5 royal gardens to visit this summer, from Buckingham Palace to Japan’s Imperial Palace

Discover what historical and botanical wonders await at these royal residences around the globe

The gardens at Buckingham Palace are being opened to the public for the first time this summer, with visitors invited to come and picnic in the centuries-old grounds. Courtesy Royal Collection Trust
The gardens at Buckingham Palace are being opened to the public for the first time this summer, with visitors invited to come and picnic in the centuries-old grounds. Courtesy Royal Collection Trust

Back in 1993, Buckingham Palace threw open its gates to allow visitors for the first time in its 314-year history. Needing to fund renovations at Windsor Castle after a devastating fire ripped through the royal residence in 1992 and causing more than £36 million (approximately $61 million) worth of damage, Queen Elizabeth II gave her permission to allow visitors into the palace, with tickets selling out three years in advance as soon as they went on sale.

The palace opens for 10 weeks each summer while the queen removes to Balmoral in Scotland, but the palace gardens have always remained closed to the public. The space was only used by the royal family, along with their guests, most notably during the three annual garden parties hosted each summer during which the queen recognises those who have made contributions to the military, community, arts, education and more.

This year, as Covid restrictions ease in the UK, the Royal Collection Trust, a charity that runs and maintains the royal palaces and grounds, is opening up the gardens at Buckingham Palace for the first time.

Along with the residence of the British royal family, here are five royal gardens open for visitors this year.

Buckingham Palace, England

The history: The 15.8-hectare garden is the largest private garden in London. While the palace was built in 1703, the gardens date back further, to 1608, when James I established a plantation of mulberries to rear silkworms on the site.

Originally built for the Duke of Buckingham, the palace and gardens came into royal ownership in 1761 when George III purchased it as a private residence. During his reign, the garden was home to an elephant and one of the first zebras in England.

George IV later appointed William Townsend Aiton of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to remodel the grounds after the taste for natural landscaping replaced the previous fashion for formal gardens.

Visitors will be able to picnic by the wisteria-clad summer house, see the Waterloo Vase made for George IV, and visit the Palace tennis court where King George VI and Fred Perry played in the 1930s.

Nature: The garden features more than 325 wild plant species, over 1,000 trees, a 156-metre herbaceous border, wild flower meadow and rose garden. It is also home to more than 30 species of bird, including the common sandpiper, sedge warbler and lesser whitethroat.

Visitors will also see plane trees planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and the lake with an island in the middle upon which the Buckingham Palace bees reside.

Book tickets: The garden is open from July 9, 2021 to September 19, 2021. Tickets cost £16.50 ($23) for adults, £9 ($13) for children aged 5-16, children under 5 can enter free of charge. Discounts are available for students, over-60s and people of determination. Visit www.rct.uk

Palace of Versailles, France

The history: French landscape artist Andre Le Notre was commissioned to create and renovate the palace gardens by the Sun King, Louis XIV, in 1661. The job would take 40 years and involve the moving of large amounts of soil to first level the grounds.

The famous Orangery was constructed, while the fountains and Grand Canal were dug from the surrounding meadow and marshland in a project that required thousands of men, with entire military regiments drafted to help.

Trees were brought from different regions of France, while the likes of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the superintendent of buildings to the king, Charles Le Brun, first painter to the king and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, first architect to the king collaborated on the design.

The garden needs to be replanted every 100 years and after Louis XVI, Napoleon III oversaw the next replanting.

Nature: Within its 7,88 hectares – an area larger than both Manhattan and Paris – the grand avenues and groves are lined with Corsican pines, beech, poplar, chestnut and hawthorn trees.

The famous Orangery is home to almost 1,500 orange and lemon trees, palms and other species, and walking around the gardens, you’ll encounter 700 topiaries in 67 different shapes. Each year at Versailles, over 50,000 flowers are planted, including tuberoses, jasmine and pinks.

