The visits to my daughter and her family in Chelmsford, England, have developed my interest in British daily activities like gardening. A documentary on the “Garden at Buckingham Palace” further drew my attention.

This garden is located in the middle of the bustling city of London next to Buckingham Palace. The gardens date back to Lord Goring in the 1640s when he bought fields outside the western boundary of the Royal Hunting Park, which he turned into opulent gardens. Originally designed in 1640, the garden has continually been redesigned through the centuries.

These 39 acres are divided into areas like the rose garden and the yard with a manmade lake. Eight full-time gardeners and three part-time gardeners work to keep the garden looking lush. Queen Elizabeth II annually hosts parties in the gardens in honor of special groups who made a contribution to country, community or commonwealth; they are not open to the public.

A variety of plants found in this garden, such as dahlias, pelargoniums (geraniums) and herbs like lemon verbena, are also found in many British gardens. Also found in the garden are a variety of trees like mulberry and plane trees. As young girls, the queen and her sister, Margaret, planted beetroot and carrots in this garden.

My daughter’s father-in-law, Bob Mackey, is also a gardener.

Here are highlights of his yearly schedule.

In late summer, the wildflower patch is mowed to spread seeds preparing for spring. Next, he also sows seeds of foxglove and ammi majuis. He will then scarify the soil.

In October, Mackey removes pelargoniums (geraniums) from the garden and cuts down other foliage and stems. He digs up and stores tubers like begonias. He prepares planters for tulips, daffodils and iris reticulate bulbs. Finally, he plants evergreen shrubs and violas in patio pots.

In November, his last task before winter is to tidy his gardens by sweeping leaves into a heap to become leaf mold compost.

All winter the greenhouse is not heated due to costs. The heat is turned on in March because the overwintered plants have started to grow. This step coincides with the delivery of flower plugs which are then transplanted into trays. Mackey takes time to prepare his seedbeds and sows seeds like tagetes, cosmos and nicotiania into trays.

Using the heated greenhouse, he starts his tomato plants from seeds. When he transplants the young tomato sprouts, he plants them into a ring culture. This purchased pot without a bottom serves as a grow bag. The purpose of the ring culture is to encourage the plant to root from the stem, so it takes more nutrients and water from the soil.

April is still a mite chilly, so Mackey continues working in the greenhouse starting lettuce, runner and French bean seeds. The cannas, begonias and dahlias, dug out of the garden in the fall, are taken out of storage and planted. New compost is added in preparation for summer planting.

May and June find Mackey busy planting, weeding and cultivating vegetable and flower plants. He grows quite an extensive list of flowers from impatients to fushia to semperflorea.

A new trend is to keep a garden that can sustain wildlife living by having an untidy bed of wildflowers, long grasses and log piles.

During visits to Chelmsford, I have been able to enjoy the splendor of Mackey’s garden. Having a conversation with him is like having your own personal gardener.

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The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at

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