The Broad Walk
The Broad Walk was laid out by Decimus Burton in 1845-1846
as part of his entrance design for the new Royal Botanic Gardens.
promenade brought the visitor from the end of the Little Broad Walk in a straight
line through to the Palm House Pond. William Nesfield designed an elaborate series
of symmetrical flower beds and plantings along its length, forming an avenue of
deodar cedars and regular crescent shaped plots.
It seems that the original
intention for the Broad Walk plantings was to have taxonomic groupings of trees
in parallel lines on either side. However, in 1856, because Sir Benjamin Hall,
who was the new First Commissioner for Metropolitan Improvement, insisted on greater
numbers of much more floral displays, the Broad Walk received the Victorian promenade
style of bedding with both the shape of the beds and the choice of flowers exactly
the same on each side.
These flower beds were used to grow cabbages, lettuces
and root vegetables during the First World War. The plantings were reduced in
complexity where the Broad Walk squeezed past the boundary to the Royal grounds
and the Royal Mews and, on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey (1861-71) appear to
be as Nesfield designed them, with a repeated design of horseshoe shaped beds
of varying sizes, straight beds and a line of trees. The 2nd edition (1891-96)
shows this design further simplified and the 3rd edition (1910) shows them as
a series of single vestigial horseshoe shapes.
The construction of Burton's
Broad Walk involved a major reorganisation of the landscape in its vicinity. It
reduced the size of the Palace Stables; ran across the Great Lawn, reducing its
extent; and shortened the sunken fence separating the Palace Grounds from the
Pleasure Grounds and Botanic Gardens.
A linear scattering of mature trees,
remnants of the original Great Lawn plantings from the mid 18th century, were
also removed to make way for the new promenade. The construction of the walk also
involved levelling the ground along its entire length and the spoil created from
this was used to create the Crab Mound near the Palm House.
In the midst
of all this change, it was decided that an old Turkey Oak, standing halfway along
one side of the Broad Walk, should be retained. To make this happen, a horseshoe
shaped path was placed around the tree and a correspondingly shaped path created
on the other side of the Walk to retain the symmetry. These horseshoe shaped paths
connected in turn to other paths extending into the old Botanic Gardens to the
east and to a gate into the Pleasure Grounds to the west.
The original surface
treatment of the Broad Walk is not currently known, though it would probably have
been gravelled. No documentation has yet been found to show if it was Burton's
intent for the Campanile to be a visual terminus for the Broad Walk, but an 1851
map shows a dotted line extending across the Palm House Pond to the Campanile,
indicating that the view was a recognised feature.
After Donald Beaton,
a regular contributor to the "Gardener's Chronicle" in the 1850s/1860s,
criticised the plain circle of grass in the circular bed at the Pond end of the
Broad Walk, it was replaced in 1862 by a raised bed planted in panels of geraniums
and verbenas and prominently capped with a large flower vase.
illustration from the "Gardener's Chronicle" shows the circular bed
to be kerbed and its centre several feet high, covered in carpet bedding and topped
by a bowl raised on dolphins. Although the current bowl at the centre of the bed
is of a similar shape to that shown in the picture, it is not supported by dolphins.
Two vases held in store at Kew, although being less of a bowl shape than that
depicted in the "Gardeners' Chronicle" are in fact raised on dolphins
that do match the picture, so it is probably one of these vases that sat in the
centre of the circular bed in 1870.
Decimus Burton's 1845 design for the
Broad Walk is a fundamental component of the 19th century landscape design for
the gardens. It is a major axial route within the Gardens which also guides the
gaze of the visitor along its length from Palm House Pond the the Orangery.
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