The Prince has spent more than 30 years creating one of the finest and most pleasurable gardens in England, and this is a time of striking colour contrast, busy harvesting and planting. It will be a magical and instructive time to be there. We shall begin the day with a private, guided tour of the Garden, accompanied by His Royal Highness’s expert garden guides happy to share their knowledge.
From the moment you walk between the impressive pillars at the Garden entrance you begin a journey which reveals one delight after another, each setting giving a glimpse of this wonderful English garden, underpinned by the Prince’s personal taste and philosophy. While various fine gardeners, including Lady Salisbury, Rosemary Verey and Dame Miriam Rothschild, made their contributions, the Prince is hands-on: notwithstanding the small army of gardeners who lovingly tend the garden day by day, it is Prince Charles who visualises the vistas and makes the decisions.
And as the Prince says, ‘I have gardened to a certain extent from a painter’s perspective. Each part of the garden is a separate ‘painting’ and the result of ceaseless walking, ruminating and observing those moments of magic when the light becomes almost dreamlike in its illuminating intensity. It is in those moments when you are lost in wonder that such beauty is possible and inspiration can come …’
It is this beauty, in the peace of the Garden, when the public are not admitted and we are there on our own with our families and friends, that we shall see this magic for ourselves, literally as well as figuratively, in the footsteps of the Prince of Wales.
When the Prince speaks of the ‘excitement’ of the garden, and how the longed-for arrival of a particular plant ‘becomes a treasured feature of one’s existence’, it is clear that the garden holds deep meaning for His Royal Highness. This, after all, is his own home garden, where his son and heir William spent his formative years. As the Prince says, ‘The Garden is an expression of what I hold dear.’ If you want to understand the Prince of Wales, what makes him tick, how he works, his deep loves, private passions and quiet reflections, the Garden at Highgrove is where the Prince’s soul is laid bare. It is also a measure of the practical Prince: here are broad visions and also minor details, ideas with which to transform our own gardens, or simply to enjoy the beauty of an English garden and the creative spirit of the Prince.
Highgrove, as with all great gardens, does not reveal its charms all at once. Each garden room contains its own private pleasures, then takes the viewer on to the next scene, with the House sometimes the focus, at others glimpsed through the trees. Close at hand are the Terrace Garden, the Cottage Garden, Thyme Walk, Lily Pool Garden, Sundial Garden and Carpet Garden. Farther afield come the Walled Garden, the Model Fruit Garden, the Cutting Garden, Azalea Walk, Lavender Orchard, Southern Hemisphere Garden, the Woodland Garden and Arboretum, which are spectacular at this time of year.
Among the characteristics of these uniquely different gardens there is humour: as in the Ego Garden. And pathos: the memorial to Her Majesty The Queen Mother. Strong architectural features: the Temple of Worthies, The Sanctuary and the Wall of Gifts. Some eccentricities: The Stumpery, for one. And National treasures and rarities abound. Highgrove hosts national collections of beech trees, at their best at this time of year, and large-leaved hostas, among others.
Many English rarities are grown, including varieties now virtually extinct. Underlying it all is the Prince’s deep-felt conviction that his garden must be self-sufficient, with emphasis on water conservation, green waste recycling, natural pest control and organic fertilisers, as well as extending the seasons. As such, the garden works on all levels: beautiful to the eye of any beholder, and an inspiration to gardeners wishing to benefit from the Prince’s experimentation over more than three decades.
Wildlife thrives in this environment; from songbirds to butterflies, beetles, newts and bees. The Prince is justifiably proud of his Garden, and a Sunday in September will be the perfect moment to see Highgrove in a glorious English autumn. Morning haze gives the garden a transcendent beauty, and various plants, trees and shrubs are only now showing off their riches, for example, the Japanese maples providing swathes of red tones, their colour peaking at the end of September; the leaves of deciduous azaleas turning gold and orange; and late blooming perennials displaying their finery.
The fruit and vegetable harvest is in high gear at this time of year. The gardens are totally organic and in order to grow great vegetables and fruits, a variety of strategies are set in place—all of which will be revealed to us. One of the methods used includes feeding the plants with comfrey tea! Sustainable, beautiful and productive, it is incredibly impressive that the Kitchen Garden keeps the whole estate self-sufficient in fresh fruits and vegetables, with crops for the Prince’s table—and our own for this special Sunday lunch—the rows and beds of vegetables: sweet onions, courgettes, potatoes, beans and autumn-fruiting raspberries which look too beautiful to pick. There are plump espaliered apples, pears, gages, peaches and plums lining the walls, grown at just the right height to pick and test their ripeness.
Inspired by the Garden, our appetites whetted by the scent of sweet ripe autumn fruits and vegetables, we shall return to the Terrace to toast the occasion with a chilled glass of Highgrove Champagne. We shall then move into Highgrove’s delightful Orchard Room, and take our seats at our private tables for Sunday Roast Lunch. A delicious menu, sourced locally and from the Highgrove Estate itself, will be specially prepared by the Highgrove Chefs, featuring as highlights mouthwatering roasts—Sirloin and Short Rib of Cotswold Beef and Roast Loin of Kelmscott Pork—carved by the Chefs and served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings. More highlights include among the puddings those autumn-fruiting raspberries with Chantilly cream. And the excellent Highgrove wine list will be at your disposal!