Page last updated at 23:23 GMT, Saturday, 13 June 2009 00:23 UK

Queen goes green with veg patch

By Peter Hunt
Royal correspondent, BBC News

The Queen (r) gardening
The Queen (r) gardening in Windsor with Princess Margaret in 1940

The Queen is the proud owner of an allotment. The royal sustainable vegetable patch has been dug inside the 40-acre grounds of Buckingham Palace.

The capital's biggest private garden is the setting for the Queen's annual garden parties and it is also home to a lake, a helicopter landing area and a tennis court where King George VI used to play against Fred Perry.

The Queen can look forward to savouring the fruits of her gardeners' labours.

Soon to be served at the royal table will be a range of produce including runner beans, leeks, beetroot and an endangered variety of climbing French beans called Blue Queen.

It is the brainchild of the Queen's deputy head gardener, Claire Midgeley.

She showed her boss around the palace's latest addition the other day.

Growing movement

Ms Midgeley hopes those attending garden parties will see her growing creation.

She said: "We are trying to promote growing your own food and vegetables, getting families and children involved, getting their hands dirty.

"It's a growing movement throughout the country and we're just hoping to encourage that."

This is the first time vegetables have been grown in the backyard of the monarch's London residence since World War II.

Then, as part of the Dig for Victory campaign, royals and others produced 1.3m tons of food.

The home grown production meant imports could be halved, as merchant navy food shipments were coming under attack from German U-boats.

An allotment holder works on his plot in 1942
An allotment holder works on his plot in Kensington Gardens in 1942

It was a similar patriotic picture during World War I. Footage from 1918 of the Buckingham Palace allotment on the YouTube Royal Channel is entitled "An abundance of royal turnips".

The Queen - or rather her gardeners - are part of a growing trend.

In America three months ago, Michelle Obama dug up some of the White House's presidential lawn to create an organic community garden.

On both sides of the Atlantic the motivation for this burgeoning green-fingered revolution seems to centre on a range of factors, including healthy eating, self sufficiency and a desire to address carbon emissions caused by food imports.

Here, not everyone is as fortunate as the Queen. Indeed the phrase, "royal allotment" teeters close to a breach of the Trades Descriptions Act.

Huge wait

Non-royals are often dependent on their local council to rent them a strip of land. Demand is far outstripping supply.

It is not unheard of for people to wait up to 15 years and it is just as bad in rural Devon as it is in the centre of cities.

The National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG) estimates that there are at least 100,000 people in England and Wales on waiting lists for allotments.

The NSALG campaigns for improved provision. Its legal officer, Bryn Pugh, told the BBC that "some gardeners are more likely to get a burial plot before they are given an allotment".

In Britain, the history of allotments can be traced back to before the reign of Elizabeth I.

A century ago, they were considered a way of tackling poor health and excessive drinking among the working classes.

Post war, they fell out of fashion with the arrival of convenience foods and improved living standards.

Now, they have been embraced by those who want to grow their own food and know what they are eating - and they have the royal seal of approval.


The Queen's allotment in the grounds of Buckingham Palace

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