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Chris Bonnett is the founder and CEO of Gardening Express
It was somewhat tricky deciding what to cover in this week’s column given recent and ongoing events. As the nation mourns the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, should we cover a shortlist of what were her favourite plants and flowers? Perhaps we should go over a list of plants named in her honour? After all, when you’re a royal, having a special plant named after you comes with the territory. Then again, perhaps we should go over the queen’s garden style, what she really liked at Buckingham Palace where she hosted all those garden parties, perhaps we should look at other royals too, and look to the future of what our new King may wish to do with the gardens across the crown estates?
We can also celebrate the life of service the Queen gave this country as we deal with the loss. Many find solace when bereaved in gardens and gardening, many will plant a tribute to the Queen this autumn, be that a Union Flag design of red, white and blue pansies or a special commemorative tree.
It’s not called the Royal Horticultural Society for nothing. Royalty has long had an affinity with plants and gardens. Gardeners are eternal optimists, looking forward to the following seasons and the changes they’ll bring, and the changes we can make.
I’m sure the Queen felt no different to the rest of us in this regard as the seasons changed. She, and other royals, regularly attended the likes of the Chelsea Flower Show, so we know it was an area of great importance and interest to her.
As the Queen has been a constant in our lives for so long, so is a garden tended a constant that is always there and great support to those that tend it. Non-gardeners may not understand this statement, but those of us with dirt under our fingernails certainly will.
I think all involved in horticulture appreciate the affection and attention that our Royal Family have brought to the plant and garden industry over the years, keeping it topical and in the news – gardening has not always been as fashionable as it is now but they have helped to keep it in the public eye.
The Queen, of course, had plenty of skilled gardeners and helpers with all her properties, as our new King Charles III will now. But, I do wonder what he’ll make of the Buckingham Palace gardens.
Will he turn over some of the lawns into huge organic vegetable beds? Perhaps he could arrange a link up with inner-city schools to visit and tend the vegetables and for the children to learn about where food comes from and the importance of growing your own? It might just spark the imagination of the next Alan Titchmarsh.
We could certainly do with some enthusiastic young blood coming into the horticultural industry as there is a huge skills shortage at the moment. Let it be known to the Palace, I’m available to assist in spearheading such a project.
When I met the King a few years back now, he spoke with great passion about future generations learning about growing your own and developing the skills to cook your own healthy food too.
I’d been invited along behind the scenes to assist in the development and filming of a school’s garden that was featured with the then Prince on BBC Countryfile. We supplied plants and helped the children get their “Mud Club” in order for his visit and filming.
During the meet and greet with Charles, here I was the humble gardener chatting with the then heir to the throne about a shared horticultural passion and organic growing.
Directors and bigwigs from major companies and supermarkets were seemingly, at least for a few moments, side-lined while we chatted about a subject clearly close to his heart. This isn’t a story I share often, indeed, I dine out on another from this day involving Charles’ security team and an umbrella, but you’d have to come to lunch with me for that one, as it has nothing to do with gardening.
Through this brief encounter that day, a great many children were inspired, so I hope King Charles, being a keen gardener himself, along with the Queen Consort are able to continue inspiring others in the horticultural arena.
It is certainly going to be very interesting to see how King Charles influences the gardens at Buckingham Palace if he does move in as is tradition. Will he bring over some of the techniques and ideas from his Highgrove home?
That’s a garden King Charles has spent over 35 years transforming, all organically, into what it is today, welcoming in excess of around 40,000 visitors every year. Methods employed here are traditional, but tech is embraced making many jobs quicker and easier – modern battery-powered tools, for example, make tasks a little bit simpler or control irrigation from an app on a smartphone.
When it comes to efficiency, I have it on good authority that Charles is one to embrace tech and modern methods combined with the traditional, so long as it achieves the garden he wants. If he does have designs on Buckingham Palace’s gardens, I wonder if his new role will allow him time to get out there himself. At Highgrove, you may well see areas he has planted or pruned personally, such is his passion for horticulture.
Buckingham Palace’s gardens help with conservation efforts and the preservation of plant varieties that could otherwise be lost to cultivation. It is home to the National Plant Collection of Mulberries for example.
In fact, over its 42 acres, there are over 1,000 trees, 325 specimens of wild plants and 35 different bird species including some not usually found in London.
I hear red and pink roses were one of the flowers the Queen had a particular soft spot for, featuring in the gardens of all her homes. At Buckingham Palace, the roses are chosen for fragrance, colour and disease resistance, with 60 rose bushes growing in each of the 25 flower beds.
At Windsor Castle, there are over 3500 individual rose bushes of pink and red in impressive beds of geometric design – no doubt these were a favourite.
There have been many plants named in honour of Queen Elizabeth II over the years, including Clematis, Camellias, Rhododendrons and even an Orchid. If you want a plant named in her honour and a flower we know she liked, then look no further than Rose “Queen Elizabeth”, introduced in 1954 after the Queen ascended to the throne.
It was a breeding breakthrough at the time and is as good today as it ever was, remaining popular throughout the world – just like the Queen was herself. It has won numerous awards including “World’s Favourite Rose”.
I really do think many of Britain’s gardens could benefit from planting a few of these as a fitting tribute later this autumn once this official period of mourning is over.
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