Seeing the somewhat austere frontage of Buckingham Palace, relieved only by the bright colours of the guardsmen's ceremonial uniforms, you would be forgiven for thinking the rest of the grounds are equally barren. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth!
Because, hidden behind Buckingham Palace is the Queen of England's secret garden - the largest private garden in London. The impressive grounds, which include a lake, trees and shrubs, were first laid out by Henry Wise, Head Gardener to Queen Anne. They cover some 43 acres (17.4 hectares) - nearly as large as one of London's many public parks: Green Park (53 acres – 21.44 hectares), which lies adjacent.
However the Buckingham Palace grounds have a striking advantage over these other parks, where the public roam at will. Apart from certain occasions, they remain undisturbed all year round. This has made the grounds of Buckingham Palace a most valuable wildlife and nature reserve, right in the heart of London.
Among the species of animal residents are pipistrelle bats, woodpeckers, a kingfisher, a nesting tawny owl and even a flock of flamingos!
Around the lake a 1,000 yard (800 metre) strip is rarely cut to allow the flora and fauna to thrive undisturbed. Over 300 different types of wild flowers are encouraged to grow undisturbed right through their natural cycle, including setting seed for the next generation of plants. These include Ragged Robin and Creeping Buttercup.
Every year, the queen holds a series of summer garden parties. Invitations go out to a total of around 50,000 people from all walks of life every year, grouped round a particular theme, such as having children in the military. On such days, it's quite a sight to see the many hundreds of guests, dressed in their very finest clothes, emerging from their cars, which they are allowed to park in the surrounding roads.
This year, 2006, the Queen of England is eighty years old. Among all the pomp and ceremony, two events with a birthday theme predominate: a party for those also born on the same day as her and a party she gave for 3,000 children.
As you can imagine, this was no ordinary children's party and one of the main features was the presence of actors dressed up as characters from children's literature. These included Toad of Toad Hall, from Kenneth Grahame's book "Wind in the Willows", and Noddy, from Enid Blyton's "Noddy Goes To Toyland".
The highlight of the day was a short play, "The Queen's Handbag", written by famous children's author, Roald Dahl.
A special invitation to a garden party is not the only way to gain access to the Queen's London home and part of the garden, because you can also take a guided tour of the interior of Buckingham Palace during August and September, when the Queen is away at Balmoral Castle, in Scotland, on her summer vacation.
Tickets cost around £30 and can be bought from the rather smart timber ticket kiosk located in Green Park, just across the road from that very secret palace garden.
© copyright 2006 Jon Michael and London Vacation Secrets