Prince Charles’ patch of par­adise

Prince Charles’ High­grove gar­den is a place for the royal to re­ally ex­press him­self. In an exclusive in­ter­view, the heir to the throne, who turns 70 this month, talks to Juliet Rieden about how the Queen Mother in­spired him and his de­light at see­ing his c

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents -

If you want to un­der­stand the Prince of Wales, what makes him tick, how he works, his deep loves, pri­vate pas­sions and quiet re ec­tions, the gar­den at High­grove is where the royal’s soul is laid bare. High­grove is Prince Charles’ own cre­ation where his per­son­al­ity, his hopes, dreams, be­liefs, artis­tic sen­si­bil­ity and sense of hu­mour are all on dis­play.

The gar­dens and house at High­grove are much more than a bolt­hole from Lon­don’s glare and bus­tle. Un­like Birkhall, the Scot­tish home he in­her­ited from his grand­mother along­side his mother’s Bal­moral Cas­tle es­tate, or Clarence House, his town house in Lon­don next to St James’s Palace, Prince Charles pur­chased High­grove him­self in 1980. It is a Ge­or­gian house in the heart of pic­ture-post­card Glouces­ter­shire where he grew the gar­den from scratch, sav­ing only the yews – now top­i­arised into unique struc­tural shapes – and the orig­i­nal cedar tree.

Ev­ery­thing at High­grove has been, and con­tin­ues to be, metic­u­lously planned and cho­sen by the Prince, he lit­er­ally leaves no stone un­turned. It’s a show­case for his pas­sion for or­ganic gar­den­ing and farm­ing, and rig­or­ously puts into ac­tion sus­tain­able prac­tices. The fruit and veg­eta­bles eaten at High­grove and his other res­i­dences around the UK are all grown here, from gs and as­para­gus to His Royal High­ness’s favourite pur­ple car­rots. And it is here where this father and grand­fa­ther erected a tree­house for Princes Wil­liam and Harry to play in as chil­dren, which has now been re­mod­elled for Prince Ge­orge and Princess Char­lotte and no doubt

Prince Louis.

So, to cel­e­brate the royal’s 70th birth­day, The Weekly was hon­oured to be wel­comed into this very spe­cial coun­try re­treat which means so much to His Royal High­ness, and to hear di­rect from the Prince about its deep per­sonal signi cance.

“As you can per­haps imag­ine, af­ter very nearly 40 years of, as it were, ‘paint­ing a pic­ture’ on what was then a to­tally blank can­vas of a gar­den, it all means a great deal to me now,” Prince Charles ex­plains. “This is es­pe­cially so when I look out of the win­dows of the house at the var­i­ous views I had planned and to see them grad­u­ally com­ing to fruition.

“What the gar­den means to me now is that, above all, not only has it be­come a haven for some of the rare and en­dan­gered va­ri­eties that 40 years ago were be­ing reck­lessly dis­carded in a world driven by short-ter­mism, con­ve­nience and a rash dis­re­gard for na­ture’s place in the scheme of things, but I hope it may also have be­come a more har­mo­nious place from which to draw in­spi­ra­tion,” he adds.

A se­cret gar­den

From the mo­ment you stop on to Prince Charles’ High­grove es­tate, through a wild ower meadow dot­ted with bulbs – this year there are late- ow­er­ing daf­fodils named af­ter him as a 70th birth­day gift – you en­ter a world of nat­u­ral won­der. You won’t nd clipped lawns and grandiose state­ments, al­though there are stun­ning stat­ues, in­tri­cate doors and gates, tem­ples and mon­u­ments, pieces from trav­els and made by stu­dents from his tra­di­tional arts and craft schools, re­claimed blocks of stone and com­plex hor­ti­cul­tural cre­ations.

“What I have tried to do with the gar­den is to cre­ate a mix­ture of for­mal­ity and in­for­mal­ity in or­der to en­gen­der a sense of har­mony,”

ex­plains the Prince. “But I al­ways feel the real se­cret is to in­tro­duce el­e­ments of the in­for­mal into the for­mal parts of the gar­den, such as al­low­ing plants to spill over bor­ders onto paths.”

