Buckingham Palace's garden secrets: ‘Oasis within an oasis’ proof Queen is ahead of rewilding curve

Victoria Ward
·3 min read
Birds and other wildlife remain largely undisturbed on the island - John Campbell
Birds and other wildlife remain largely undisturbed on the island - John Campbell

Rewilding has become something of a buzzword in recent years, as conservationists extol the virtues of returning land to its natural state.

However, a new book that promises to reveal the secrets of the Queen’s garden at Buckingham Palace, suggests that Her Majesty has long been ahead of the curve.

Buckingham Palace: A Royal Garden charts a year in the life of the 39-acre oasis, which boasts sweeping lawns, a 512ft herbaceous border, wildflower meadows, a rose garden and a 3.5-acre lake.

The book, which includes tips from none other than the Palace’s head gardener, Mark Lane, details the many tactics used to increase biodiversity and restore delicate ecosystems.

An island nestled on the lake is left largely untouched and has been treated differently to the rest of the perfectly manicured gardens for more than a century, author Claire Masset reveals.

Buckingham Palace Royal Garden - John Campbell
Buckingham Palace Royal Garden - John Campbell
Buckingham Palace gardens  - John Campbell/Royal Collection Trust
Buckingham Palace gardens - John Campbell/Royal Collection Trust
Buckingham Palace gardens  - John Campbell /Royal Collection Trust
Buckingham Palace gardens - John Campbell /Royal Collection Trust

“Even during Queen Victoria’s time the island looked after differently from the rest of the garden,” it says.

“Wilder, shadier and generally more overgrown, it acted as a refuge for nesting birds.

“This remains true today. In fact, the island is now a rich and finely balanced ecosystem: an oasis within an oasis.”

In order to maintain the natural environment, gardeners venture onto the island as little as possible, ensuring that birds and other wildlife remain largely undisturbed, oblivious to the bustle of royal life just a stone’s throw away.

The variety of meadows, lakeside plantings, dense shrubberies and trees offer many different habitats, while protective evergreens help to create a microclimate on the island.

Being surrounded by water, the book reveals, it also has a more humid environment than the rest of the garden, encouraging different flora and fauna.

“Recent surveys on the island have revealed unexpected and exciting finds, including two rare beetles (Longitarsus ferrugineus and Clitostethus arcuatus), as well as a fungus (Cristinia coprophila) not recorded here since 1938,” it says.

Such discoveries are likely to have delighted the Prince of Wales, for whom conservation and wildlife have been a lifelong passion.

More than a thousand trees are dotted throughout the vast garden, ensuring that autumnal leaf collecting and composting is always “a mammoth task”.

However on the island, fallen leaves are added to the continually evolving piles of wood and sticks, forming yet another wildlife haven.

Such strategies are not confined to the island, however.

Eagle-eyed guests invited to the many garden parties held in the palace grounds each year may have noticed several “standing totems” – dead trees that have been made safe by the removal of any hazardous branches.

The book reveals: “Their fissured bark and many cracks offer precious habitats for birds, bats, moths and beetles.

“Similarly, old tree stumps are left in situ to rot down, attracting beetles, wasps, hoverflies and fungi. Dead wood is full of nutrients that sustain a host of creatures and, as the wood decomposes, it enriches the soil. Woodpile stacks on the island are another vital habitat, particularly favoured by solitary bees and ladybirds.”

The book, which is published by the Royal Collection Trust on April 13, also describes the seasonal posies made from the garden’s blooms, which are presented to the Queen every Monday when she is in residence in a tradition that began in 1992.

In winter, as an alternative to flowers, the posies feature a mix of evergreen leaves and colourful berries, while in the summer, sweet peas are often used, taken from the 15 sweet pea wigwams in the herbaceous border.