The Prince's Garden
30 years ago the Prince of Wales purchased Highgrove, an unkempt 360-hectare farm. Sticking to organic principles, the Prince has transformed it to one of the UK’s most beautiful gardens.
The real roots of the Prince of Wales’ environmental consciousness are to be found in a small corner of the gardens of Buckingham Palace, where he describes how he and his sister Anne used to play.
“We had a little tiny plot hidden away by the back of a wall at Buckingham Palace. We used to fiddle about growing tomatoes, I think the thing was that the moment I had somewhere that I could start doing something I got going.”
Since 1980 this ‘somewhere’ has been Highgrove in Gloucestershire, with the jewel in the crown being the Prince’s own garden. It is run on an entirely organic basis and with a real focus on sustainable techniques and innovation, a decidedly unusual approach to take 30 years ago.
Renowned TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh has described it as “one of England’s most important contemporary gardens…a place of incomparable beauty and a beacon for all things organic.”
Its infrastructure includes a specially built reed bed sewage system that processes all the waste generated by more than 30,000 visitors to the gardens each year. The water passes through wood chip filled pits, then through a reed bed that filters out most of the nutrients and heavy metals, then through a willow bed for further filtering before ending up in a pond. Water from the pond is piped out to water the gardens.
Heating for some of the buildings is provided by a wood chip boiler, producing heat through the burning of waste materials from the garden. The greenhouses use ground source heating that harnesses the warmth of the Earth captured by buried water pipes to help fill radiators that ward off the worst of the winter chill.
A huge amount of compost is made on site, recycling the trimmings and waste from the mixture of rare trees, plants and heritage seeds that are cultivated throughout the various garden displays. There’s also an acre of walled kitchen garden, providing a range of fresh vegetables for the house, while two small flocks of organic free-range chickens supply the eggs and honey is harvested from the garden’s own hives.
Natural predators are encouraged for pest control and only natural fertilisers like comfrey tea are used. Prince Charles himself has said of this approach: “Good old-fashioned, well-rooted manure is the secret to everything.”
In some areas of the garden the Prince has deliberately cultivated wildflower meadows that have blossomed from barren greenery to become the home of more than 30 native species of native grasses and wildflowers that help attract and
“Good old-fashioned, well-rooted manure is the secret to everything.”
encourage wild plants and insects. But there are decorative touches of whimsy too, including busts of the Prince featuring in holes in the yew hedging, a fern garden created from upturned tree stumps complete with their roots, and a dry stone wall featuring odd bits of masonry the Prince has been given over the years.
This combination of meticulous care and the flexibility to allow nature to take its course is the key to the gardens unique appeal. A case in point is that a fallen Cedar of Lebanon was replaced with a pavilion made of oak from another part of the property, but will now eventually be superseded by a young oak that has
sprouted up nearby that the Prince has decided to retain.
But it is clear that the royal hand is not just used to wave at what he would like done, or to offer a stay of execution to what might be considered unwelcome plants. The prince did much of the original planting himself and still confesses to being a habitual pruner of the gardens. At weekends he is known to mount what he calls his ‘evening patrols’, wandering his garden with shears and loppers, weeding and sawing rogue branches off as he goes. It is hard to imagine this not sometimes frustrating the team of up to a dozen professional gardeners whose job it is to keep everything in the kinds of dynamic, if not ever-so-slightly chaotic order that the Prince favours. In winter he is also a dab hand at the traditional art of hedge laying (he is Patron of the UK Hedge Laying Association) in which hedgerow plants and bushes are carefully cut and woven to form a living barrier that maintains biodiversity while also enclosing stock animals.
At once an exhibition of his ideas and a sanctuary from the business of his everyday life, Prince Charles’ garden clearly represents a core aspect of his life’s philosophy.
“If you garden as in a dream you will take people with you,” he says. “Because I believe we are all connected on that deep and fundamental level.”