Although parts of Windsor Castle—the grand state rooms among them—are open to the public, much of the grand fortress remains sealed off, including the queen’s private residences and her gardens.
However, today, the queen announced she will allow visitors to wander the East Terrace Garden of Windsor Castle in August while she’s summering at Balmoral. It’s news that will surely delight ardent royal watchers and historians: Since the 1970s, the gardens have been for Windsor family use only.
It’s a stunning expanse of greenery: overlooking Windsor’s east façade, it has 3,500 rose bushes that surround its central, lotus-shaped fountain. There are domes of yew, and four bronze figures by French sculptor Hubert Le Sueur; plus, it has a modern pop-culture significance: the queen was photographed there by Annie Leibovitz in 2016.
The area has a rich history. Designed for George IV in 1824, it replaced an old bowling green made in the 1620s. Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, took particular interest in the East Terrace Garden. In her diary, Victoria recalled his steadfast work: “The plots were before so scrubby and scraggy, but are now being very nicely arranged with laurustinus, bays,” she wrote. At the turn of the 20th century, the East Terrace Garden was the site of many summer parties thrown by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
During WWII, it transformed into a victory garden. The then Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret, tended to some of the vegetable plots themselves. They grew tomatoes, sweetcorn, and dwarf beans.
As of now, it’s only open during August and September—which means, due to coronavirus travel restrictions, few will be able to visit. But those who do will undoubtedly be struck by its beauty.