Formal Avenues

Looking south along Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich Park, 2022


Greenwich Park was radically transformed from a medieval heathland and hunting ground into a formally designed landscape during the seventeenth century. Integral to this landscape was a formal network of tree avenues, walks and grass terraces. These were inspired by the geometric splendour of French formal gardens and interlinked with the grand axis of Le Nôtre’s plan for the park.

Blackheath Avenue formed the backbone of the park’s 1660s layout, being on a direct axis to the Queen’s House and linking the Giant Steps up the escarpment to Blackheath Gate. This central avenue was counterbalanced by a formal geometry of avenues that radiated out into the rest of the park.



An Exact Plan of Greenwich Park, Henry Wise


Sir William Boreman planted a diverse selection of trees between September 1661 and June 1662. Boreman’s accounts for this period included elms, birch, ivy berries, holly berries for 14 coppices, 600 elms for seven walks, and chestnut trees from Lesnes Abbey for planting up the formal avenues.

The choice of planting sweet chestnut (Castanea Sativa) trees in this period reflected seventeenth-century trends for planting these large trees in parkland or large-scale gardens. Many of these impressive veteran sweet chestnut trees remain from this period today, being more than 350 years old.

John Evelyn also records in 1664 that avenues of English elm (Ulmus procera) were planted in the upper Blackheath Avenue, where Sir William Boreman supervised the construction of a great terrace at the Blackheath end of Greenwich Park. Three avenues of elms radiated off a double half-circle of elms encircling Blackheath Gate, forming a great ‘patte d’oie’, meaning three or five avenues radiating from a single point.

Replanted over the centuries, these formal avenues of trees remain a feature of the park today.