Sunday, 29 August 2010
By Royal Appointment
Now it's not every day that a prince of the realm comes to your assistance with plant identity queries but that's what happened when we visited Highgrove last week. To readers who might are not familiar with the British royal family, Highgrove is the estate of the Prince of Wales which comes complete with some 13 acres of gardens. I have been puzzling over the name of the above autumn flowering plant in my garden and there it was for sale in the plant sales area of the Highgrove shop most obligingly labelled. Out came the notebook and pen.
Our garden club applied to visit Highgrove some ten years ago and finally got the royal seal of approval last October. Although perhaps not the best time of year to visit any garden I was looking forward to the occasion but then had to pull out because my presence was required elsewhere by family. That was that or so I thought ~ another ten years or more to wait but happily since then the system for visits has changed and our garden club was offered another visit which we made last Monday.
We ambled down to a warm and sunny Cirencester in our camper van on the Sunday but unfortunately the severe weather warning materialised into reality overnight. Camper van plus lashings of torrential rain resulted in little sleep for me but himself snored his way through the dark hours. Waking to dull leaden grey skies we made our way to Tetbury where we met up with the rest of the group ~ I was so pleased that himself had decided to become an honoury garden club member for the day and was accompanying me on the visit. From Tetbury a short journey to Highgrove, where our coach was greeted and searched by her one of her majesty's constabulary at the gates before being waved on to park up. We were formally welcomed and once our credentials had been checked we were introduced to our official guide for the visit.
Photos are not allowed presumably for security reasons, so I am unable to illustrate this post with photos of our visit, otherwise the first one you would see would be of our group taking shelter underneath trees, as an amazing torrential cloudburst descended on us less than five minutes walk into our tour. The look of horor on people's faces was priceless. To say we got wet is an understatement - himself had to take off his undies, when we eventually got back to the van some three hours or so later. However at least it was warm rain and only lasted for ten minutes or so before we were able to squelch onwards, through some alarmingly large puddles. I now know that my trainers are waterproof. By the time we approached the Woodland Garden the foliage was sparkling as much to our joy the sun had emerged. This turned out to be my favourite part of the garden ~ I could have quite happily stayed there for hours but our guide pressed us forward after a magical but albeit too quick a glimpse. I also particularly enjoyed seeing the Southern Hemisphere garden, the Walled Kitchen Garden, the Carpet Garden and the famous Thyme Walk. It was a delight to see some of the beautiful and unusual trees which have been planted by the prince over the last thirty years. You can read more about some of them here.
I drooled over some of the statues, sculptures, huge urns and other artefacts that we came across. I coveted the 150 year old olive tree that has recently been planted on the terrace outside the house. Apparently the terrace had been out of bounds to visitors this summer so we were most fortunate to be one of the first groups to see this new addition close up. I was delighted to see that there were weeds despite the presence of nine or so gardeners. I had expected to be wowed by the contents of the planted containers near the house but that was not the case and there were one or two other disappointments. I was upset to discover that the two hundred year old giant cedar of Lebanon which I had seen in photos is no more. I did not particularly warm to the various busts of H.R.H. and other prominent people that were dotted about the garden but then I suppose when you are the recipient of such gifts you are obliged to display them.
All in all it was a most interesting and memorable afternoon. Although the garden is very much the creation of an influential and an undeniably extremely wealthy man there were still ideas that I could take home and incorporate in my garden. I would really welcome the opportunity to visit again in another season. In the meantime as this still might be some time off, I am now reading 'The Garden at Highgrove' by Candida Lycett Green as well as looking forward to a television programme featuring the garden, which is due to be screened on BBC2 in the next few months. This will show the garden in June. I am also looking forward to hearing about the experiences of a bunch of fellow bloggers and tweeple led by The Patient Gardener who will be descending on Highgrove later this week. H.R.H. has been warned that they are on their way!