The re­sult is ut­terly cap­ti­vat­ing and con­tin­u­ally evolv­ing.

Debs Good­e­nough is Prince Charles’ head gar­dener and one of a team of 11 who help ex­e­cute his vi­sion. “He knows his plants very well. It’s re­ally nice to work for some­one who knows his gar­den­ing el­e­ments and he knows what he likes and you get that in­put im­me­di­ately,” she says. “It’s not a com­mit­tee. Colours are re­ally im­por­tant to His Royal High­ness and also scent, which we try to add wher­ever we can. He es­pe­cially loves del­phini­ums; we have lots of them.”

This is my sec­ond visit to the gar­den and so much has changed. Wild or­chids which were hardly no­tice­able on my last visit are now all through the mead­ows, and there is a glorious, vivid aza­lea walk, newly planted for Prince Charles’ 70th. The Is­lamic Car­pet Gar­den with its aqua and blue mo­saic, pink walls and white pe­onies is as trans­port­ing as I re­mem­ber, while the in­crease in bulbs – Debs tells me she plants an eye-wa­ter­ing 50,000 a year – is very ev­i­dent. The gate which the Prince brought back from In­dia has been renamed the Shand Gate af­ter the Duchess of Corn­wall’s beloved brother, Mark Shand, who

died sud­denly in 2014, and a new ad­di­tion is a top­i­ary ele­phant, a gift from the Duchess, a memo­rial to her brother’s Ele­phant Fam­ily char­ity.

“I am al­ways in­trigued that peo­ple com­ing to High­grove for the rst time seem to ex­pect the whole place to be fright­fully for­mal,” says the Prince. “I can only say that I am de­lighted they are nicely sur­prised by the un­ex­pected, quirky as­pects of the gar­den that, I hope, give it its char­ac­ter.”

“They come in ex­pect­ing Ver­sailles and it bowls them over,” ex­plains Debs. “And the thing is, it wasn’t here when he came. It’s some­thing he cre­ated. It’s his de­tail, his ideas, it comes right from him.”

While Prince Charles typ­i­cally likes to ef­fect change quickly in his work, here pa­tience is para­mount. “Work­ing with na­ture is al­ways hum­bling be­cause ev­ery­thing takes much longer than you would want, and so cre­at­ing the gar­den has, there­fore, been a jour­ney which I am still on, like so many other gar­den­ers,” he says. “It com­bines a whole va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent el­e­ments which are pro­foundly im­por­tant to me.”

The heir to the throne is of­ten found gar­den­ing here. “He likes prun­ing, he’s re­ally good at it, and he still plants,” says Debs. And when he’s in res­i­dence, the Prince heads straight out for walk­a­bouts with Deb.

“I al­ways ask him if he wants to do things him­self in the gar­den and if he says yes he will ask, ‘can you leave me a wheel­bar­row and spade, string and canes’, what­ever suits what he’s do­ing. I’m sure that be­ing in the gar­den is very ther­a­peu­tic for him.”

Prince Wil­liam’s tree­house

As a young boy Prince Charles was al­ways cu­ri­ous about na­ture and rel­ished spend­ing days out­doors learn­ing about all the dif­fer­ent plants. “I re­mem­ber that my sis­ter and I had a very small plot of our own in a hid­den cor­ner of the gar­den at Buck­ing­ham Palace where we grew veg­eta­bles,” he re­calls. “But I sus­pect I was most in uenced as a child by my grand­mother Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother’s gar­dens at Royal Lodge in Wind­sor Great Park, and at Birkhall in Scot­land. I adored both these gar­dens as they had the kind of spe­cial fea­tures that in­evitably ap­peal to chil­dren. As a re­sult, in plan­ning and de­sign­ing my own gar­den at High­grove, I have drawn on all the fea­tures and lit­tle de­tails that gave me par­tic­u­lar joy and in­ter­est as a child. Need­less to say, it is fas­ci­nat­ing to watch new gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren re­spond­ing ex­actly as I had hoped, and in the same way I did.”

