10 Surprising Facts About Queen Elizabeth’s Famous Garden Parties

Updated: Feb. 25, 2022

On the VIP list: Cake, scones and plenty of tea.

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Queen Elizabeth II Garden Party
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Each year the Queen holds four garden parties each with more than 6,000 guests (and a menu brimming with some of her favorite foods). That may sound like a large group of people, but it is incredibly hard to snag an invite. Since you may never see one from the inside, we have the details on these royal soirées from the food to the footwear.

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Queen Elizabeth II talks to a veteran Not Forgotten garden party at Buckingham Palace, London, Britain
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By invitation only

You can’t ask for a coveted invitation. Guests are there to be recognized for extraordinary contributions to their communities. You might night be able to ask to be on the list, but you can ask to be a guest of a guest! Every invitee gets to bring a plus one to the plush event.

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Romantic composition of bouquet white and purple lilacs, cupcakes with curd cream, cups tea with milk, old book on wooden background.
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Let them eat lots and lots of cake

Around 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake are served at each garden party! With more than 100,000 saucers of tea served at the parties each year, you better believe the Queen’s favorite tea is in many of those cups. But that’s one party of the exclusive Garden Party that isn’t too hard to get outside of the palace walls. The queen loves Twinings tea and we have all the details on how she takes her cup.

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Afternoon tea in the garden
Shutterstock / Magdanatka

Try the queen’s favorite treats are always served

The menu at Garden Parties always consists of cakes, tea sandwiches, and sweet and savory finger foods. According to former royal chef Darren McGrady, the Queen loves a British confection called jam pennies. They are tiny raspberry jam sandwiches cut into circles the size of an English penny. You can make your own tea party spread with our collection of stunning tea sandwich recipes.

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Traditional English afternoon tea: scones with clotted cream and jam, strawberries, with various sandwiches on the background
Shutterstock / Lilly Trott

Scones are always on the menu

“The Queen always had homemade Balmoral jam first with clotted cream on top at Buckingham Palace garden parties in the royal tea tent and all royal tea parties,” McGrady told the Independent. You can bake up some traditional English scones and top them just like a queen, even if you aren’t at a Buckingham Palace party!

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English tea in spring garden
Shutterstock / Maria Komar

It’s a dry event

Though the Queen enjoys a cocktail, you won’t catch her sipping champagne at her Garden Parties. No alcohol of any kind is served to the guests.

We have some ideas to spice up your own garden party while leaving the booze behind.

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Guests during a garden party at Buckingham Palace in London.
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The dress code is pretty strict

Every invitee gets a very explicit dress code. Men wear casual or lounge suits, while women wear a conservative dress with a hat or fascinator. Military uniforms are also often worn. This doesn’t mean the guests dress boring or bland, they’re encouraged to have fun, but be respectful and discreet.

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Queen Elizabeth II talks to guests Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, London, Britain
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Garden parties weren’t Queen Elizabeth’s idea

Queen Victoria started the tradition of garden parties at Buckingham Palace in the 1860s. The parties have gradually increased in both quantity and size. In the 1940s only two parties were held annually.

You can start a summer party tradition of your own, with our favorite dishes for a group.

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Queen Elizabeth II Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, London, Britain
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Rain or shine, there’s a party

The Queen is prompt and she won’t let the London weather delay one of her parties. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh often arrive for their nearly hour-long walkabout armed with umbrellas. Guests should also bring precautions. For bad weather and if a true storm interrupts the soirée guests can take cover under tents.

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Following in the footsteps of the ultimate Royal recycler - the Queen herself - Catherine Duchess of Cambridge
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Guests think feet first

Footwear may be the last thing on your mind as a guest at the Garden Party but it’s important. The Queen makes a trek from the entrance to her Tea Tent that takes about 45 minutes. During that time guests stand in anticipation, hoping Her Royal Highness turns to them to say hello. If your still egos are sinking into the grass while you stand, you’re in for one uncomfortable afternoon!

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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip talk to guests during a garden party at Buckingham Palace in London.
Shutterstock / REX

The queen loves a good theme

The Queen will occasionally hold an extra garden party or make one of the annual parties specially themed to celebrate or commemorate important moments. For example, in 1997 a party was held to mark the 50th anniversary of her marriage to Prince Philip. All invitees were British couples that were also celebrating 50 years since their nuptials.

We love a theme party, too. Our favorite themes are much easier to pull off than filling a guest list with thousands of couples celebrating a special anniversary!