Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Queen's Sustainable Gardens

One of the many graceful scenes taken from the gardens at Buckingham Palace in the documentary, The Queen's Gardens. Image from
June is the coronation anniversary month of British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, and what better way to celebrate her 63rd anniversary than to take a video tour of her Buckingham Palace gardens.

Oxford Scientific Films created a 55 minute documentary about the 39 acres of gardens that you can watch in its entirety on the PBS website: (And don't forget to show your support for the network while you are there!)

In addition to the video, the Official Website of the British Monarchy The Queen's Gardens highlights the many sustainable practices employed in the garden from water recycling to composting, biodiesel, a 10% turf mandate, reseeding practices and more:

Mark Lane, Gardens Manager at Buckingham Palace, describes a number of initiatives
which ensure that the gardens at The Queen's residences will look their best whilst encouraging wildlife and plant life to thrive without any detrimental effects on the environment:

"At Buckingham Palace, 99% of green waste is recycled on site. Green waste includes grass cuttings, twigs, branches and 'arisings' (soiled straw from the stables in the Royal Mews).

"Waste is also brought in from Kensington Palace and Marlborough House grounds. This is put through a shredder so that bacteria can operate more quickly on smaller pieces of material.

"The waste is regularly turned until it has rotted sufficiently to be used as mulch. We then use this when preparing new flower beds. The mulch protects plants from heat and cold, retains water, suppresses weed germination and prevents soil from being washed away in the rain."

Encouraging wildlife to flourish
Large pieces of wood are stacked in piles in the Palace grounds. These piles provide habitats for a variety of flora and fauna, including beetles, spiders and fungi.

Tree stumps are not removed, but are left to rot away naturally, providing a perfect environment for insects to lay their eggs and hatch their larvae in. Dead trees are also left alone, with one such tree at the bottom of the Rose Garden currently providing a habitat for a family of Woodpeckers.

"The use of pesticides is kept to a minimum, and the aim is that eventually they will be phased out completely," says Mr Lane.

"Whereas weed killer was once used on the paths of the Buckingham Palace grounds, now a weed burning machine is used instead. This breaks up the cells of living plants so that they explode through heat, meaning that there is no need for chemicals which could potentially be harmful to wildlife."

Recent surveys have shown that five damsel and seven dragonfly species live in or near the lake, and 42 species of birds have been seen in the garden. The highlights of the sightings were of Kingfisher, Woodcock, Chiffchaff and Redwing. Since 2009 the garden has supported four successful bee hives positioned on the island, surrounded in the summer by wildflowers.

Sustaining plant life
Sustainable plant life is encouraged, with a long grass policy currently in use over approximately 10% of the Buckingham Palace garden area. 
Around 320 different types of wildflowers grow in these areas, such as Creeping Buttercup and Herb Robert, and are allowed to go through an entire yearly cycle of growth (including seed spreading), before the grasses are cut at the end of August.

This means that wildflowers are allowed to reproduce and sustain themselves without interference. In addition, an 800 metre stretch of ground around the edge of the lake is cut on a rotational basis every 4 years, again, allowing flora and fauna to prosper uninterrupted. As well as sustaining existing flora and fauna, new wildlife and plant life is also encouraged. Over the last 10 years, many more seed bearing plants have been introduced into the garden; these encourage a wealth of bird life to come into the Palace grounds to feed during the winter months.

More native plants have also been brought in. Seed bearing plants include a wide variety of Cotoneaster and Rowans, and natives have included the Aspen and female Black Poplar. Mr. Lane adds:

"We also ensure that the machinery which is used for the upkeep of the gardens is environmentally sound. The weed burning machine runs off the same liquid petroleum gas supply which is used for The Duke of Edinburgh's taxi. Biodegradable diesel, lubricants and oils are used in lawn mowers and other pieces of machinery."

The Queen's gardeners, along with the rest of the Royal Household staff, are committed to remaining as 'green' as possible.

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