Inside the Downing Street garden

It has become a TV star in its own right in recent years. But what is it really like?

In the old days, the most voters saw of the Downing Street garden was the formal photo of the cabinet, all blokes, lots of moustaches and waistcoats, not many smiles. Then someone realised a televisual political asset was being wasted.

Behind those high walls, visible from Horse Guards Parade, it's actually the size of a decent L-shaped suburban garden – albeit one overlooked by a lot of neighbours in Nos 11 and 12; and by even more security.

There's a terrace with steps, leading from cabinet room level down to the garden, which has a cottage-like, slightly chaotic style – English picturesque. In nice weather PMs can schmooze allies or flatter potential foes while a nice breeze cools their afternoon tea or evening G&Ts.

Sarah Brown grew veggies there and the Blair boys played football. You could imagine a nice family picnic on the shaded lawn, generous flower beds to hand, but definitely no sunbathing. The thought of that IRA mortar which landed in the garden in 1991 – missing its target, John Major's cabinet, by just 40ft – would be enough to put anyone off. It created a 4ft crater.

It was Major who first used the garden to full effect on a sunny day in 1995 when he used it to announce – quite unexpectedly – that he would be resigning the Tory leadership – though not the PM's job or house – to fight any challengers. It went out live on TV and stunned Tory MPs.

Blair must have clocked the moment. Not long afterwards he used what began to be referred to as the "rose garden" – shades of the White House's al fresco press conference venue – for a joint appearance with his then-favourite president, Bill Clinton.

Now, with the new emphasis on open-necked informality the garden is more popular than ever. On Thursday it was the backdrop for Cameron's remarks on the Cumbrian shootings, but the new prime minister first used the garden to unveil his coalition partnership with Nick Clegg. Fortunately the two looked to be roughly the same height on TV. Downing Street's perfectionist gardeners might otherwise have been tempted to prune the taller one.


Michael White

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Downing Street garden reveals its secrets

The rarely seen half-acre garden will be opening its gates to winners of the Open Squares Weekend ballot. But how have PMs past and present used the perk?

Michael White

26, Feb, 2013 @4:57 PM

Article image
The Downing Street catfight: is there more to it than meets the eye?

David Cameron's cat Larry was sent packing by George Osborne's moggy Freya. Just an ordinary spat – or a piece of spin worthy of their masters?

Patrick Barkham

17, Oct, 2012 @1:12 PM

Article image
David Cameron's Cool Britannia knees-up: will anyone want to go?

The PM's bash to celebrate the best of British entertainment might seem like a weak cover version of Tony Blair's infamous shindig. So who might be washing their hair that night, asks Dorian Lynskey

Dorian Lynskey

09, Jun, 2014 @4:04 PM

Comments from politicians on national issues such as Strictly Come Dancing and Big brother

Politicians have been falling over themselves to comment on the John Sergeant affair. But then they have always leaped at the chance to show how in touch they are with the rest of us ...

24, Nov, 2008 @12:01 AM

Article image
Don’t spread it about: Sam Cam’s ‘grand’ Hellmann’s habit
In her new book of recipes, Nick Clegg’s wife Miriam González Durántez reveals she was surprised to be served ready-made mayonnaise during meals at the Camerons’

26, Jul, 2016 @12:16 PM

Article image
When Dr Dre had tea at Downing Street

David Cameron has hosted a number of unlikely visitors, but few more incongruous than the US rapper Dr Dre. Patrick Kingsley imagines how the visit played out

Patrick Kingsley

03, Dec, 2012 @5:46 PM

Article image
Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Farage: which party leader needs a makeover?
Jess Cartner-Morley: Can the cut of their suits, the colour of their ties, or their hairstyles sway the electorate? With the general election a year away today, which of the leaders would benefit from a new look?

Jess Cartner-Morley

07, May, 2014 @4:51 PM

Article image
The secrets of the Downing Street removal firms
Requiring discretion and secrecy, moving a prime minister out of No 10 isn’t your run-of-the-mill removal job. Which is why a few eyebrows have been raised at the Camerons’ choice of company

Simon Usborne

13, Jul, 2016 @2:51 PM

Article image
John Harris: Inside the court of London's golden couple, Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud

Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud form the heart of a social web that binds the elite of showbiz, politics, media and big business. John Harris reports

John Harris

13, Nov, 2008 @12:01 AM

Article image
A guide to duff garden centres

If it sells garden gnomes, hamsters or potpourri, don't go there, says Lia Leendertz

Lia Leendertz

28, Mar, 2010 @6:00 PM