In a typical year, another 8000 paying guests a day tour the State Rooms inside the palace, filing out through the back garden along the paths – no lingering or picnicking.
But thanks to the pandemic, the state rooms remain closed. And there are still no Royal Garden Parties. And so the idea emerged to allow picnics for the rest of us.
There are some rules, naturally. No knives to slice your sausage or brie. No dogs. No beer, no prosecco, no booze at all, not even a bottle of the Buckingham Palace Dry Gin (available in the gift shop).
“The idea is ‘sober picnics’,” said Sarah Davis, head of media relations for the Royal Collection Trust.
Davis said they expect 2000 people a day.
A Thursday preview was attended by the contractors who built the toilets, and hoteliers, tour guides, concierges, caterers and the media. The vibe was respectful, even as the garden geeks pressed against the rope lines to take close-ups of the gorgeous hollyhocks in the famous Herbaceous Border.
Frances O’Neill, 64, who teaches English as a foreign language, enjoyed a “low-key plebeian picnic” with sandwiches brought from Pret a Manger, a popular chain.
That was followed by an ice cream and a lovely stroll through the gardens, which include lakes, wildflower meadows, ancient oaks, beehives and the descendants of mulberries planted by James I in 1608. (He wanted to make silk but got the wrong trees.)
O’Neill was walking with Gerald Smith, 66, a retired tour guide from Cambridge, who was licking a mint chocolate chip ice cream. The gardens, he said, are a “haven of peace and quiet”. A republican, he agreed that it “about time the public got to see this.”
Derek Tarr, 75, a guide who specialises in garden tours all over England and Scotland, was sitting on a folding picnic chair on the queen’s lawn, and described the scene as “very pleasant”.
Asked what made the Royal Gardens so special, he said, “the fact that you have 42 acres slap bang in the middle of London. Apart from seeing one or two tall buildings” over the trees, “you wouldn’t know,” he said.
Tarr hoped things like this would be a boon to the tourism industry, which he said had taken a “massive hit” with the pandemic.
“Normally we’d be working this time of the year, but most of us haven’t got any work. But hopefully it will come back this year,” he said.
Patricia Ellis, 66, a London tour guide, said, “I just think it’s a lovely, lovely occasion, a chance to get to see something that you wouldn’t normally see in a beautiful time of the year.”
When she checked the website for future tickets recently, she found she was 78,000th in the queue.
“If you love gardens, it’s popular. If you love the royals, it’s popular as well,” she said. “And if you love seeing somewhere that the public don’t usually like to go, well, then it ticks all the boxes really.”
The Washington Post