One of the many ways Princess Diana is being commemorated, to mark 20 years since her death, is through a garden in her former home of Kensington Palace.
The White Garden was unveiled in April to celebrate the life of the late royal. It’s open to the public and on display until September, and is the brainchild of Kensington Palace’s head gardener Sean Harkin and his team.
Harkin, 33, spoke to Country Living about the inspiration for the garden, Diana’s love of flowers and how he wants it to be a place of happiness rather than mourning.
I have been working there two years in October; I was working for the National Trust before. My daily tasks include leading a team of gardeners, planning for longer term projects and helping to guide and instruct. Around half of my time is spent actually gardening – tending to flower beds, helping bedding changeovers, hedge cutting, sorting pot displayers, for example.
When I started working here, Graham Dillamore [the gardens manager based at Hampton Court] told me about his time as a gardener at Kensington Palace. He has memories of working here when it was Princess Diana’s home.
The Sunken Garden [where the White Garden is based] is the jewel of Kensington Palace and it was a particular favourite of Diana’s. In the mornings, she would go out for a jog and would stop by the garden and have a chat with Graham and the gardeners. She would say how much she liked the garden and comment on what it was looking like depending on the seasons. She would have a bit of a joke with them and was really friendly and warm.
I knew we would be doing an exhibition inside the palace to mark 20 years since she died and thought we should do something in the garden as well to celebrate the memory of Princess Diana actually living here. It seemed good to do it in the Sunken Garden as she particularly liked it.
Diana wore a lot of white and creams. Certain pieces in the exhibition stood out – like the famous Elvis dress as well as some of the photos from the Mario Testino shoot in 1997 where she wore cream. The whole feel of the exhibition was radiant and uplifting which is what we wanted the garden to be.
We wanted to include her favourite flowers within the planting scheme. One of the key flowers were the forget-me-nots. Earl Spencer previously said that the white forget-me-nots were one of her favourites because he gave them to her as a child. It’s also fitting because Prince Harry’s charity Sentebale translates in Lesotho to ‘forget-me-not’ and he established the charity in memory of his mother.
Other key plants were lilies as Princess Diana would often have these around her when she lived in Kensington Palace; we have hundreds of whites and soft pinks around the garden. White roses were another favourite of Diana’s, so around the reflective pond there are large terracotta pots with big displays of white roses in them.
They have been supportive of the garden and are really happy we’re doing something that celebrates her legacy. There hasn’t been an official visit yet though. [The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry have also been “regularly updated with plans for the garden and have been very supportive of the project” , a representative for the grounds told us.]
It’s been quite overwhelming. Lots of people have come to the palace this year for the exhibition and the garden, it’s been a lot busier than it would usually be. People have been saying how special it is and how moved they are by it.
We didn’t want it to just be a collection of flowers next to each other. The nice thing about the garden is there is a walkway and tunnel where people can view the area. It creates this beautiful picture – for example, we picked daisies as a key flower through the central bed because Princess Diana would wear floral dresses when she wanted to make uplifting visits to hospitals.
We didn’t want the garden to be flat, we wanted it to be celebratory and joyful. It’s not just white, there are silvers, golds, soft pinks and purples throughout the garden. We don’t want it to just be a memorial garden, we want it to be an uplifting and happy garden.