A formal Windsor Castle garden designed by the Duke of Edinburgh is to open to the public for the first time in more than 40 years after coronavirus forced a limit on visitor numbers.
The East Terrace Garden, created by George IV in the 1820s, will open this weekend, allowing visitors to stroll along the terrace and into the garden long favoured by generations of royals and often chosen as a backdrop for official portraits.
The large garden, featuring 3,500 rose bushes planted around a central fountain, has remained the preserve of the Royal Family for decades because the sheer volume of visitors to the castle rendered it at risk of damage from excess footfall.
But as royal residences reopen with limited tickets and reduced capacity, the Royal Collection Trust, which manages the public opening of the Queen’s official residences, thought it a welcome addition to the tour.
“We appreciate that our visitors want to spend as much time outside as possible,” a spokeswoman said. “We want to give people more outside space in the current climate.”
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have spent the last few months in lockdown at Windsor Castle and no doubt enjoyed the vast array of roses in bloom during spring and early summer before heading up to Balmoral in Aberdeenshire this week for their annual summer break.
The Duke redesigned the flowerbeds and commissioned a new bronze lotus fountain, based on his own design, for the centre of the garden in 1971. It features clipped domes of yew and beds of rose bushes planted in a geometric pattern around the fountain.
The garden is overlooked by Windsor Castle’s famous east façade, which includes the White Drawing Room, from which the Queen addressed the nation for last year’s Christmas broadcast, and the Green Drawing Room, chosen by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as the location for their formal wedding portraits.
It was first designed for George IV by architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville between 1824 and 1826, to provide a pleasant view from the King’s new suite of royal apartments along the east front of the Castle.
It was created on the site of an old bowling green made for Charles II in the 1670s, before which, in the Middle Ages, it would have been a defensive ditch.
Plants were specially imported for the scheme, including 34 orange trees, sent to George IV by the French King, Charles X.
Statues were brought from the Privy Gardens at Hampton Court, including a set of four bronze figures by Hubert Le Sueur, made for Charles I in the 1630s and which remain in the garden today.
In the 19th century, the gardens were extensively remodelled by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who took particular interest in its planting scheme.
Queen Victoria recorded in her diary: “Albert is daily occupied…in superintending the planting of the garden in the inside of the Terrace. The plots were before so scrubby & scraggy, but are now being very nicely arranged with laurustinus, bays, &c.”
On New Year’s morning following every one of the 20 Christmas’s the couple spent at Windsor, the couple were woken early by a band playing from the East Terrace below the royal apartments.
The garden has been open to the public intermittently over the centuries, dependent on the reigning monarch.
George IV sought total privacy there, but public access was granted by his brother, William IV, and continued throughout the 19th century.
In the early 20th century, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra held large garden parties there each summer.
During the Second World War, some of the flowerbeds were repurposed as allotments to grow vegetables. The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret, were each assigned a small plot on which to cultivate tomatoes, sweetcorn and dwarf beans.
After the war, the planting scheme was simplified into the pattern of formal rose beds.
It was closed to the public in the early to mid 1970s.
Access to the garden will be included with admission to Windsor Castle on weekends in August and September, starting on August 8.
The East Terrace Garden has been chosen as the backdrop for many royal portraits
The Queen was photographed smiling the steps of the terrace by Annie Leibovitz in 2016, corgis and dorgis, Willow, Vulcan, Holly, and Candy, at her feet.
In 1997, the monarch, 94, and the Duke of Edinburgh, 99, were pictured standing alongside the lawn, by Patrick Lichfield, the castle’s impressive east wing looming behind them.
The couple were also pictured relaxing on the lawn with a corgi called Sugar in 1959.
On the same occasion, they posed for the camera as they strolled back towards the castle, the fountain behind them, alongside a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
In 1905, Frank de Haenen painted guests gathered at a garden party on the terrace, celebrating the marriage of Princess Margaret of Connaught to Prince Gustaf Adolf, the future King of Sweden.
A portrait of her grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, by Edwin Landseer, commissioned two months after their own marriage in 1840, was set against a view of the East Terrace Garden.
The 1908 Olympic marathon started in the garden.
Participants were pictured running along a path under the careful gaze of the Princess of Wales, who had pressed an electric button to give the signal for the pistol to be fired. The location is thought to have been chosen to ensure members of the public did not interfere with the start of the race.