The origins of the Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace
The tradition of hosting garden parties at Buckingham Palace dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria in the 1860s. Originally known as “breakfasts,” these events were held in the afternoon and featured a variety of refreshments and entertainments, offering a relaxed atmosphere for guests to mingle and enjoy the palace gardens.
Over time, these gatherings evolved into the modern garden parties that we know today. They became more inclusive, extending invitations to people from various backgrounds and professions, including representatives of charities, public service organizations, and the military. By inviting a diverse range of guests, the Royal Family sought to recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of individuals from all corners of British society.
The Garden Party Experience
Today, garden parties at Buckingham Palace are held annually during the summer months, usually in May and June, and hosted by the reigning monarch. Around 30,000 guests are invited to attend these events each year, offering a unique opportunity for people to come together and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the palace gardens.
Guests are treated to a sumptuous array of refreshments, including traditional afternoon tea, sandwiches, cakes, and pastries. The Royal Family makes a point of sourcing ingredients from their own estates and using eco-friendly materials whenever possible, reflecting their commitment to sustainability.
The palace gardens serve as a stunning backdrop for the events, with immaculately landscaped lawns, vibrant flower beds, and tranquil water features creating a serene and picturesque setting. Live music is performed by military bands, adding to the festive atmosphere and providing entertainment for the guests.
During the garden parties, members of the Royal Family circulate among the guests, engaging in conversation and expressing their gratitude for the various contributions that the attendees have made to their communities and the nation.
An oil painting by Laurits Regner Tuxen, titled “The Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, 28 June 1897,” captures the essence of these historic events. The artwork depicts Queen Victoria and Alexandra, Princess of Wales, amidst the crowd. In the painting, the Queen and the Princess of Wales are depicted returning to the Palace in an open carriage drawn by two elegant grey horses. Meanwhile, in the bustling garden to the left, the Prince of Wales (who would later become King Edward VII) is engaged in conversation with a couple, surrounded by a dense crowd of esteemed guests. The picturesque lake can be seen in the background, along with the royal tent on the right.
According to Tuxen’s diary, Queen Victoria commissioned him to capture the essence of the Jubilee Garden Party, which would showcase the elite members of London society alongside other individuals from the British Empire connected to the court of St James’s. The Prince of Wales took a particular interest in the painting’s progress, visiting Tuxen both in Copenhagen and at Windsor to discuss the composition.
The artist was granted permission to work in the Garden Entrance at St James’s Palace and was authorised to request sittings from anyone present at the Garden Party to ensure a faithful representation of the event in accordance with the Queen’s wishes. An account of the Garden Party, including a list of attendees, was published in The Times on 29th June 1897. The Queen and members of the Royal Family entered the garden at a quarter past five, and in the painting, Queen Victoria appears to be returning to the Palace at the conclusion of the festivities.
In the artwork, the Princess of Wales is accompanying the Queen in her carriage, having swapped places with Empress Frederick during the afternoon. Tuxen’s talent for capturing the essence of the event and the personalities present is evident in the fifteen studies he completed of the sitters to be incorporated into the final composition. These studies are in a private collection in Denmark. You can see the painting here
5 Facts about Buckingham Palace Garden Parties
- Over the course of each garden party, approximately 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches, and 20,000 slices of cake are served to the guests.
- The Royal Family is known to use a specially crafted “Garden Party Blend” tea, created by blending various types of tea leaves to produce a distinctive flavour.
- The dress code for garden parties is formal daywear. Men typically wear morning dress or lounge suits, while women don elegant day dresses, often paired with hats or fascinators.
- In addition to the main garden parties hosted at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Family also holds garden parties at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland, and occasionally at other Royal residences.
- The tradition of hosting garden parties was briefly suspended during World War II, but resumed once the conflict had ended.