Sunday, June 14, 2009

The 'First Lady Factor' In Action? A New Organic Vegetable Garden At Buckingham Palace

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has planted a vegetable garden at Buckingham Palace--and it may well have been inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama, who visited Her Majesty with President Obama during the G20 Summit. (Above: The Queen, Prince Phillip, and gardener Claire Midgley survey the new garden)

The new 30ft x 12ft palace vegetable garden, called "The Yard Bed," is the first food garden on royal grounds since there was a Victory Garden planted in World War II, even though there are about forty acres of gardens at the London compound. And the British press is actually crediting the President and First Lady as the inspiration for the new edible project:

The inauguration of the royal vegetable patch follows a similar idea by President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. In March, they dug up 1,100 sq ft of the White House lawn to plant crops.

When she returned to the US from her trip, the First Lady said that everyone was asking her about the White House Kitchen Garden during her trip, including the Queen's son and heir to the throne, Prince Charles. And two weeks ago, a replica of the White House Kitchen Garden was on display at Bloom 2009, the largest horticultural festival in all of Europe. Thousands of visitors flocked to see it during the four-day event at Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland.

Like Two Peas In A Pod?
Her Majesty and the First Lady apparently became instantaneous friends when they met at the G20, to such an extent that Her Majesty momentarily put her arm around the First Lady at a royal reception, and the First Lady reciprocated. This made international headlines, and the British media was particularly agog; the Daily Mail called it "astonishing" that Her Majesty had made the affectionate gesture. Perhaps Her Majesty and The First Lady were chatting about food gardens? (Photo: Queen Elizabeth and the First Lady, and the 'hug heard around the world')

The AFP is reporting today that last week, when the First Lady was in London for a second time, she and daughters Malia and Sasha had "a private tour of The Queen's official residence and gardens." A palace spokesperson who spoke on the condition of anonymity also said that Her Majesty herself greeted the the First Lady and the girls.

The Two Gardens Are Transcontinental Twins
Just like the White House Kitchen Garden, The Yard Bed at Buckingham Palace is meant to inspire nutrition awareness and healthier lifestyles, and to help citizens learn about where food really comes from, according to deputy head gardener Claire Midgely, who will run the garden.

The garden uses organic practices, and the crops produced will be used by the palace kitchens. A palace spokeswoman told the London Times that the garden is "green," and that “No chemicals have been used...Liquid seaweed has been used to feed the plants and garlic is being used to deter aphids. Like the rest of the garden, water from the palace borehole is used to irrigate the plants.

Compost will be created in part with foodstuffs from the palace kitchens...no word if there's a biocycler, though.

The first round of vegetables planted at the palace have historic antecedents, just like some of the vegetables in the White House Kitchen Garden (which were donated from the vast edible garden at President Thomas Jefferson's historically restored garden at Monticello). At Buckingham Palace, said Midgely, a charitable organization called "Garden Organic" has donated heirloom starts, including a rare climbing bean variety called Blue Queen, a dwarf French bean called Royal Red, and Golden Queen, Queen of Hearts and White Queen tomatoes, as well as Northern Queen lettuce.

Midgeley said that this is to keep the old varieties alive, as well as an effort at "preserving heritage and history." The Yard Bed sits beside a 100-year old Mulberry tree, and berries have also been planted, as have Beefsteak and Sun Baby tomatoes; Stuttgarter onions; Musselburgh leeks; Fly Away carrots, Red Ace beetroot; broad beans; chard; and sweetcorn. The entire garden is bordered with sage. (Above: Each summer the Queen hosts three garden parties at Buckingham palace; 8,000 people are invited to each one)

The first harvest from the garden, a selection of Cambridge Favourite strawberries, was served to the Queen and her husband Prince Philip, on his 88th birthday last week.

Prince Charles Is A World-Renowned Ag Activist, But There's Never Been An Edible Garden At Buckingham Palace
Although Prince Charles is the most high-profile and vocal advocate of local, organic, sustainable agriculture and other rural issues in the entire United Kingdom, and he has thousands of acres of his own land under cultivation with food crops, and many, many other projects that support the connection between environmental stewardship and food...there has never been a food garden at Buckingham Palace in his lifetime.

To celebrate the new vegetable garden, Buckingham Palace released a photo of Her majesty when she was age 14, with her sister Princess Margaret, gardening in the WW II palace 'Dig For Victory' garden:






















*Photos: Pic at top of post via PA/Telegraph Uk; Prince Charles official 60th birthday portrait, by Hugo Bernand; The First Lady and The Queen from Huffington Post; all other photos from the Official Website of the British Monarchy.

A newly released video about the gardening activity and seed sourcing for The Yard Bed has just debuted on Youtube: