Buckingham Palace Garden opens its doors to visitors for the first time history
Tourists can now stroll around and go picnicking at the queen’s royal estate located in the heart of London
Traditionally, invitations to Buckingham Palace are associated with attending state functions, summer garden parties and formal receptions in recognition of public service or presentations of honour. My invitation came unexpectedly and informally via a friend.
“Would you like to go to Buckingham Palace for a picnic?” he asked during a telephone call. Absolutely. The prospect of visiting for any other reason seemed improbable. Yet, why on earth would we be permitted to picnic at Her Majesty The Queen’s London residence?
He explained that this summer, for the first time, members of the public could book tickets to enter the 39-acre garden at the rear of the palace. Until September 19, up to 2,000 visitors a day can enter Buckingham Palace Garden. Obviously keen to visit, he explained that we could join a guided tour of the grounds before settling down to enjoy a picnic on the lawn.
As we chatted, I searched online for hotels within walking distance of the palace. To my surprise, hotel prices in London have dropped markedly compared to their pre-pandemic levels. Accommodation in the British capital currently represents outstanding value for money.
Dressed informally, we strolled through Westminster towards the garden’s entrance at the Royal Mews on Buckingham Palace Road. Bags and jackets are subject to airport-style security scans. Unfortunately, my backpack triggered the alarm because of the chilled bottle of pink lemonade that I’d purchased, along with other treats, for our picnic just minutes earlier in the Waitrose supermarket at nearby Bressenden Place. Staff politely reminded me that carrying glass into the palace grounds is not permitted and confiscated the bottle.
Suitably embarrassed, I shuffled away in the direction of the palace’s vast and neatly tended lawn. Stripes mown into the grass reminded me of Wembley Stadium’s lush turf. During our guided tour, we heard that the garden was landscaped into its current form during the mid-1820s, when King George IV had Buckingham House converted into a palace. William Townsend Aiton, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, oversaw the garden’s transformation.
Prior to that redevelopment, Queen Charlotte established a menagerie. Had we visited back in 1762 we would have seen monkeys, an elephant and a zebra. These days, the only striped creatures to inhabit the garden officially are significantly smaller. Bees buzz in and out of five hives on the leafy island in the lake, a water body comparable in size to two football pitches. Their honey is harvested to fill approximately 160 jars for use in the palace kitchen.
Strolling by the lake I found it easy to imagine that I was in countryside rather than the heart of London. Buckingham Palace has the largest private garden in the city. The swishing summer foliage of the garden’s thousand trees help muffle the noise of vehicles driving along Grosvenor Place. Among them stands the national collection of 45 different species of mulberry trees and 85 types of oaks.
Jordan, an informative member of palace staff, pointed out a London plane, the oldest tree species in the garden. He explained how the bark intermittently strips away from their trunks to reveal a new layer below. This phenomenon allowed London planes to rid themselves of polluting ash belched into the urban sky from chimneys during the 19th and 20th centuries. Benches ring the trunks of Victoria and Albert, the garden’s most famous plane trees. They were planted side-by-side, more than 150 years ago, by Queen Victoria and her consort.
We strolled past visitors photographing plants blooming in the 156-metre Herbaceous Border on our way to the Rose Garden, which features 25 different beds of roses. At the Rose Garden’s centre stands the vast Waterloo Vase. France’s Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned the 5.5-metre tall vase but was defeated before its completion, allowing Great Britain’s future King George IV to take possession. With an estimated weight of 19 tonnes, transporting the vase to its current location must have proven challenging.
Back on the main lawn, we spread our picnic blanket and loaded prawn sandwiches, fruit scones and strawberries onto plastic plates. Perhaps not a feast fit for The Queen, but certainly ideal for satiating our hunger on a royally enjoyable summer afternoon.