Letter Q The A to Z of TV Gardening


Letter Q

A look at some of the BBC's most popular gardening programmes and personalities, presented by Carol Kirkwood. This episode takes a look at the gardens of Buckingham Palace.


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to The A To Z Of TV Gardening.

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We're digging up the best advice

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from all your favourite programmes and presenters,

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so join me as, letter after letter, one by one,

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we explore everything from flowers and trees to fruit and veg.

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We're starting with a real treat,

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a very rare look at some of the most famous and exclusive gardens in the world

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because our first Q is for the Queen's Gardens.

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Back in 2004, Her Majesty granted Monty Don

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and the Gardeners' World team a special "access all areas" pass

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to the open spaces of Buckingham Palace,

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so let's enjoy what they found.

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Buckingham Palace Garden in the heart of central London is flanked by St James's and Green Park,

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both originally hunting grounds for the monarchy.

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The garden occupies an area of 39 acres.

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The Serpentine Lake is at the heart of the garden

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with a lawn the size of five football pitches running down to it.

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The lake has been enlarged a number of times

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and in the dig of 1827, some of the spoil was used to enlarge this mound

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that was created to hide the garden from the Royal Mews.

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The Buckingham Palace Rose Garden was originally laid out in the 1960s

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by the celebrated rose grower Harry Wheatcroft

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and has been continually updated, often with commemorative roses.

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This is Royal William, Rose of the Year in 1987.

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Silver Jubilee flowers all summer long.

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The Queen Elizabeth has been going strong since 1954.

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And Gracious Queen was launched at Chelsea for the Golden Jubilee.

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And species roses, always a favourite with the Queen Mother,

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still thrive around the Admiralty Summer House.

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One of the oldest residents in the garden you'll find dotted around in the grass and it's this -

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the chamomile, which was first recorded in the 17th century and has been here continuously ever since.

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In more recent times, a sandpit, swing and slide were added

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for the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

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The swing and slide have gone, but the sandpit is still there,

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its wooden cover now hosting a colony of lichens.

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There's also a tennis court.

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King George VI was a keen tennis player, even competing at Wimbledon.

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Today, the court is used by Palace staff.

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And like anybody trying to encourage wildlife into the garden,

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the Queen has her own royal bird table.

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BIRDS SING

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'One of the highlights for most of the guests is the herbaceous border.

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'Over 150 metres long and five metres deep,

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'it peaks in July.

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'One man who knows royal gardens better than most

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'is writer and garden historian Sir Roy Strong.'

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I suppose the first thing is how does a herbaceous border fit

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into the gardening tradition, let alone a palace one?

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The herbaceous border, Monty, was really a mid-Victorian invention.

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The great reformer William Robinson,

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who wrote The English Flower Garden, then his pupil was Gertrude Jekyll,

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and the apogee of this form of gardening was really before 1914

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with the relationship of Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll,

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mass planting of herbaceous plants in a kind of symphony of colour,

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ascending at the back to tall things like delphiniums which we can see here,

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and, believe it or not, banana trees.

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I suppose you can say they're a symbol of a vanished empire,

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plants from all around the globe gathered into this fantastic border here.

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Then it's like so many other things.

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Once they cross the Channel and they arrive here, we think they're English.

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They're part of our multicultural identity or diversity now.

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It's nice to see sweet peas because they always make me think of the late Queen Mother,

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who absolutely loved sweet peas,

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and all her houses were decorated in sweet pea colours and she always dressed in sweet pea colours.

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-I think that's...

-Do you think that's deliberate, a sort of family...?

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It's possible. It's a kind of memory of a much-loved person.

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I mean, do remember that the royal family and the Queen live in there

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and it does give her something wonderful to look down on.

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Then also the border screens, what, if I remember rightly, is a little private walk

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because any royal person leads such an exposed life.

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I understand that Her Majesty takes the corgis for a walk behind there, which I find absolutely enchanting.

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And I do like to see delphiniums that are huge.

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I think this trend of breeding dwarf delphiniums seems to be losing the very essence of the plant,

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-and to see enormous...

-They're quite a fierce blue, aren't they?

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Yes, I don't mind that.

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And what is unusual about this border...

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There's great attention to flower and leaf shape and height.

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But there's less attention to colour. Some of the colour is quite aggressive.

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If I had to be critical of this, I think it's planted but not designed.