Book tickets: When the grounds re-open, a passport ticket for both the palace and gardens costs €20 ($24). The Estate of Trianon ticket costs €12 ($15) and grants access to the Estate of Trianon and the gardens. Access to the park of Versailles is free of charge and currently open from 7am to 7pm. Visit www.en.chateauversailles.fr

Imperial Palace East Gardens, Japan

The history: Both the palace and gardens are built on the site of the ruins of Edo Castle, which dates back to 1457. The castle changed hands several times over the years and one of its most famous tales includes the 1701 sword fight between Asano Takumi-no-kami and Kira Kozuke-no-suke, which triggered the famous events involving the 47 ronin.

The grounds are home to the Emperor's secret garden (Kokyo Higashi Gyoen) which covers an area of 210,000 square metres where the castle's two innermost defensive walls once stood, and the Ninomaru section is home to the last remaining Edo-period garden in Japan.

Nature: The East Gardens are home to many seasonal flowers, meaning it is in bloom the whole year round. Plum and cherry trees abound and the Musashino copse glows a beautiful gold and scarlet in autumn. The Ninomaru Grove is a woodland area considered one of the prettiest parts of the garden.

Book tickets: Entrance to the gardens is free of charge. Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) offers two-hour guided walking tours free of charge. Visit www.jnto.go.jp

Royal Palace at Caserta, Italy

The history: Built by King Charles III of Bourbon in the mid-18th century in a bid to rival the royal palaces at Versailles and Madrid, the grounds encompass the palace as well as the park and gardens which are home to hunting lodges, a vast woodland and a silk factory.

Considered one of the great European gardens, the English Garden – a botanical garden – created within the grounds is the oldest example of the genre on the continent. Stretching for 120 hectares, the gardens were designed by Italian architect Carlo Vanvitelli and the German-born botanist, John Graefer.

Water features include the Fountain of Diana and Actaeon, the Fountain of Venus and Adonis (1770–80) and the Fountain of the Dolphins (1773–80). The palace itself, with its 1,200 rooms over five floors, is the largest royal palace in the world in terms of volume.

Nature: Owing to its botanical gardens and the study of botany carried out at the estate, hundreds of rare plants from around the world were brought to Caserta and can still be found there today. This includes the first camellia ever to be brought to Europe from Japan.

Book tickets: Entrance to the palace and park costs €14 ($17). Entrance to the palace only costs €10 ($12), and to enter the park only is €9 ($11). Visit www.reggiadicasertaunofficial.it

Drottningholm Palace, Sweden

The history: Still home to the Swedish royal family, the palace was built in the late 16th century and is found on the island of Lovon. The name means “Queen’s Islet” and Drottningholm was constructed in 1580 by John III of Sweden for his queen, Catherine Jagiellon.

While the palace was abandoned in the early 1800s, the public flocked to the gardens for picnics and days out, and dignitaries were still received on the grounds, including Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.

The gardens are home to the Chinese Pavilion, built between 1763–1770, as well as the Baroque Garden and English Garden. The former was created at the end of the 17th century.

Flanked by tree avenues, the many statues scattered throughout were taken by the Swedish army as spoils of war from the Wallenstein Palace in Prague, with the two marble lions at the main gate coming originally from the Ujazdow Castle in Warsaw.

The 18th-century English Garden was created by Gustav III and consists of two ponds with canals and bridges. Sweeping lawns, and clusters of trees can be admired from the many walkways, designed to make the most of the views.

Nature: Lime trees dominate the Baroque Garden, planted in symmetry to emulate the French style, while chestnut trees were chosen to flank the Unesco Heritage Site of the Chinese Pavilion.

Book tickets: The palace remains closed to visitors, but the park is open. A guided tour costs 30 Swedish krona ($3.5) and takes around 45 minutes. Entrance is free of charge for children under 18. Visit www.kungligaslotten.se

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Updated: May 4, 2021 12:56 PM

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