A party from the Trust paid a private visit to the gardens of Buckingham Palace on a wonderfully sunny afternoon in late September 2009. Our guide was Mark Lane, for many years the head gardener, and now the manager of several royal gardens.
After going through a security check, we entered by the garden gate, which must be the largest garden gate in the country.
The site has a long history, with a royal connection going back to Stuart times, when mulberries were grown as part of an attempt to set up an English silk industry. The house has been a royal palace since George IV started to develop it as a palace; but neither he nor William IV lived there and its first royal resident was Queen Victoria. Remnants of the Victorian garden remain but basically the current design dates from the 1920s. The garden covers 39 acres.
Although the site is a private garden, it receives many thousands of visitors each year, most notably the garden parties. The garden is largely designed for these visitors. Our tour took us along the herbaceous border which Mark had laid out when he became head gardener. It is five metres deep and 156 metres long. It is a mass of flowering plants with some banana plants to give height and interest and it is backed by trees. It was coming to the end of its show when we saw it, as it forms a major feature of the garden party backdrop.
The next area, beyond the summerhouse, is the area for spring flowers. We then went onto the famous camomile lawn, which in fact is mixed grass and camomile. Then we went to Rose Garden, which dates from the 1960s.
The gardens are remarkably free of sculpture for a ceremonial area, but the Waterloo Vase, weighing 19 tons, makes up for the small numbers. Like all other parties, we were divided over whether we liked the vase or its placing. The Admiralty Pavilion, named after its original site is a much smaller affair.
Passing the silver bed we approached the lake. Recent consultancy work has identified the views and areas to be preserved. One of them is the view to one of the Pulhamite bridges onto the island in the lake. New planting has been put in around the tennis courts to hide them from view and to add late summer colour, which was looking splendid.
We went down to the lake. It has had a circulating pump installed in recent years, which has greatly improved the water quality. The water is taken from the southern end of the lake and returned via a cascade at the northern end. A few more pieces of sculpture are by the lake, but although they are gifts to Her Majesty, they are definitely garden ornaments.
The garden includes an incredibly wide range of species and varieties. Mark plants new and rare species whenever he can. All the plants are labelled and visitors to the garden, including many of our party, make notes of the names of plants they like. The garden also has a wide range of wildlife and includes the only London location of several species. A survey a few years back found a few species new to science including a fly, Megasella marklanei, named in honour of the head gardener at the time.
At the lakeside we said our grateful thank-yous and goodbyes to Mark and his colleagues. Some of us left by the path used by visitors to the state apartments. This provided a chance to see what remains of the Pulhamite rockery - the largest in London. It was more suitable for a private Victorian garden than a giant outdoor party room.