It should have been a calming visit after a challenging week for the Royal family.
Instead, as the Queen opened an exhibition about winter flowers at the Garden Museum, she heard a speech about unhappy families and how “twists and troubles” lead to happiness.
Christopher Woodward, the director of the Garden Museum, quoted Russian writer Leo Tolstoy during a speech, to say: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
The royal visit to Winter Flowers Week came in the wake of the publication of a controversial book about the monarchy. Endgame by Omid Scobie claimed the future of the monarchy is “in a crisis” and named - in the Dutch edition - two members of the Royal Family at the centre of a race row.
On Tuesday, the King and Queen were photographed with the Prince and Princess of Wales during the annual glittering Buckingham Palace diplomatic reception, widely interpreted by the media as a royal show of unity.
‘Twists and troubles and turns lead to happiness’
In his speech, Mr Woodward said of the exhibitions: “The idea is that you often see work by floral designers at a wedding or at a party, this is the chance for the designers to pause and for five days have an audience to follow through the concepts and inspirations which make this beauty.
“And winter has been an enticement to foliage and to structure and – just look.
“Tolstoy began Anna Karenina ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’.”
He went on to say: “And as you become older, I think you notice all the world’s little ‘rightnesses’ and study how many twists and troubles and turns lead to happiness, and how it has as many, more perhaps, colours and aspects as the more often studied tragedies.”
Speaking after the event, Mr Woodward stressed the Tolstoy quotation was not a reference to recent news stories about the Royal family but about drawing attention to the museum’s ability to be an oasis to keen gardeners and members of the public.
He said contemporary art rightly drew attention to the “fissures and challenges” but there was also art that highlighted the “happiness and wholeness” of life.
He said of the Garden Museum, based in Lambeth, south London: “We want to make a space where people come here for a couple of hours and feel ready to go back into the city.”
During the visit the Queen was presented with a fabric “empowerment doll”, said to have been inspired by the skills enslaved African women brought to the Caribbean.
Anne Jonas, founder of Botanique, said: “It tells the story of how we are using the tools around us, to develop our nation and empower our women.”
Queen Camilla also learned about the work of Frank Walter, the late artist and environmentalist who was the first black man in Antigua to become manager of a sugar plantation.
Walter was a supporter of the British monarchy, and among the many other items was a photograph of her husband, the King, as a young man, which the artist kept on his sideboard at his home in the Caribbean.
“I recognise the face,” joked the Queen, as she toured the exhibition.
Celebration of winter flowers
It is the first time the museum, based at the deconsecrated church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, London, has staged a winter celebration of seasonal flowers and foliage.
The Queen met the five designers who had created the floral installations, using only British-grown seasonal flowers and foliage.
She was also reunited with Shane Connolly, the sustainable floristry advocate who provided the flowers for her 2005 wedding and the Coronation displays in Westminster Abbey.
At one point, Mr Woodward’s son, Max, three, offered the Queen his toy dinosaur. Later on, a child from a local nursery group gave her a paper crown, but she resisted the urge to put it on.
Instead, she left with a potted “Daphne Perfume Princess” which is noted for its fragrance and which she promised she would plant “this weekend.”
Alan Titchmarsh, the broadcaster and president of the Garden Museum, said the aim of Winter Flowers Week is to show it is possible to create a beautiful and environmentally-friendly Christmas display - without a bit of plastic or tinsel in sight.
“Not a bauble!” he said.