures, some of the earliest in Britain, William Kent and Burlington effortlessly combined with Egyptian inspired objects such as sphinxes, obelisks and stone lions; objects which would have been viewed when in Rome, and although Egyptian were ascribed Roman characteristics and forever linked with the reign of the Emperor Augustus. Burlington also owned a large collection of sculpture (including one of the famous ‘Arundel Marbles’), some of which were genuine ancient Roman statues either purchased or taken from the Emperor Hadrian’s ‘Villa Adriana’ whilst on his Grand Tours.

The Chiswick estate was later inherited by the Dukes of Devonshire who entertained guests in the villa and gardens in spectacular style. The famous socialite and fashion icon Georgiana Spencer and her children were painted by the artist Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) against the backdrop of the Orange Tree Gardens, whilst Tsar Nicholas I encountered a menagerie when he was entertained at Chiswick including an elephant, emus, ostriches, Lemmas and even several visiting giraffes!  

The gardens at Chiswick were also the home for the Royal Horticultural Society from 1821 and it was during this period that the gardener Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) was discovered by the sixth Duke of Devonshire before being transferred to Chatsworth House as Head Gardener (Paxton was later designer of the Crystal Palace) .


Above- Roman ‘bone box’ senatorial seats which were once situated at the end of the exedra. Although believed to have been brought back from the Roman Forum they were designed by William Kent; the benches were made from Portland stone.

Above- William  Kent’s Cascade (grotto) at Chiswick House, based on Italian examples and in particular the Villa Abrobrandini near Tivali which Kent is recorded as visiting on more than one occasion. The cascade pump was based on a description from the Roman architect Vitruvius.

Above - The avenue leading from the exedra to the rear of the villa. The funerary urns were designed by William Kent and carved by the Italian stone mason Guelfi. Between the funerary urns were planted Cedar of Lebanon and Cypress trees, echoing those found in Mediterranean graveyards and along the route of Rome’s most important ancient road, the Via Appia.

A guided tour of Chiswick House Gardens traces the evolution of the gardens from its transformation under Burlington, Pope and Kent to its height of fashion under the Dukes of Devonshire.

A group guided tour costs £7.50 per person and lasts for around seventy five minutes taking in the sixty-six acres of the gardens.

To book a group tour of the gardens please contact me via the email link at the bottom of the page.

Chiswick House Gardens Tour