Diana and the Spencer family moved to Althorp House after her grandfather died when she was 13, but she was born at Park House, a mansion on the Sandringham estate that her family had rented from the queen for decades. According to Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles, she had a childhood that was “traditional” and “sheltered” but involved plenty of time outside. When their mother left in 1967, Charles and Diana were the only two children left in the house, as their older sisters were off at boarding school.
Now Diana’s childhood home is a hotel, but the Sandringham gardens that surround it have changed little since the 1860s, when they were originally designed by William Broderick Thomas. Queen Victoria purchased the estate for her son, who would later become King Edward VII, and he and his wife, the future Queen Alexandra, transformed it into the lush idyll where the royals still spend their Christmas vacation.
There have been a few upgrades at Sandringham, namely the removal of kitchen gardens in the 1960s, but the gardens still embrace the wild, untamed appearance common to English gardens in the Victorian era. The garden had “no formal floral beds, no trim gravel paths, and almost no sign of gardening or cultivation,” as Floral Life Illustrated noted in 1904. “But there, growing among the shrubs and looking supremely contented and at home, one sees the English wildflowers, bluebells, forget-me-nots, buttercups, pimpernels, and even the humble nettle.” More than 60 years later, these gardens are where a young Earl Spencer likely would have found a present for his older sister.
Forget-me-nots also have a special relevance to the larger Spencer clan. In 1998, one of Diana’s cousins, Louis Jebb, wrote about a fairy-tale children’s book that was written by Maurice Baring, the brother of Diana’s great-grandmother, in the early 1900s. Called The Story of Forget-me-not and Lily of the Valley, it follows two anthropomorphic flowers, Prince Lily of the Valley and Princess Forget-me-not, over a night at a ball. Jebb doesn’t know if Diana had any particular affection for the story, but he was told that a copy existed in the nursery at Althorp in the 1960s, where Diana occasionally went to visit her grandparents, and four generations of Spencers have enjoyed it when visiting the estate. According to Jebb, another Spencer relative wanted to give a full set of Baring’s books to Prince Charles after he and Diana married in 1981.
Even if Diana wasn’t a keen gardener herself, after her death, flowers of all kinds became a symbol of England’s mourning. People began laying flowers at the Kensington Palace gates on the night she died, and when mourning concluded, between 10,000 and 15,000 tons of flowers were removed from the palace. (Any flowers that remained alive were sent to hospitals, while dead flowers were turned into mulch for the royal parks.) When the royals appeared in public in the days after Diana’s death, some onlookers even handed them bouquets of flowers.
But Harry’s specific connection to forget-me-nots emerged a little later. In 2004, he took a two-month trip to Lesotho, where he worked with children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic and met the country’s Prince Seeiso, who had recently lost his mother. When Harry and Seeiso started a charity in 2006, they named it Sentebale, which translates to “forget-me-not” in the country’s national language, Sesotho, and dedicated it to the memories of their mothers.