Not only is this year the 150th anniversary of Red Funnel, it is also the 150th anniversary of the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s beloved husband, who was very much involved in the design of Osborne House and the layout of the gardens.
“Creating the impact of our ‘signature’ bedding display takes a great deal of time as we change the theme each year,” said Osborne’s Head Gardener Toby Beasley. “This year with it being 150 years since Prince Albert’s death we are using purple, lavenders, dark reds, silvers and whites – popular mourning colours.
“We also thought we would have different intensities of mourning colours across the terraces so the pavilion and upper terraces will hopefully demonstrate the most intense mourning colours with purple Perilla, lavender coloured Petunias, white Salvias and purple Millet.
“The lower terrace and palm terrace will bring in some dark red foliaged Dahlia coccinea Palmeri, lighter purple Verbena and pure red Salvia coccinea to lighten the tone somewhat.
“The beds are in a ‘ribbon bedding’ style where plants are planted in concentric rings around the main bulk of plants in the middle of the bed. This was a style used at Osborne during the Queens lifetime.
“Our trademark Cannas will feature in most of our summer bedding displays but we will also be using tall, lush growing Castor Oil Plants and the white flowered Zantedescia aethiopica (Arum lily) to give added exuberance to the display. The white Zantedescia incidentally, is known to be one of Prince Albert’s favourite plants,” explained Toby.
Prince Albert planned to build terraces on the seaward side of the house in 1846, construction finished in 1850 and the view from the terraces to the beach below apparently reminded Prince Albert of the bay of Naples.
“The terraces have two of our significant Prince Albert plantings: The Magnolia grandiflora trained against the walls on the lower terrace are the original plantings and still thrive today and the Myrtle was planted at the base of the central steps from the upper terrace to the lower terrace as a result of a sprig of Myrtle in a nosegay being given to Queen Victoria when they left Prince Albert’s parents home in Germany in 1845,” explained Toby.
Within Osborne House’s 350-acre estate, there are 30 acres of gardens ‘proper’ tended by head gardener Toby Beasley and his team of eight, plus volunteers.
They consist of the flower-filled terraces, which take five gardeners five weeks, twice a year, to put in 20,000 bedding plants – plus a further 20,000 bulbs in the autumn for the following spring.
There is also a lovely walled garden, Toby’s favourite area, containing espalier fruit trees as well as the flowers, which are still cut for the house as they were for Queen Victoria, and this garden reopens on April 1.
“The Walled Garden is the oldest part of the garden at Osborne dating from around 1775, and was originally built by Robert Pope Blatchford. It was originally used by Prince Albert as a nursery to grow on his trees and shrubs until ready to plant in the wider garden. A new nursery was constructed late in 1846 on the edge of the estate,” explained Toby.
“The walled garden at Osborne was used for producing flowers for the house with many letters confirming this.
“An orange tree was referred to in the accounts during the 1880′s, this was planted to the east of the glasshouses out in the open. We have replanted an orange tree that was donated by The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers in 2003 and it is still growing well. Unfortunately it has yet to produce any oranges. We have a lemon tree at the other end of the glasshouses (outside again) and this does fruit.
“The entrance to the walled garden was the entrance to the original Osborne House built by the Blatchford family. When Osborne House as we know it today was built the old house was taken down but this entrance was kept by Prince Albert to ornament the walled garden
“The walled garden was restored under the ‘Contemporary Heritage Garden Scheme’ in 2000. As we don’t know the style of planting employed in Queen Victoria’s era the garden is planted in a modern style with plants emerging through one another or in a checkerboard style but all the plants used are from the Victorian era i.e. they were introduced to cultivation in this country before 1900.
“Queen Victoria mentioned in her Journal on the 23rd May 1850 that ‘the whole kitchen garden is ornamented and the flowers along the walks close to the walls very nicely arranged’. Hopefully our visitors will think the same despite the early time of year for the walled garden to look at its best,” concluded Toby.