To visit the gardens of Buckingham Palace once in a lifetime is, for most
folk, a special treat, but to be allowed to visit them once a month over the
course of a year is a delight experienced by few.
And yet from October 2013 that is exactly what I did, in the company of a
camera crew, to film the changing year behind those high brick walls that
shut out the noise of traffic and the hustle and bustle of the capital city.
It was King George III who purchased ‘Buckingham House’ in 1762 for the grand
sum of £28,000. Queen Victoria added the east front which presents itself to
The Mall, and for the last 150 years or more Buckingham Palace has been the
principal London residence of the sovereign and a symbol of British
But the palace’s greatest secret lies behind those tall brick walls that
enclose 39 acres of garden, including a four-acre lake and an unrivalled
collection of trees and shrubs, including more than 30 varieties of mulberry
– a throwback to the days when King James I endeavoured to kick-start a
British silk industry.
He failed; rumour has it because the French (who had something of a monopoly
when it came to silk production) advised him to plant the wrong sort of
mulberry. Like much in the way of royal tittle-tattle, the veracity of this
tale is questionable, but it makes a good story.
What I do know for certain is that the gardens behind the palace most
certainly repay close scrutiny, and on Christmas Day on ITV, immediately
after The Queen’s Speech, I’ll take you on the first of two tours of Her
Majesty’s private domain. What you will discover may surprise you.
Titchmarsh found that the Buckingham Palace grounds are run in a
In addition to trees planted by Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses,
there are 350 different species of wild flower growing there – including a
rare wild orchid not seen in London for a century – eighty-odd birds,
countless fungi, invertebrates and mammals, all enjoying the sequestered
confines of a unique metropolitan oasis.
And that’s exactly what the garden is, thanks in the main to Her Majesty’s
insistence that the grounds are run in a responsible and sustainable way.
All tree prunings and sawn up logs are stacked to make a home for fungi and
small mammals. Roses are sprayed with garlic solution in preference to more
harmful pesticides, and the manure from the royal mews (rather delicately
referred to as ‘arisings’) is used to enrich the beds and borders.
I was allowed to help arrange the Christmas flowers in the fireplace of the
White Drawing Room before Her Majesty handed out presents to her staff, and
in the palace kitchens, way below the State Rooms, I enjoyed a taste of the
royal mulberry crumble and the honey produced from the hives that stand on
the island in the lake. I have never tasted honey like it.
Alan Titchmarsh walks through the gardens at Buckingham Palace
I helped replant a flowerbed and joined one of the gardeners as he put
together a seasonal posy for The Queen’s desk – each Monday the gardeners
prepare this little ‘snapshot’ of half a dozen different flowers that are in
season at that particular time. Their efforts are appreciated.
We were given access to film everything from compost heaps to the sandpit the
royal children used to play in, and in the company of the affable Gardens
Manager Mark Lane and his deputy Claire Midgley-Adam I learned much about
the way the gardens are run and the importance of the annual garden parties
which give the team of gardeners something to work to.
The lack of disturbance, compared with the surrounding London parks, which are
overrun by pedestrians, makes the Palace gardens a real haven. The Queen’s
dogs may appear every couple of hours, being walked by a footman, but they
have little or no effect on the peace that otherwise pervades the
sovereign’s sanctuary during her working week.
When Her Majesty was a child, she and her sister would walk to the far high
corner of the garden and peer over the wall to catch a glimpse of the
outside world. Now we have a chance to peer inside, and the view is
something of an eye-opener.
‘The Queen’s Garden’ is on ITV on Christmas Day immediately after The
Queen’s Christmas Broadcast.
‘The Queen’s Houses’ by Alan Titchmarsh is published by BBC Books at £20