The founders of the first cultural green area that rose at the foot of Lasnamäe klint in the second half of the 17th century were five important Tallinners who received a permit to construct their summer houses to that area. The grounds in the middle that belonged to one of them, burgomaster Heinrich Fonnele, were called Fonne dale (Ger. Fonnental). In 1714 the area was bought by Peter the Great, who began to use the building that was once the main building of Fonne dale (since 1806 – house museum of Peter I) as his residence. An alley of ancient trees lead to “the old palace”, and the cross-shaped garden, limited by channels from two sides, had 12 “precious foreign trees” – horse chestnuts. Evidently, Peter had an early plan, after he would have achieved peace, to start erecting here a new seaside park and palace ensemble similar to Peterhof. Being convinced of his victory in the Great Northern War, he hired architect Niccolo Michetti with his apprentice Gaetano Chiaveri from Rome into Russian service; at the same time, on July 22, 1718, a new suitable place was found for the palace and the surrounding park.
Regular gardens of Kadriorg park with their Italian-French-Dutch walkways took up only a part of the park. The original natural stony landscape with an oak grove, meadows and standalone patches of trees was predominant, and alleys crossed it as walkways. Even now 30 ancient trees, older than the palace itself, grows in the oak grove. In the area of Apollo grove, there used to be a chestnut garden where young trees brought from Holland were planted for a few years so that they could get used to the harsher climate before being brought to Saint-Petersburg.
Three natural shelves descending towards the sea preconditioned the multilevel solution of the palace surroundings. The Lower Garden was planned in front of the palace, and the palace with its wings was placed behind it, to a half-artificial shelf as if to a pedestal. The second shelf, behind the palace, was turned into the Flower Garden ended with a fountain wall – the Mirage Wall. The third level, the highest one, was the location of the Mirage Pond. The garden parts on two shelves behind the palace were called the Upper Garden.
After Peter the Great’s wish, anyone interested could freely walk in the park; thus the royal park was a public place from the very beginning.
The Lower Garden with its more sophisticated design was cross-shaped, with three lengthwise alleys and other alleys crossing them at an angle. The central one joined with the central axis of the main building of the palace. Fountains were planned for the crossing points of the alleys. The sides of the garden were framed by netted walkways (trellises), and narrow arched bridges went over the channels that limited the garden. The townward end of the Lower Garden ended with a curved wooden colonnade with yet another fountain in front of it. The netted walkways and the curved pillared gallery closed the garden from the sides and from the end, drawing attention towards the palace, its wings and staircase walls connecting them. Two symmetrically placed rest houses were located behind the channel arch of the Lower Garden. Ten patterned flower beds (floral parterres) were put in front of the palace. The space between them was covered with crushed brick, walkways – with sand. Parterres were planted with roses, carnations, tulips, daffodils, and evergreen edges were composed of cranberry bushes and clipped white cedars.
The Upper Garden (so-called Flower Garden) made up an inner courtyard in the back of the palace, the sides of which were also limited by netted galleries. The flowers in floral parterres and red crushed brick in the space between them matched with “Mars red” walls of the palace and created a suitable contrast with the greens. The most spectacular part was to be the Mirage wall with sculptures depicting Olympic gods. Fountains in the shape of face masks (mascaron fountains) were attached to the panels of the wall, and waterfall stairs (the Little Cascade) were designed in the center of the wall.
Mirage pond with a decorated edge (balustrade) around it was created on the higher level of the Upper Garden; a monument narrowing to the top (obelisk), planned to be erected on the island, was never realized. Behind the pond, the main axis of the palace and the regular park was to continue with a channel, which would end with a big water staircase (cascade) with water bursting steeply from an artificial Lasnamäe channel. Indeed, a channel was dug from lake Ülemiste to supply with water all ponds, pools, channels and “water games” of Kadriorg park. According to Peter the Great’s plans, the park would have astonished visitors with the artistic cascade and its many sculptures and water games. Unfortunately, after Peter the Great’s death (January 28, 1725) the Russian court was not interested in full implementation of large-scale projects of the reformer. The only order was to “preserve the present, finish the initiated works, but not to start new ones”. They only managed to cut several more alleys and walkways through the park, decorating them with pavilions and arbors for rest. In the second half of the 18th century, the so-called Catherine’s Staircase was built on the flagstone slope near the cascade, descending from Peterburi road towards the palace.
