A romantic garden created by the Earl of Leicester for Queen Elizabeth I is to be restored at the largest ruined castle in England.
English Heritage said the ambitious scheme to recreate the lost garden at Kenilworth Castle, in Warwickshire, was at the heart of a multi-faceted development and restoration programme.
Kenilworth Castle has been the setting for pageantry, romance and political intrigue for over eight centuries and attracts 95,000 visitors each year.
Stunning archaeological evidence discovered last year beneath the existing 1970s garden has prompted English Heritage experts to believe that a more accurate representation of the garden that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, arduously created in 1575 to impress Queen Elizabeth I on her 19-day visit, can be reconstructed.
An extensive education and outreach programme is being planned to engage school children and interested members of the public throughout the excavation and restoration phases.
Working closely with renowned garden archaeologist Brian Dix, teams from English Heritage and Northampton Archaeology carried out an evaluation of the site in autumn last year.
The results confirmed that the garden created in 1975 was modelled on a plan that was flawed but has been, until recently, accepted as correct.
The results identified a number of definite features indicating the survival of elements of the former garden.
Most notable is a rubble foundation of the central fountain.
English Heritage said its off-centre position in relation to the current garden indicates that the former garden was laid out differently, and was possible smaller.
It is also clear from the excavation that the modern garden has begun to damage archaeological deposits.
In one instance, the roots of clipped yew cones have penetrated between 13 and 15 inches into the subsoil, causing disturbance to the buried archaeological layers.
Based on these initial findings and the prospect of damage to valuable archaeology deposits, a full excavation of the "hard landscaping" elements of the former Elizabethan garden will begin in July.
This will reveal further details of the fountain, whereabouts of the arbours, obelisks and other architectural features that once stood in the garden. Evidence of planting, however is unlikely to survive.
John Watkins, head of gardens and landscape at English Heritage said: "This is a truly fascinating and multi-faceted project with something for everyone-from the garden archaeologist to a school child studying Tudor history.
"Above all, the pure pleasure to be derived from marvelling at human ingenuity, both past and present in creating and recreating such a beautiful garden, is going to be immense." Reconstruction of the garden will begin in the summer of 2006 with a target public opening date of Easter 2007.
Descriptions contained in a letter by Robert Laneham, an usher to Robert Dudley, provides perhaps the most vivid and enchanting impressions of the former garden.
It is one of two detailed contemporary accounts of the garden and will be used by English Heritage in the restoration.
Other components of the £2.5 million development programme at the castle include: n Construction of a new and improved timber-framed visitors admission and retail building n Completion of the conservation and renovation of the 16th century Gatehouse, which will be open to the public for the first time in decades.