King Herod the Gardener

Sometimes you read something in the newspaper and have to do a double take or ask yourself if you’ve lost track of time and it’s really April Fool’s Day. Today’s post  was about one such occasion. It was a fortnight ago and I was reading a newspaper on-line over breakfast, when I spotted a headline which read “King Herod’s history of biblical massacres and bonsai trees”.  That was weird enough but intriguing, so having finished the article I begun to investigate the story behind it by tracking down the researchers involved.  The story gradually went from being jokily incredible to being absolutely fascinatingly incredible.  

See what you think!

The illustration that accompanied the article by Mark Bridge, History Correspondent of The Times Saturday January 16 2021,






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More on Lyveden

Last week’s post looked at the background to the building of Lyveden New Bield by Sir Thomas Tresham in the very last few years of Elizabeth I’s reign.  We began a tour of the garden and ended having reached the terrace at the top of the orchard and looked backwards, down the hill over the Old Bield.

Today we’re going to continue the tour round the other part of the garden and ending up at Sir Thomas’s extraordinary garden lodge, before going on to look at the more recent history of Lyveden.


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We all know that houses and gardens are the product of their creators, sometimes almost inextricably so. But we also know that houses get altered, rebuilt or even demolished from time to time while gardens are even more ephemeral and apart from the obvious seasonal changes of planting and growth, are often altered with every successive generation.

So today’s subject is extraordinary because in so many ways it doesn’t fit into that pattern. It was the product of one man’s imagination, passion and faith and it was abandoned when he died.

It helped that his family had little spare  money and  the estate was remote, so it has remained basically unchanged, except for the normal decay and change caused by time and the ploughing of some sections for agriculture.   No-one has ripped up his planting, rearranged the  layout or added new features. The relationship between house and garden is unaltered until very recently when attempts have been to recreate the very few things that have changed since his death over 400 years ago.

Lyveden in Northamptonshire is an almost incredible  survival of a late  Elizabethan garden, and its story  is inseparable from the story of  its creator Thomas Tresham.


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The Hanging Gardens of Nineveh?

Last week’s post looked at the evidence for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and ended with archaeologists excavating Babylon in the late 19th/early 20thc  unable to find any real sign of them.

Today’s is going to continue the story and end by suggesting that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon probably ought to be renamed following a complete re-examination of the sources and finds by Stephanie Dalley, formerly of the Oriental Institute in Oxford,  whose book The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced published in 2013 I finally read over the Christmas holidays and which inspired me to write about – and reassess -the fabled gardens.

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The Hanging Gardens of Babylon


History is always changing.  The kind of history I did at school, kings and queens, great battles and the stories of great men [and occasionally women] has given way to a much more broadly based picture of the past.  We now see things from more than one perspective and look at the stories of more than just a few rich and powerful people.  But some things don’t change. Our fascination with certain events, places and ideas is never-ending and, for example, I suspect most of us are  fascinated by great monuments and how and why they were built.

Who, for example, didn’t learn all about the Seven Wonders of the World at school?  Although it might be hard to  remember them all [answers at the bottom of the post!] I bet that there are at least a couple that everyone recalls because they were so fabulous and almost unbelievable. I’d guess we’d all think immediately of the Great Pyramid of Giza but I wouldn’t be surprised if not far behind came the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

But what do we actually know about them?

You’d think that being the Hanging Gardens of Babylon we’d at least  know where they were, but unfortunately we don’t – indeed we can’t even be sure  they actually existed at all.  So read on to find out if there’s any the evidence  or if the whole idea is just a romantic myth…

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