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The garden

Garden

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Sun dial

The dial was originally placed in the centre of the King's Garden at Holyrood, coinciding with Charles's Scottish coronation at the Abbey of Holyrood. ©

When James IV built the first royal palace in 1503 and Holyroodhouse became the main royal residence in Scotland, the gardens were the setting for tournaments, hunting, hawking and archery. There was even a tennis court and a menagerie with a range of animals, including lions, tigers and bears.

By the time Mary, Queen of Scots lived at the Palace there was a series of enclosed gardens, including a walled Privy Garden to the north. Mary often practised archery, hawking, hunting (for which wild boars were brought from France), bowls and tennis in the garden.  

Physic Garden

Artist's impression of the Physic Garden to be planted at the Palace. ©

Physic Garden past and future

A small physic garden was established at the Palace in 1670 and became the origins of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden.  Its purpose was to teach students about botany and the medicinal properties of plants, and to provide pharmacists with fresh material.  As part of Future Programme a new physic garden inspired by the 17th-century one is being created at the Palace. 

 

A debtors' sanctuary

From the 1500s, Holyrood Abbey offered the right of sanctuary for those who could not pay their debts. The debtors, known as ‘Abbey lairds’, found shelter from their creditors within the Abbey boundaries, which included Holyrood Park and the buildings on Abbey Strand. At the height of its occupation as a sanctuary, Holyrood sheltered around 6,500 debtors, including members of the aristocracy.  Although imprisonment for debt was abolished in 1880, the ancient right of sanctuary within the grounds of Holyrood has never been repealed.

Rejuvenated gardens

By the time Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family stayed at the Palace, the gardens were overgrown, and the surrounding area consisted of slums and industrial buildings.  Prince Albert created a new carriage approach to the north of the Palace, sweeping away the Privy Garden in the process, and established new planting areas to the north and south.  

A garden party

The Queen at a Garden Party. ©

The Palace gardens have been improved and updated during the present reign and today seven greenhouses supply the Palace with flowers for official events throughout the year, including The Queen's annual Garden Party. A tradition established by King George V and Queen Mary, the Garden Party is a special occasion when The Queen invites 8,000 guests to the Palace. On the day, 15,000 cups of tea, 9,000 strawberry tarts and 7,000 sandwiches are consumed.