Tours of Buckingham Palace Garden launched for 2009

Release date: 
Thursday, 16 October 2008

Guided tours of the garden at Buckingham Palace will be available to the general public for the first time ever next year.  Described as ‘a walled oasis in the middle of London’, the 16-hectare (39-acre) garden is the largest private garden in the capital and boasts more than 350 types of wild flower, over 150 mature trees and a 1.2-hectare (3-acre) lake.  For over 200 years it has been used by the Royal Family for official entertaining and celebratory events. It was the venue for the Golden Jubilee concerts in 2002 and the Children’s Party at the Palace in 2006 to mark Her Majesty’s 80th birthday, and every summer it is the setting for The Queen’s Garden Parties.

The tours are available to pre-booked groups of 15 to 25 people on selected dates in April, May and June.  They will take visitors along the 1,500-metre path around the garden and will include the famous Herbaceous Border, the wisteria-clad summer house and the Rose Garden.  Visitors will enjoy views of the enormous Waterloo Vase, made for George IV in Italy, and of the Palace tennis court, where King George VI and Fred Perry played in the 1930s.

The central feature of the garden is the lake, created in the 19th century and originally fed from the overflow from the Serpentine.  Today it is a self-regulating eco-system fed from the Buckingham Palace bore hole, which is also used in the air-conditioning of The Queen’s Gallery. The ‘long-grass policy’ has encouraged the natural lakeside environment to flourish, and the area is now a favourite nesting site for water birds, such as coots, moorhens, shelduck, mallard, geese and the great-crested grebe. The garden provides the habitat for native birds rarely seen in London, including the common sandpiper, sedge warbler and lesser whitethroat.

Before beginning their tour, visitors will receive an introductory talk about the rich history of the garden. In the reign of James I (1603-25), a plantation of mulberries for the rearing of silkworms was established on the site under royal patronage.  Unfortunately the wrong type of mulberry bush was chosen and the scheme came to nothing.  During the first half of the 18th century, Buckingham House, the London home of the Duke of Buckingham, occupied the position where the Palace now stands.  The house with its surrounding land came into royal ownership in 1761, when it was bought by George III as a private residence. During the reign of George III and his consort, Queen Charlotte, the  garden  was  home  to  a  collection  of  exotic  animals, including  a  ‘turkey  monkey’,  a  zebra and an elephant. 

The design of the garden as seen today dates back to George IV’s conversion of Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace from 1825.  The new royal residence needed a suitably private garden, and George IV appointed William Townsend Aiton, who was in charge of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, to oversee the remodelling of the grounds.  By this date the taste for very formal gardens had been replaced by a desire for more naturalistic landscaping, inspired by the work of Capability Brown and Humphry Repton.  Aiton’s main alterations were the creation of the lake and the construction of the Mound, an artificial high bank on the south side to screen the Palace from the Royal Mews.

Like the Palace itself, the garden at Buckingham Palace has undergone changes over the years.  King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
(The Queen Mother) cleared many of the dense Victorian shrubberies and introduced a wide selection of decorative flowering trees and scented shrubs. A number of commemorative specimens planted by members of the Royal Family are identified by plaques recording the occasion, including birthdays, wedding anniversaries and jubilees. The plantings are constantly added to by today’s team of gardeners, to introduce new areas of interest and to enhance the historic landscaping.

Facts and Figures

• Buckingham Palace garden covers 16 hectares (39 acres), the lake is 1.2 hectares (3 acres), and the famous Herbaceous Border is 156 metres
(512 feet) long and 5 metres (16 feet) deep.

• The garden is home to 30 species of bird, 322 types of British wild flower, 150 mature trees and a quarter of the total British list of moths and butterflies.

• Among the garden’s horticultural rarities are the Chinese chestnut tree Castanea mollisima, the lily-of-the-valley tree Clethra arborea, Arbutus canariensis, the Chilean jasmine Mandevilla laxa, Michelia figo, the round-leaved beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Rotundifolia’, the Chinese Photinia beauverdiana var. notabilis, and the Indian bean tree Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’.

• Buckingham Palace is the holder of the National Collection of mulberries (Morus).

• The garden has eight beds of plants native to North America.

• Over 30,000 guests attend The Queen’s Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace every year, around 8,000 at each occasion.  At a typical garden party, around 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake are consumed, served by around 400 staff.

• Buckingham Palace has been recycling green waste on site since 1991 and also recycles waste from St James's Palace and Kensington Palace. Horse manure is collected daily from the stables at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, and added to the garden’s giant compost heap.

• The garden is the oldest helicopter pad in London. It was first used as such just before Her Majesty The Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

• The Herbaceous Border was used to grow vegetables during the War.

• Every Monday morning when The Queen is in residence, the Gardens Manager sends Her Majesty a posy of the interesting plants in flower in the Palace garden.

Further information and photographs are available from Emma Shaw, Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, (+44) (0)20 7839 1377, emma.shaw@royalcollection.org.uk. Images can also be downloaded from the Royal Collection’s folder in the ‘Companies Available’ section on PA’s Picselect at www.picselect.com or through the PA bulletin board.

Notes to Editors

1. Tours of Buckingham Palace garden are available for pre-booked groups of 15-25 people. 
Adults £20.00, Under 17 £10.00 (price includes an introductory talk, garden tour and refreshments). For further information, please telephone (+44) (0)20 7766 7333.

2. Monies raised from admissions to Buckingham Palace garden will be dedicated to the Royal Household Property Section for the maintenance of the garden, to augment grant-in-aid from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and to the Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity, for curatorial, conservation and educational work.