As a 14-year-old, she picked up a spade and joined with the rest of wartime Britain in the Dig for Victory campaign. Seven decades later, though no longer wielding the spade herself, the Queen, 83, has again embraced the “grow your own” movement.
For the first time since the war, fruit and vegetables are to be found in an allotment-sized plot in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.
True, the yield will not be sufficient wholly to sustain the royal family and palace staff, while having a 39-acre back garden negates the inconvenience of allotment waiting list times of up to 40 years in some London boroughs.
But from now on, token quantities of fresh tomatoes, beans, onions, leeks, carrots and other homegrown produce will be transported to the palace kitchen.
The first harvest – a selection of Cambridge Favourite strawberries – was served to the Queen and Prince Philip, on his 88th birthday last week.
She is not the first head of state to highlight frugality in these cash-strapped times. Barack Obama has put his wife in charge of a White House herb and vegetable patch, though the Queen’s plans are said to have been devised long before the president’s inauguration.
Called the Yard Bed, Buckingham Palace’s 4×10 metre plot is in a challenging, north-facing area to the garden’s rear, tight up against the Gardeners’ Yard. “Not ideal, but it is the only open space available, because everything is so landscaped,” admitted deputy gardens manager Claire Midgley, 32, one of eight gardeners at the palace.
It was her ambition to reintroduce vegetables. “The Queen is always interested in looking at new ideas for the garden. Her Majesty approved the suggestion to plant an experimental allotment,” said a spokeswoman.
Part-shaded by a 100-year-old mulberry bush, a scionwood from one of Shakespeare’s trees, the plot is protected from mammals by the palace’s high walls and electric fencing. Foxes, apparently, only manage brief admittance during garden party season, when contractors installing marquees might leave a gate fleetingly open. The only evidence of any other mammal pointed incontrovertibly to a corgi.
Challenging Prince Charles in the eco-stakes, chemicals have been banned. Liquid seaweed is being used to feed the plants and garlic to deter aphids. Mulch from the palace compost heap was used to bed in and the palace borehole will irrigate the crops.
Any weeds will be burned by a machine using the same liquefied petroleum gas that powers Prince Philip’s taxi, which he has used for decades to drive himself anonymously around the capital.
In 1918, as part of Queen Mary’s war-time austerity drive, the 175-yard herbaceous border was ripped out and planted with “an abundance of royal turnips”, a historic moment captured on film and preserved by the British Film Institute. During the second world war, the same border was again employed, though for a more varied crop, as food rationing gripped Britain and encouraged George VI to enforce the government’s message and coax yield from every available patch of earth.
Today, there are no turnips. Instead, a charitable organisation, Garden Organic, has donated six suitably named rare varieties from its Heritage Seed Library to be nurtured on the allotment. Thus climbing French bean Blue Queen and dwarf French bean Royal Red are already planted and to follow will be Northern Queen lettuce, and Golden Queen, Queen of Hearts and White Queen tomatoes. Surrounded by sage, other crops already in situ include Beefsteak and Sun Baby tomatoes, runner beans, Stuttgarter onions, Musselburgh leeks, Fly Away carrots, Red Ace beetroot, broad beans, chard and sweetcorn.
Garden Organic’s chief executive, Myles Bremner, said: “The fact that this is the first time that food has been grown at the palace since the second world war will undoubtedly bring about the Dig for Victory analogies, but the challenges for self sufficiency and a need to re-skill a generation in how to feed itself resonate even now. What is important is to put people back in touch with food and how to grow, and hopefully the palace allotment will be a driver getting more people to achieve this.”
Garden party guests, and visitors taking the new £20 guided garden tour, will be able to view the allotment. The Queen herself, however, will miss out on some of the allotment’s first offerings. She will be on her annual summer sojourn at Balmoral as much of it ripens. news from guardian.co.uk
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