Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 7 September 2015

A Royal Welcome

View of the inner courtyard at Buckingham Palace
The inner courtyard at Buckingham Palace, where we could pretend to be honoured guests for the day

I've been invited back to Buckingham Palace - to see the Royal Welcome exhibition in the State Rooms this time, as part of a bloggers tour guided by the exhibition's curator Anna Reynolds. We were admitted ahead of the day's crowds, much to the surprise to the many people queuing at the gate who tried to get in at the same time. As well as our privileged access, we also had permission to take photographs - huzzah!

Previous visitors to the Palace asked many questions about the preparations for state and other functions such as garden parties, so it was an easy decision to make it this year's theme.

The Australian state coach

We entered in the same place as invited guests would do, with the Australian state coach placed at the door so we could imagine arriving in such grandeur.

The Grand Staircase at Buckingham Palace

Inside our first stop was at the Grand Staircase, which we then climbed to see the rest of the rooms set aside for the tour.

Gallery with the Anxious Gardener

Unlike my Painting Paradise visit, I managed to meet up with Dave Marsden aka The Anxious Gardener this time. Here he is in the centre of the picture looking rather anxious [or thoughtful maybe? - Ed] in one of the galleries. It was fun to meet Dave at last after several near misses.

Petit Fours and sugared orchid preparation

Much of the preparations for a state banquet are conducted below stairs, so there's a number of static exhibits upstairs to show what happens. Last year's banquet held as part of Singapore's state visit was used as the example, and my attention was drawn to the sugared orchids shown above. The orchid is Singapore's national flower and was a deliberate choice for the banquet.

State banquet setting

Then on to the setting for the banquet itself. The napkins determine where each place setting should be and there are strict measurements for the space allocated to each guest and where everything is placed. The booklet on each place setting explains the menu, the evening's music and who else is attending the banquet. The arrival of the royal pipers and their skirling music signals the end of the evening.

State banquet setting II

I asked about the flowers used. They're chosen to match the decor and are seasonal with much of the foliage sourced from the royal estates.

Garden party exhibit

The tour isn't just about state banquets. Other formal occasions are included, such as this section on the famous garden parties. The Queen usually wears a single block of colour for these, so she stands out from the crowds.

The Garden Cafe at Buckingham Palace

Our tour completed, we were treated to refreshments in the garden cafe, and the opportunity to go round again with an audio guide this time, if wanted.

A cake with royal designs

I chose a cake with a chocolate button and a gold crown. Nothing less would do really.

View of Buckingham Palace gardens from the Garden Cafe

Looking over the garden, the lawn looks far too big at first, with a sense the trees have been pushed to the sides. I remembered it needs to host hundreds of people attending a garden party; then it made perfect sense.

Exit through the Palace gardens

There's an unexpected bonus on the way out; a chance to meander through part of the Palace gardens towards the exit...

A final view towards Buckingham Palace by the lake

... with a stop for a final look back towards the Palace over the lake. There's quite a lot of wildlife to spot in this area too. Even though we're just yards from the hustle and bustle of London, this is a much quieter world. Sadly I missed seeing the national collection of mulberries which are scattered throughout the grounds. That's something to look out for on another day.

Practical information:

The A Royal Welcome state rooms exhibition is open until September 27th 2015, from 9.30am until 6.30pm (last entry 4.15pm). Note that from September 9th, there is an additional element to the exhibition called Long to Reign Over Us, which we didn't get to see and marks the Queen becoming the longest reigning British monarch on Wednesday.

NB The tour option which includes a closer look at the gardens than I had is sold out for 2015. The superb Painting Paradise exhibition at the Queen's Gallery, which looks gardening and its history illustrated by items from the Royal Collection, runs until 11th October and is well worth a look.

You may also like:

I've concentrated on the more gardeny aspects of the tour. If you're interested in seeing more of how a state banquet is prepared, then look no further than Rachel Knowles' post in her excellent Regency History blog.

There's lots of videos showing the detailed aspects of the preparations. I particularly liked the time lapse one showing the setting up of the banquet. The above video is a cut down version and gives you a good idea of what goes on.


  1. Wow, what a fantastic opportunity, it really all does look absolutely amazing. It must be wonderful to walk about amongst it all.

    1. Would you believe I nearly didn't go CJ! Then my husband told me to get on with it, so I did :)

  2. What a fantastic experience! The room itself, the table settings--so beautiful and glamorous! One of the things I remember most about my one and only short visit to London with a group of students years ago was walking to see Buckingham Palace. There was a garden party that day, and we happened to be walking along a street where many of the guests parked. It was fun to see everyone so dressed up and the ladies putting on hats as they got out of their cars. As they walked to the palace, several of them struck up conversations with us, so we heard some of the details of the party, and we were all impressed with how friendly everyone was. Of course, they continued on into the Palace grounds, while we stood outside the gates taking photos:) But for a little bit, we all felt like we were a part of this grand experience.

    1. What a lovely story Rose. I've yet to see the garden party goers arriving, though I've stood outside the gates many a time.

  3. And here was I thinking about the state banquet had been set up just for you. It would be great to have a good look around the gardens.

    1. I spotted a garden tour sign whilst I was there Sue, so I looked up what the options are on the website. It's fully booked for this year, so hopefully next year...

  4. It was good to meet up at last, Michelle. It was a grand day out but I do look anxious don't I? I suspect I was worrying about the distinct lack of cake - soon to be rectified. D

    1. It was great to have your jolly company Dave. I hope you don't mind me gentle teasing here on this blog!

  5. I'm glad to hear The Queen grows her own cut flowers, so to speak. Why is it you always end up getting lovely food on these outings? The chocolate button looks very upmarket. Perhaps you should get some printed with your own moniker on them... that'd get the neighbours talking.

    1. Now there's an idea Sarah - I'll have to have a think what my logo should be. VP with lots of squiggles perhaps?

  6. I'm glad you got to see the gardens; I remember them being really lovely, especially the lake. I went to one of the garden parties when I was 18, my Dad had been invited due to his work so, being the eldest daughter, I went along too. I recall being very impressed with the tea laid on, Her Maj does have very nice cakes. And you're right about the lawn, it doesn't look so large when there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people milling around.

    1. I think it's thousands Caro, but said hundreds to be on the safe side! How wonderful to attend one of the parties, it must have been a very special day :)


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