Getting to visit the garden of HRH Prince Charles requires lots of advance planning and even if you do get an appointment it might not happen. Word has it that if HRH decides (at his whim) that your scheduled day isn’t convenient for him…too bad for you…he just cancels. So, in May while on Donna Dawson’s Chelsea Flower Show tour (www.gardeningtours.com), I spent a lot of time wondering if it was really going to happen. The night before the anticipated visit no news was good news and by morning two dozen excited garden lovers boarded a bus and headed to Highgrove. Situated near the village of Tetbury it wasn’t easy to find…no signs…no hint of the place. In fact, the driver passed by twice before we realized that perhaps the only high stone walls we saw for miles must be the place. We turned in and drove down a long treed lane to be met by a police officer who came on board, checked the bus inside and out, and then took our passports for scrutiny (a list of visitors is submitted ahead of time and it is rechecked at the time of the visit). After a half hour or so, we were given the ok and off we went to a “holding room” (a very elegant one at that) to await our tour.
Alas, photos are not permitted, even for journalists. We were told very firmly to leave our cameras on the bus. So, the only photo I have is the one I sneaked of the cop walking away with my passport.
“No matter”, I thought, “I have a good memory for gardens” (though admittedly it’s not as good as it used to be).
The tour is a walk of about 2 miles lasting two hours and is led by one of His Royal Highness’s garden guides. Our guide, Linda Gunn, said in the beginning she received no pay (just the thrill of it all), but now she gets a stipend. Linda was well prepared with a binder of photos of all the plants…just in case some smarty pants tried to stump her. We were warned not to go off the path. And yes, there are cameras in the garden (hard to spot, but eagle eye Veronica found a few and resisted the temptation to wander).
Even with all the restrictions and rules, this visit was a highlight of my garden trekking. I’ve long been a fan of Prince Charles and his love of our planet, for growing organically, and for protecting the environment. He may appear to be quirky to some, but I think he was ahead of his time and the rest of us are just catching up.
Once home I requested photos from the Prince’s public relations people, telling them that I’d be using the images for an article in the Toronto Botanical Garden’s newsletter. The response was, “The Prince will want to know about this. We’ll let you know”. So, after several weeks I received these photos to share with you. I guess the Prince approved. And here they are with my comments.
The Wildflower Meadow
Stretching from the front of the house to the back, the wildflower meadow is magnificent…my favourite area. In May it was a froth of colour filled with blue camassia, hot pink Byzantine gladiolus (corn flag) and yellow rattle (a pretty but parasitic annual that suppresses the grasses from taking over). This photo doesn’t do it justice.
The name says it all. The garden is filled with stumps of trees felled during the first and second World Wars and the odd hurricane. They create an environment that encourages wildlife. This shady glade is home to a National Collection of 131 large and small leaf hostas.
The Cottage Garden
Designed by the Prince and the late Rosemary Verey, the cottage garden is a typically English border. A notable plant in the garden is a catalpa tree that was a fiftieth birthday gift to Prince Charles from Sir Elton John.
The plants in the terrace garden were chosen entirely by Prince Charles, the design was a combined effort of the Prince and Lady Salisbury. Where the open oak pavilion stands, a 200 year old cedar once lived. Sadly, it died and was removed in 2007 and replaced with the pavilion.
The Carpet Garden
Inspired by a Turkish carpet at Highgrove House, the Prince translated its geometric shapes and colours into a living garden. But first, the design was exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2001 where the garden won a silver medal. After Chelsea the garden was transferred to Highgrove and rebuilt. It is enclosed by walls reminiscent of smaller urban gardens in the Middle East. The Eastern style is echoed in the ceramics placed among the plantings. The walls are lined with Italian cypresses, a reminder of Prince Charles painting trips to Italy.