17 April - 3 May
9 April 2021. Following the death of His Royal Highness, there will be changes to opening hours for the gardens at Hampton Court Palace and Hillsborough Castle. For further information, please read our FAQs page
The festival will see thousands of bulbs bloom in a riot of colour across the palace gardens in celebration of their 17th century splendour
17 April – 3 May
Hampton Court Palace’s grounds will be filled with colour this spring as Historic Royal Palaces launches its first ever Tulip Festival, which will see over 100,000 bulbs bloom in spectacular displays throughout the formal gardens, in homage to the estate’s long royal history of tulip cultivation. Once one of the most sought-after commodities of the time, the flower was synonymous with former palace resident, Queen Mary II. Now, in spring 2021, visitors will also be able to marvel at types of tulip that have not been on show at the palace since the 17th century, as part of a partnership with the Hortus Bulborum in the Netherlands.
First introduced to the British Isles in the 1630s and with around 100 species now in existence, tulip planting at the palace dates back to the reign of Queen Mary II. Both she and her husband King William III were keen horticulturists, avidly collecting plants from across the globe to be displayed at both Hampton Court and their gardens in Holland in impressive pots of all shapes, sizes and designs. Extravagant tulip vases, now part of the Royal Collection, can still be seen in the palace’s spectacular State Apartments today.
Across the gardens, ten different heritage and modern types have been planted, including Parrot, Triumph, Rembrandt and Darwin tulips. In preparation for the spring event, a total of 105,000 bulbs were planted during autumn 2020 by the gardens team at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that cares for Hampton Court Palace. The elegant formal lawn of Fountain Court, which is overlooked by the grand Baroque state apartments built for William and Mary, will be transformed with a display containing over 15,000 bulbs alone. In the Great Fountain Garden, where flower beds have been providing tulip displays to delight visitors for over 100 years, a selection of Darwin hybrids, including mixed varieties of Golden Apeldoorn & Cash (Tulipa Darwin Golden Apeldoorn), will pay homage to the original Dutch heritage of this flower. Meanwhile the Privy Garden, - a faithful recreation of the garden that would have delighted courtiers during William and Mary’s reign - will be filled with multi-coloured Rembrandt tulips (Tulipa Rembrandt Helmar). Restored in 1995 to its Baroque splendor, the palace’s gardeners continue to plant in this authentic style today, using only tulip types from the period, and will provide a fitting backdrop to reflect the golden age of this fascinating flower. The Rembrandt tulip was first planted in the garden during William and Mary’s reign, and its distinctive striped and distorted colour – caused by a virus infecting the bulbs - became the catalyst for the brief period known as “Tulip Mania” in the early 17th century, which saw single bulbs selling for the price of a house. The garden outside the Orangery, which is steeped in horticultural history and was once home to Queen Mary’s exotic displays, will form a fitting place to unveil a rare and unique collection of historic tulip varieties, supplied by the Hortus Bulborum. Amongst the rare 80 different varieties, returning to Hampton Court Palace for the first time are the Tulipa Duc Van Tol, dating back to 1700, the Tulipa Clusiana and Tulipa Acuminata.
A self-guided trail will lead visitors around the grounds, taking in both the courtyards - which will be filled with ornate planters and flowers specially-selected to match the historic brickwork – and the gardens. A host of safety measures, such as hand sanitiser dispensers and social distancing signage will be in place along the route to ensure returning visitors feel safe. Visitors are also asked to book in advance to help Historic Royal Palaces manage capacity and allow everyone to enjoy their time in the gardens with plenty of space. The trail is included in palace admission, and is free for Historic Royal Palaces Members.
Graham Dillamore, Gardens & Estates Manager at Historic Royal Palaces, said, “We’re so excited to welcome our visitors back to the palace this spring to experience the dazzling floral displays on offer across our glorious gardens. We are immensely grateful to the Hortus Bulborum in the Netherlands who have offered a rare chance to showcase some of the world’s most historic tulip types, some of which have not been displayed at the palace for over 200 years, alongside a brand new variety for 2021, the striped ‘Fire wing’. Our gardens team have spent a backbreaking few months hand-planting over 100,000 bulbs and we can’t wait for visitors to enjoy them and their array of colours in full bloom this April.”
For more information and to book, visit www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on/tulip-festival-2021