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But in a funny sort of way, the fact that this arrived in the post-war period...

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All through the 20th century, you've seen the democratisation of the monarchy,

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then more and more accessibility of the monarchy,

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and the monarchy in a way responds to that and you can say this is almost a gardening response

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because here on a mega scale is what most people have in their back gardens.

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They have a border, a mixed border,

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but here at the Palace, boy, you have a mega mixed border!

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I like that kind of relationship because people can really relate to going along and looking...

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A lot of the plants, like the dahlias and the delphiniums, everybody grows those,

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so I think there's a very good statement

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about the dialogue of monarch and people said through the border.

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As garden ponds go, the lake here at Buckingham Palace is huge, three acres,

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but at no point is it very deep. The deepest point is about five foot, which comes up to my chest.

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It's great for wading birds, but its history is also connected with its shallowness.

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This was the wettest part of the garden, almost swampy,

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so the lake was made simply to drain it. In Victorian times, people complained it attracted malaria,

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that it was stagnant and shallow.

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But it was deepened out, the spoil was used to make the mound,

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and the lake as we see it has been pretty much the same for the last 150 years.

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Beyond there, you can see the trees that are on the island,

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an island on a lake in a large garden in a city, the supreme urban haven for wildlife.

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The intention throughout the whole area is to preserve that naturalistic feel and make an environment

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for animals and insects to prosper. Along the edge, you wouldn't expect to see this fringe

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of grasses and reeds, but ideal cover for insects and birds.

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And as you face it, you can be forgiven for thinking that this is a country lake

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or part of St James's Park.

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It's not until you turn away and go back towards the house that you remember where you really are.

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I'm always fascinated by the working areas of any garden, so it's back to the yard,

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past the potting shed, and round the corner is the greenhouse for the Palace.

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It's 28 metres long and a really good example

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of an Edwardian - built in 1900 - lean-to greenhouse.

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It's got the painted timber and cast-ironwork and lovely mechanisms

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for opening the louvres in the window.

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And, in its own way, it's grand, but this is a 40-acre garden.

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You might think that they would need acres of greenhouses to service all their needs,

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but that's to miss the point of what this garden is. This is a town garden.

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And town gardens didn't have all the elements of gardens that you would get in the country.

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Very few had vegetable areas or greenhouses with peaches and apricots and grapes or what have you.

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The people that owned the houses in London would also have country houses

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and they would be brought up by train every morning - asparagus and peaches

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and flowers for the table, coming in from their country estates.

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Buckingham Palace is no different. To this day, if they want flowers and vegetables and fruit,

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it all comes from Windsor, where it's grown. So this greenhouse is a much more intimate affair.

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It's used for housing some tender plants, gifts that can't be put outside.

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And a little bit of propagation.

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But there are details that I love and you won't find anywhere else.

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For example, look at that. A pot, monogrammed ER.

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That's, of course, Elizabeth Regina.

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And it can do better than that. Some of the pots date back further.

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Now if I get down on my hands and knees,

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under here we've got the pots ready for use,

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crocks to get drainage from broken pots,

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stacked out in sizes. And we can see - here we are -

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ER, ER, ER on those pots.

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So those have obviously been made since the Queen came to the throne in 1952.

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But there are older pots as well.

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Here we have one at the back with what looks like GP

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but in fact is GR. The bottom bit hasn't come out properly.

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That's either her father, George VI, or possibly George V.

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I suppose it could be George IV, but that's a bit unlikely.

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However, there is a pot here just on the side.

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And if you turn it round you can see...

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VR - Victoria Regina.

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Whilst this greenhouse isn't the biggest around, the plants aren't the most special,

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what I love is the way that the history and succession from monarch to monarch

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is evident in even the tiniest details in this garden.

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Really beautiful and such a treat to visit the Queen's gardens.

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And with that we've reached the end of today's programme. Join us next time on the A to Z of TV Gardening.

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Goodbye!

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Carol Kirkwood takes an alphabetical journey through the world of gardening, getting inspiration and advice from some of the BBC's most popular garden presenters and programmes. In this episode, Carol explores subjects that all begin with the letter Q and takes a look at the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

Programmes include: Gardeners' World The One Show RHS Chelsea Flower Show Springwatch

With presenters: Monty Don Chris Packham Joe Swift James Alexander Sinclair Alan Titchmarsh Nicky Chapman Andy Sturgeon Carol Klein.


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