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Queen Victoria’s Treescapes – Sarah Shields

In 2019 BBC News reported that while on an official engagement in Cambridge, the then 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth II had told onlookers that she was ‘still perfectly capable of planting a tree.[1] The planting of a tree is perhaps one of the most recognisable acts of modern monarchy alongside the cutting of a ribbon or the unveiling of a plaque. This relationship between monarch, commemoration and nature was reinforced with the Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC). This major project aimed to facilitate tree planting across the UK and Commonwealth to commemorate Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. After the Queen’s death in September 2022, the project was extended to plant trees in memory of the late monarch.[2] With trees more vital than ever in the fight against climate change, this initiative is suggestive of the role that royal women play in shaping the landscape and promoting environmental awareness including sustainability, biodiversity and conservation.[3]

Historic Royal Palaces 2017 ‘Enlightened Princesses’ exhibition and publication explored the ways in which the Georgian queens and princesses were engaged with botany and horticultural endeavours, examining royal landscapes and the role women played in their formation.[4] While Prince Albert’s interest in nature has been widely acknowledged along with his management and improvement of the royal estates, less is known about Queen Victoria’s relationship with the landscape.[5] However, upon reading her diaries which were published online for Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, it becomes clear that trees and treed landscapes (or ‘treescapes’) played an important role in her memory and commemoration of events in her and her family’s life.[6] At Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Victoria and Albert planted memorial trees to mark family occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, visits from foreign royalty, jubilees and to commemorate the memory of loved ones.[7] Victoria and her family’s life courses were plotted on the landscapes of the royal estates including Osborne, Windsor and Balmoral, with many memorial trees still standing today.

After Albert’s death in December 1861, Osborne became an emotional landscape for Victoria. They had spent many birthdays and anniversaries at Osborne and Victoria passed many hours watching Albert directing the planting of trees as well as planting, clipping and pruning them himself. Here Victoria and Albert could be any other landed gentry couple creating their own retreat away from government interference. After his death Victoria lamented that Albert could not see how his creation was flourishing. The following month, she wrote that ‘All the trees & shrubs make me so sad to look at now. Dear Albert loved them so.[8] Even ten years later the Osborne landscape still brought up memories of her dearly missed husband:

It always gives me pleasure when I see them appreciated, for dearest Albert so loved his plants & trees, looking at every one daily & watching them so anxiously. Alas! That he should never have seen their great success & beauty![9]

In her new life as a widow Victoria became more actively involved with the managing of her landscapes. Whereas before she had observed Albert amongst his trees, she now walked the treescapes with her stewards and foresters directing where the trees should be planted, thinned and cut. She became more knowledgeable of the different varieties of species and transplanted trees from abroad and from one estate to another. In her final years she wrote that ‘So many of the little plants I brought back from abroad, have grown into big trees’.[10] She clearly felt that caring for these landscapes was caring for Albert’s legacy. Victoria even completed a successful purchase of the Ballochbuie plantation near Balmoral which Albert had planned, saving the trees from felling by their previous landowner and conserving this important forest in what has become known as one of Scotland’s first woodland conservation projects. Victoria wrote in May 1877: ‘How dearest Albert would have delighted at the prospect of being able to get this noble forest & how impossible he thought it would be![11]

Victoria’s interest in trees and plants was intrinsically linked to the memory of her loved ones. She derived much pleasure from being in her treescapes and watching them flourish and her horticultural and aboricultural knowledge – shared by her children, in particular her oldest child Victoria – grew as she got older.[12] In spring 1863 Victoria walked around the pleasure ground at Windsor with her daughter and gardener Toward and looked at all the trees ‘which I had never really done in detail’. Victoria remembered that Albert had ‘a childlike pleasure & pride’ in his trees and would ‘point out the rare ones, giving them their proper names![13] Her treescapes became memoryscapes where her lifecourse and the lifecourses of her family were commemorated on the landscape. Her public life as monarch had also left a mark outside of her estates with memorial trees planted to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee scattered across public parks and land across Britain. The association of the royal family with trees has continued in recent times, most notably with the Queen’s Green Canopy. For too long considered a ‘masculine’ interest and employment, I hope to further explore the ways in which royal and elite women created and interpreted their treescapes in my research.

Image credit: Coloured drawing signed by HG Ziegler in Burghley House collection, representing the tree planting ceremony with Victoria and Albert at Burghley House on November 14 1844, from wikicommons.

An independent scholar, Sarah Shields completed her PhD examining elite women’s management of landed estates in eighteenth-centry England at the University of Hull in 2020. Recent publications include ‘An Old Maid in the House is the Devil: Single women and landed estate management in eighteenth-century England’ in the Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies (Dec 2021) and ‘I Will Be Mistress of My Own: Property management during widowhood in eighteenth-century England’ in Environments, Spaces, Knowledges: New and Emerging Research in Human Geography (Historical Geography Research Series, 2022).

[1] ‘Queen in Cambridge: ‘Still capable of planting a tree’ at 93’, BBC News, 9 July 2019. (


[3] For more on the aims of the QGC see Adrian Houston and Charles Sainsbury-Plaice, The Queen’s Green Canopy: The Platinum Jubilee 2022 (Ebury Press, 2023); and https ://

[4] Joanna Marschner, David Bindman, Lisa L. Ford (eds.), Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte, and the Shaping of the Modern World, (Yale Center for British Art, 2017).

[5] For more on Albert’s love of nature and management of royal estates see Jane Roberts, Royal Landscape: The Gardens and Parks of Windsor, (Yale University Press, 1997); Helen Rappaport, Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death That Changed the Monarchy (Windmill Books, 2012); A.N. Wilson, Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy, (Atlantic Books, 2020).

[6] Queen Victoria’s journals are digitised at

[7] Emily Parker, ‘Osborne: A Royal Garden’ for English Heritage at

[8] Journal Entry: Monday 27 January 1862. Osborne House. (Vol. 51, 14 December 1861-31 December 1862), p. 21.

[9] Journal Entry: Monday 10 April 1871. Osborne House. (Vol. 60, 1 January 1871-31 December 1871), p. 94.

[10] Journal Entry: Thursday 22 November 1900. Windsor Castle. (Vol. 111, 17 August 1900-13 January 1901), p. 99.

[11] Journal Entry: Wednesday 23 May 1877. Balmoral Castle. (Vol. 67, 1 January 1877-31 December 1877), pp. 143-144.

[12] The Princess Victoria shared gardening knowledge with both her parents. See Clemens Alexander Wimmer, ‘Victoria, the Empress Gardener, or the Anglo-Prussian Garden War, 1858-88’, Garden History, (Vol. 26, No. 2, Winter 1998), p. 192.

[13] Journal Entry: Thursday 14 May 1863. Windsor Castle. (Vol. 52, 1 January 1863-30 November 1863), pp. 183-184.