Sunday, 28 March 2010

Buckingham Palace Garden

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?
I walked round the garden and breathed the fresh air.

Why are things seldom as one expects them? I have seen the gardens at Buckingham Palace before. But only the very public view of it, from below the garden front. That is the lawn where the famous Garden Parties are held: where honoured ladies in hats, gents suited and booted, hover in expectation for a chat and a cuppa with her madje.

But I have recently been for a private view of the gardens. Well, as private as is possible with twenty three other people present. And I had imagined that somewhere – born of long remembered tales of Lewis Carroll, C.S.Lewis or Frances Hodgson Burnett no doubt - that tucked away somewhere there was a hidden and private garden.

Well, I was wrong. There is no secret garden. Just some handsome trees, lots of stunning shrubs, waves of brilliant daffodils and waterside plantings. None of the Royals don their wellies and gardening gloves at Buck House. It was in the Gardens at Mey that the Queen Mother pruned her roses and at Highgrove that Charles hones his design skills and tries out his green ideas. And one gets the impression that Her Majesty the Queen and Princess Anne are more au fait with the muck than the magic.

Henry VIII first had his eye on this landscape back in the 1500’s. James I planted mulberry trees (the wrong sort for the silk production he envisaged) and successive monarchs dabbled with formality. But in 1760 the garden was professionally designed by the famous Lancelot Brown who swept away anything that even hinted at formality.

For him it was all serpentine paths, turf, trees and still water. Not a straight line in sight. Fortunately there was no-one in residence who was very interested in the garden (William IV chose to live at Clarence House instead) or willing to spend money on its upkeep after that. Queen Victoria is supposed to have said that only the dog enjoyed the garden!

I say, ‘fortunately’, because too much cash and too much insistence on the fashionable, is responsible for the ruination of many a garden. Later, John Nash had a go at dredging the lake, but left the informal layout well alone. The choice of planting and the lake encouraged wild-life and when finally Victoria’s beloved Albert took an interest in the garden it was fortunate too that he valued it. By enhancing its structures and planting more trees.

Only one long border has been added since Brown’s original design, bowing to the late Victorian and Edwardian craze for herbaceous planting. It was designed to stun the garden party visitors with a riot of colour in June. And then a traditional rose garden – now pruned to perfection – was planted, sitting slightly uncomfortably in its setting. These, then, were the only formal Reptonian touches. Two modest deviations from the simplicity of the English Landscape style.

It is so rare to see such an unspoilt informal garden on such a formal site. Banish all ideas of Versailles, perish the thought of Villa d’Este, forget parterres and topiary. Here the garden of Buckinham Palace is a natural green and pleasant place in the midst of hustle and bustle and buildings. Rus in urbe. A peaceful, private parkland in the heart of London. And I quite understand why the Royal family might like to keep it that way.


1 comment:

Michael said...

Thank you for helping to visit Buckingham garden. The only way I can visit is through your eyes and experiences. I am a novelist too, and even though I may not, my characters have visited this place. Greetings from Costa Rica.