As The Queen Mother celebrates her 100th birthday today no doubt she is thinking back over the things that have made her happy during her century. Well up there in her list of favourites will be her gardens. George Plumptre has visited all the Queen Mother’s private gardens and reveals a few secrets.
The Queen Mother inherited a love of gardening as a child and was brought up in family homes with beautiful gardens, Glamis Castle in Scotland and St Paul’s Walden Bury in Hertfordshire.
Throughout her life her own gardens have been a source of great joy, especially the garden of the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, the house she and her husband George VI were given by his father shortly after their marriage in 1923. Royal Lodge is the Queen Mother’s favourite home, where she spends weekends and where she and George VI worked together to create the garden. It was an ambitious project, given that the house and garden had been neglected for many years.
Together they set about creating a garden from the oak woodland of Windsor Great Park, which would also provide areas for flower gardening and relaxation around the Regency house. The famous designer Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe helped by building a new garden terrace along the front of the house, while for George VI the creation of a woodland garden with shady paths leading past banks of rhododendrons was a source of great pride.
Today the garden remains very much as they created it together, the broad terrace giving a spectacular view across sloping lawn to the woodland garden beyond. Here many of the rhododendrons are now enormous including – not surprisingly – the luxuriant white-flowered ‘King George’. The main path leads to a delightful connection with the Queen Mother’s childhood, a statue group of a woman and children called ‘Charity’ which is a copy of the original in the garden of St Paul’s Walden Bury.
One of the Queen Mother’s favourite areas has always been the small secret rose garden on one side of the house, enclosed with beech hedges and a medley of scent and colour in June and July. From her writing room in the house she can walk out on to a path that leads along an immaculately planted herbaceous border of the kind she would have seen being tended by her gardening mother. Close by is another of the Royal Lodge garden’s unique treasures, a tiny thatched cottage, more like a large dolls’ house, that was given by the people of Wales to the present Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, on her sixth birthday.
As far away as you could possibly get, on the far north coast of Scotland, is the Queen Mother’s other favourite garden, the romantic Castle of Mey. Here, looking straight out over the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands, is the home that she made during the sad years of her early widowhood. The small but immaculate kitchen garden, protected by high stone walls to keep out the constant winds, is a sheer delight and a reminder that however daunting the conditions it is possible to make a garden.
That sort of challenge has always appealed to the Queen Mother who remains as spirited today as ever. As well as creating and caring for her own gardens (in the process enormously improving the standards and enjoyment of the gardens around the different royal residences such as Sandringham), she has contributed hugely to the world of gardening. Few horticultural bodies do not have her as their Patron; she has held the position at the Royal Horticultural Society since 1936 and has been similarly committed to both the National Gardens Scheme and to Scotland’s Garden Scheme.
And where did our best–known royal gardener, Prince Charles, get the bug? From his grandmother of course.