Words and photography by Ina, creator of A culture vulture's guide to London & @withinLondon
For the first time, Her Majesty the Queen opens her private 39-acre London garden to the public this summer. From July to September 2021, paying visitors will be welcomed to picnic and indulge in self-guided tours of the superbly-landscaped royal grounds of Buckingham Palace. The gardens are home to a biodiverse habitat of 320 different types of grasses, wildflowers, and over 1,000 trees.
Short History of Buckingham Palace Gardens
Although the original naturalistic landscaping was inspired by Humphry Repton and Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the current garden scenery dates from 1825 when the Buckingham House was declared a palace by George IV who appointed William Townsend - also in charge of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew - to oversee the re-modelling of the gardens.
The wildlife-rich oasis tucked right into Central London features a mulberry that dates back to James I of England, a 19th-century lake – once beautified by a small flock of flamingoes that sadly fell victim to a daring fox, a tennis court, a helicopter landing pad, and a small 18th-century summerhouse designed by William Kent.
A lesser-known fact about the Buckingham gardens is the resemblance to the Palace regarding its richness in works of art. The display collection famously includes the legendary Waterloo Vase commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate his anticipated victories. Intended at some point for the Waterloo chamber at Windsor Castle, King Edward VII eventually decided to place it in the outdoor gardens at Buckingham as the urn, weighing 15 tons, was too heavy for indoor floors.
A Luxuriant Oasis Right in the Heart of London
Buckingham Gardens' vast diversity of flora and fauna contributes to the capital’s thriving ecosystem with 6,500 plants, 325 wild-plant species, 260 types of wildflowers including orchids, and over 200 species of trees (including 85 different species of oak). The 30 species of breeding birds boast a variety of water birds and native birds rarely seen in London, such as the Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), and Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca).
The wildflower meadow, summer house, and rose garden can be enjoyed exclusively through guided tours. Smaller group explorations of the gardens and the State Rooms are also available from May to September. The weekend tours scheduled for April and May focus on the springtime meadows, sublimely carpeted with bluebells and primroses, majestically complemented by flowering camellias, azalea shrubs, and magnolia trees.
An Unprecedented Opportunity to Visit the Palace Garden
The decision to open the gardens to visitors has been taken following the cancelation of the traditional summer opening of the palace's staterooms for the second year in a row, due to the pandemic. The visits can only take place between 9 July and 19 September, giving everyone the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wander around a 156-metre long herbaceous route through the Queen's private 39-acre grounds and relax while picnicking on the sweeping lawns overlooking the Palace.
Among the main attractions to be discovered are the plane trees named after and planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Horse Chestnut Avenue, and the famous lake whose island shelters the Buckingham Palace bee “community.” A little-known fact is that since 2000, these grounds house the National Collection of Mulberries.
Ball games, barbecues, and alcohol will not be permitted, and social distancing rules must be followed. Still, the Gardens will be dotted with many food stalls and visitors can purchase delicious refreshments.
The Royal Collection Trust (RCT) has already been overwhelmed by the demand for garden visit tickets - priced at £9 for children and £16.50 for adults, therefore royal enthusiasts or gardening aficionados shouldn't be surprised if they would be asked to enter an online queuing system at some point.
For complete visitor information and tickets visit: www.rct.uk or call +44 (0) 303 123 7300.
And While You Are There...
- Did you know that the large memorial in front of Buckingham Palace and unveiled in 1911 is called the "Queen Victoria Memorial"?
- Don't miss the chance to can see the Changing of the Guards ceremony for free, every second morning during the winter months and at 11.30 am every morning during summer.
- For a less crowded view of the guards, stand along the Mall between the Horseguards and the Palace.
- Did you know that Greater London has eight royal parks with five of them (St. James’s Park, Hyde Park, Regent's Park, Kensington Gardens, and Green Park) right are in central London? The remaining three (Richmond, Greenwich, and Bushy Park) are a perfect excuse to venture outside the City for a much-needed fix of peace and tranquillity.
- Buckingham Palace is located in Central London. The closest Tube stations are Victoria, Green Park, and Hyde Park Corner. If you arrive by coach, Victoria Coach Station is just a short 10-minute walk away.