MARK PALMER shows how you can be royalty for a day 

MARK PALMER shows how you can be royalty for a day 
MARK PALMER shows how you can be royalty for a day 

Yards away from a traffic-choked six-lane roundabout, on one of London’s busiest and most polluted thoroughfares, is the capital’s best-kept secret.

Hidden from prying eyes by imposing walls topped by spikes and barbed wire to deter any but the most foolhardy trespasser, it is also one of the most secure places in Britain, under constant camera surveillance and patrolled by guards 24/7.

Only a lucky few have seen beyond those walls — but for any granted access, what a paradise found. In the heart of the city, 39 lush acres that are both a horticultural wonder and a haven for wildlife.

There are flower meadows and sweeping lawns, a lake with a waterfall, and a sensational 512ft herbaceous border that, according to one observer, ‘rises towards you like a colourful wave’.

Wandering the gardens at Buckingham Palace has always been by invitation only, a privilege reserved for royal guests or the 24,000 visitors invited each year to the three annual garden parties given by the Queen.

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There are flower meadows and sweeping lawns, a lake with a waterfall, and a sensational 512ft herbaceous border that, according to one observer, ‘rises towards you like a colourful wave. Mark Palmer is seen enjoying a picnic on the lawns’

There are flower meadows and sweeping lawns, a lake with a waterfall, and a sensational 512ft herbaceous border that, according to one observer, ‘rises towards you like a colourful wave. Mark Palmer is seen enjoying a picnic on the lawns’

There are no garden parties again this year because of Covid and, sadly, I can’t claim to be a friend of the Windsors. Nor had I, like the infamous Palace intruder Michael Fagan in 1982, ventured over the walls. Yet there I was, stretched out on Her Majesty’s magnificent lawn yesterday, enjoying a picnic as the sun finally broke through the clouds that have blighted July so far.

And I wasn’t the only one. As of this week, for the first time in Buckingham Palace’s long history, anyone who has bought a ticket can picnic at the Palace and roam the wonderful gardens at will.

It is a bring-your-own affair and Her Majesty has, understandably, drawn the line at barbecues and, less understandably, alcohol. But that hasn’t put off her subjects.

‘This is almost the first time I’ve been out properly since the start of lockdown and here I am at Buckingham Palace,’ Emilia Dovelle, 27, told me as she and a friend unwrapped their quiche and Scotch eggs.

‘It’s just so much bigger than I’d ever imagined,’ marvelled Joe Atherden, 29, a cabinet-maker from Windsor.

The mind boggles at what King George III would have thought about hoi polloi on what was once his private lawn after he bought Buckingham House from the Duke of Buckingham in 1761.

Mind you, George III was not averse to sharing his garden with others. He and his consort Queen Charlotte amassed a huge collection of exotic animals including an elephant, a family of monkeys and one of the first zebras ever seen in Britain.

‘I feel privileged to be here,’ said Steph Paul, 30. ‘What a lovely thing for the Queen to do after the year we’ve all had. But we don’t know where to start. There seems so much to see.’

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There is. This is not only the biggest garden in London — the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence, Lambeth Palace, is the second biggest at a mere ten acres — but the most inspiring, lovingly tended by 11 full-time gardeners.

There are 85 species of oak, 40 types of mulberry tree and 200 varieties of camellia, not to mention a magnificent magnolia walk.

Her Majesty, who receives a posy of flowers from the garden every Monday morning, was not in residence during my visit but I like to think she would approve of my picnic hamper: floral cupcakes, fresh raspberry tart, strawberries and cream, dainty macaroons, egg-and-cress sandwiches in bite-size triangles and gluten-free, additive-free carrot cake.

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