The tree­house at High­grove sits in an oth­er­worldly wood­land area known as the Stumpery. Here plants grow out of tree trunks, ferns un­furl and dif­fer­ent ow­ers through­out the year pop up out of the ground. There are some of the Prince’s fa­mous col­lec­tion of hostas, and also toad­stools carved from wood, a top­i­ary snail and more. “There’s an al­most pre­his­toric feel­ing in the win­ter,” says Debs.

This is also where in 1988, ‘Holy­rood House’ was con­structed, a fun rus­tic tree house which was built for the Prince by de­signer Wil­lie Ber­tram when Wil­liam and Harry were aged ve and three. Wil­lie talked to

Prince Wil­liam be­fore he de­signed the play­house and in Prince Charles’s book High­grove: A Gar­den Cel­e­brated he re­veals the telling re­mit de­liv­ered by young Will. “At the in­ter­view the young prince said ‘I want it to be as high as pos­si­ble so I can get away from ev­ery­one and I want a rope lad­der which I can pull up so no one can get at me’.”

The house was perched up in a holly tree for Wil­liam and Harry to play in, but when I visit I nd it pitched lower,

with steps of stone and wood up to the en­trance and a new thatched roof. “It’s all back in good shape,” says Deb when I sug­gest its new po­si­tion may well be to suit the pat­ter of tiny grand­chil­dren’s feet.

“Chil­dren al­ways love run­ning round lit­tle paths, pad­dling in foun­tains, get­ting lost in mazes,

nd­ing things to eat in a kitchen gar­den and, of course, play­ing hap­pily in a tree­house,” says Prince Charles. “In­evitably, my grand­chil­dren rather en­joy some of those things in the gar­den at High­grove. No doubt when they are older, they will nd ev­ery­thing in the gar­den look­ing smaller than they re­mem­ber it as chil­dren, ex­cept per­haps the trees I have got them to plant.”

Also pok­ing out of a thicket and look­ing dis­tinctly out of place is a gaudy gar­den gnome. I’m told the Prince was gifted it, car­ried it into the gar­den and then it dropped out his hand, break­ing the poor fel­low in two.

“The legs came off and His Royal High­ness pushed it down some­where and said ‘it’s there for the guides to nd’. And so he moves it about ev­ery year and they have to nd it ev­ery year,” says Debs, laugh­ing.

Also in this area is the magni cent and poignant Temple of Wor­thies, a memo­rial ded­i­cated to the Queen Mother af­ter she died in 2002, and made from green oak fea­tur­ing a cen­tral re­lief of the royal – a quite uncanny like­ness. “She’s in her gar­den­ing hat with a feather stuck in the top,” says Debs. “She is look­ing over the area that His Royal High­ness planted orig­i­nally.”

I ask the Prince if the Queen Mother ever saw his gar­den. “My grand­mother did come to High­grove, but only in the ear­lier days when I was in the process of mak­ing the gar­den,” he replies. “As al­ways, she was won­der­fully en­cour­ag­ing about my very amateur ef­forts, and my great­est sad­ness has been the fact that I could never show her the gar­den as it has now be­come, nor the ad­di­tions I have made to the gar­den at Birkhall. In both these gar­dens, and at Clarence House, her spirit and in uence live on.”

Above: The bor­ders in the Kitchen Gar­den are filled with Prince Charles’ favourite del­phini­ums. Be­low: The av­enue from the Sun­dial Gar­den to the Kitchen Gar­den. Be­low right: The Queen Mother watches over her grand­son’s work.

Prince Charles de­signed The mag­i­cal Is­lamic Car­pet Gar­den (above) for the 2001 Chelsea Flower Show and won a Sil­ver-Gilt medal. The gar­den was then trans­ported to High­grove. Be­low: Pur­ple wis­te­ria blooms on the south wall of the house.

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