Regardless of that, the Kadriorg palace and park ensemble came to be the largest and the most stylish baroque structure in Estonia. The palace and the park became a model for Estonian nobility in designing manors and regular parks at their farms.
The initial layout of the park was preserved until the end of the 19th century, although the trimming of tree crowns and the renovation of wooden park constructions stopped already in the end of the 18th century. Gradually, a shaded garden resembling a wild grove arose in the place of the greenery of the Lower Garden.
In 1897 G. Kuphaldt, manager of Riga gardens and parks, drew up a project and plans for renovation of Kadriorg palace park. Following the English park style, a free-form approach was preferred. In 1897-1900 the natural oak-wood was cleared of scrubs, new tree groups were planted; sea views were opened and made comfortable for visitors. New bicycle lanes were laid, along with a belt line to Limneamere shelf. In the regular park, the surface of the Lower Garden was leveled, and some of the “water games” channels were backfilled, although that part of the park remained generally unaltered.
In 1902, “Russalka” monument, designed by Amandus Adamson, was erected at the end of Sea (Mere) alley to commemorate the ship of the same name that had shipwrecked in 1893.
During the time of the Estonian Republic, a project of perspective planning of the park and of creation of a so-called people’s park proposed in 1924 planned as few buildings for the park as possible, and the most attention was to be paid to the greenery elements. Improvement began in 1934. A. Soans won the 1st prize in the project competition organized for that purpose. Nevertheless, the best solutions of various projects were implemented in the final design of the park. Berlin garden company L. Späth also took part in developing a plan for park improvement works.
The Swan Pond square was changed into a green plot with cross-shaped layout; a rotunda with columns (designer: V. Seidra) was built on the island in the middle of the pond. A new decorative garden, the so-called Kivisilla triangle, and a large lawn with benches were created; the lawn was decorated with a sundial and flowerbeds to the color of Estonian national costume. Also completed was the Youth Park in the southeast corner near the Swan Pond; it had swimming pools, sandboxes, and playgrounds near its main building. A concert square was built on the edge of the shelf in the Lasnamäe part of the park. The winding walkway that began at the Swan Pond and went straight through the park made a festive staircase on the side of the shelf, along both side of which lay flowerbeds and an alpine garden. Water motive was introduced by a round fountain pool. The Apollo Belvedere sculpture brought from Alatskivi manor park was placed on the meadow to the left of the concert square, thus giving it its current name – Apollo meadow. The Mirage pond was eliminated. The path network was designed in Neo-baroque style, and the lower terrace received a fountain and the Rose Garden. Some niches intended for busts of Estonian presidents were planned into support walls of terraces. As a finishing touch to the Upper Garden, the building of the President’s Office was built after an architect A. Kotli’s project. The plot between the Office of the President and the palace was surrounded with fences. Channels in the Lower Garden were whelmed and some of the diagonal roads were swarded. The vicinity of the palace was limited with a wrought fence. Soil for landscaping was taken from the northeast part of the park, the North-East Pond was decorated with perennial flowers, and a brook named Small Wolf Ravine with a rocky slope was directed into the pond.
To summarize: in Kadriorg, we can see park design techniques characteristic of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1990, the city of Tallinn founded the Kadriorg park small enterprise, under whose guidance began the improvement and renovation of the park. Sea and Crow alleys, as well as the North-East pond and the Swan Pond with their surroundings, were completely renewed. By the moment the palace was re-opened after restoration as an art museum (2000), the Flower Garden behind the palace, restored together with its fountains, was also opened. The Mirage wall was reconstructed a couple of years later, and in 2005 Mati Karmin’s bronze sculpture “Poseidon” was placed into the cascade niche. The same year, a new rose garden (5,600 roses) was created in place of the old alpine garden and the fountain was restored. In 2006, busts of presidents Konstantin Päts and Lennart Meri were placed into the niches of the support walls of the Upper Garden terraces, just as the layout of park had proposed in the year 1938. The surroundings of the Swan Pond were renovated the same year.