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The majesty of Highgrove Gardens

Val Bourne / 18 June 2019

The Prince of Wales’s family garden – an inspired blend of heritage and innovation – is open to the public and we are privileged to experience it, says Val Bourne.

The fountain in the Walled Garden at Highgrove
The fountain in the Walled Garden at Highgrove. Photographs © Highgrove

Highgrove, the world-famous Gloucestershire garden of HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, has been an inspiration to thousands of visitors for over twenty-five years. It’s living proof that you can garden without damaging the planet. Rainwater is used for irrigation, ground source heat pumps fire up the heating and all plant material from the garden is composted. Natural fertilisers are used to feed the plants, including manure from the Highgrove’s Home Farm animals.

Wildlife abounds and birdsong fills the air with this organic fifteen-acre Garden providing a safe haven for their needs. One of the richest areas is the four-acre meadow which was originally planted with a species-rich mix in 1982. It’s been managed traditionally for nearly 40 years and seed-rich green hay, imported from a nearby organic meadow, has introduced more native wild flowers year-on-year. Spring opens with hundreds of native lent lilies, otherwise known as Narcissus pseudonarcissus, swaying amidst fresh-green grass. By high summer, the sun-bleached swathe is peppered with wild orchids and yellow rattle; the meadow attracts thousands of native bees and butterflies, shimmering specks of movement on a summer’s day. After the meadow’s been cut, sheep graze and fertilise the ground, trampling in any seeds as they go. Then winter descends, before the cycle’s repeated season by season.

Visit our Home and Garden section for gardening guides, home improvement tips and much more.

Highgrove's wildflower meadow
Highgrove's wildflower meadow.

Along with dynamic flowering displays, HRH The Prince of Wales is also fond of the varying textures that many plants provide such as Highgrove’s Plant Heritage Collection of large and giant-leaved hostas. Surprisingly these are rarely troubled by snail damage because of native predators such as amphibians (frogs and newts) and song thrushes. Some judicious hoeing also helps to bring slug and snail eggs to the surface to keep this pest at bay. Ferns, another of the Prince’s leafy plant passions, make a dramatic feature in Highgrove’s Stumpery, a modern version of a Victorian eccentricity. The atmosphere in this shady spot slows the heartbeat and calms the nerves and the slightly surreal oak tree roots make a perfect backdrop for hundreds of hardy primeval ferns, many of them rare and special.

Highgrove’s Stumpery also contains two green oak classical temples cut to look like stone. The carved oak seat, which features the Prince of Wales’s feathers, was designed by celebrated garden designers Julian and Isabel Bannerman. The Goddess of the Wood sculpture, by David Wynne, also sits in The Stumpery. The Temple of Worthies, a memorial dedicated to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, features a bronze relief of The Prince's much beloved late grandmother. The thatched tree house known as Holyrood House, a play on the Queen’s Scottish palace, was once used by the Prince’s two sons William and Harry. They’re all reminders that Highgrove has always been a family home and that we’re privileged to share it.

The Stumpery at Highgrove
The Stumpery at Highgrove.

In the Arboretum on the eastern side of the Georgian house, you can catch a glimpse of the Sanctuary, a very private place only used by The Prince. This was built to commemorate the Millennium and in thanksgiving to God with all materials locally sourced – Cotswold stone slates, a green oak door, Bath stone pillars and walls made from Highgrove clay mixed with chopped barley straw (cob). Many of the trees across the Garden have been planted by The Prince.

The Sanctuary at Highgrove
The Sanctuary at Highgrove.

The Old Cottage Garden, designed by the late Rosemary Verey OBE, contains a traditional mixture of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants supplemented by spring bulbs; the design has been augmented over the past few years to include many delphiniums which HRH has a passion for. The Rose Pergola, very much in Lutyens style, was created for The Prince's 50th birthday with clematis, roses and wisteria trained to embellish this wonderful structure. The New Cottage Garden, containing vibrant yellows, pinks and blues, was inspired by Tibetan silks.

The east-facing Sundial Garden, close to the house, is a favoured spot especially when the royal-blue delphiniums are fully out. The reclaimed wrought iron gates give a tempting view of the Meadow beyond.

The Thyme Walk, lined with topiarised golden yews precision cut into whimsical shapes, frames an aromatic path of thyme, lavender and golden marjoram. Beyond, a life size bronze Borghese Gladiator complete with sword and shield stands; this was gift to the Prince from Lord Cholmondeley. The Lily Pool, a tranquil area with a formal pond shaped like a water lily, is surrounded with clipped yew hedges. These were shaped and contoured at the suggestion of Sir Roy Strong, a flamboyant character with a love of the Arts and Crafts style of gardening.

The Thyme Walk at Highgrovealt text here
The Thyme Walk at Highgrove.

After any visit to Highgrove, The Orchard restaurant beckons, whether it’s afternoon tea or lunch.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.