The gardens of Highgrove House

Highgrove's team of a dozen gardeners harness nature to create this organic paradise in Gloucestershire.
Late summer and early autumn are spectacular in the gardens of Highgrove House, the Gloucestershire country home of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. In September, the crimson glory vine at the front of the house takes on deep burgundy tints, the dahlias, asters, echinaceas, fuchsias and blue salvias are in full fling, the Japanese maples and katsura tree lead the colour pageant in the arboretum and the apple arch in the Kitchen Garden is laden with fruit.

The gardens of Highgrove
© Andrew Butler
An avenue of golden yew, clipped into novel shapes, lines the Thymes Walk behind the house

SPECIAL H&P OFFER: HIGHGROVE GARDEN TOURS SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER 2013
Book a Highgrove garden tour and receive a free copy of the guide book (worth £6.95) and a pot of tea or coffee.
Read more and book...


The collection of large-leaved hostas remains remarkably hole-free, thanks to the garden's ecosystem where predator eats pest, one of the bonuses of managing the garden to organic and sustainable principles as Charles has done for the past 30 years.

"Highgrove does look neat and tidy, but it's soft around the edges," said head gardener Debs Goodenough, who oversees a team of gardeners and trainees to manage the 15 acres. "Gardening organically is actually easier: it's about having a more relaxed attitude and being aware of what is most important to do at the time. Deadheading isn't essential at this time of year — leave the seedheads to decorate the garden and feed the birds — but getting your bulbs planted is. When you have the robins following you around and the butterflies have been so phenomenal this summer, why cut it all down now?"

Spring preparation
This is an especially busy time of year at Highgrove: seed from choice varieties of annuals, such as nicotiana, nasturtium and poppy as well as peas, are collected for sowing in the spring, high-performance perennials such as alchemilla and nepeta are cut back to deliver fresh foliage, topiary is shaped, hedges are cut and over 30,000 bulbs are planted in the next two months.

Bulbs are chosen for their sustainability as much as their good looks, so Anemone blanda, crocuses and varieties of muscarigrape hyacinth — that naturalise are top of the list; Muscari armenaicum Early Giant, a deep blue, is planted among the catmint to accentuate the silvery foliage. Tulips are mostly reserved for containers, and the following year they will be planted to provide flowers for the house.

The gardens of Highgrove
© Andrew Butler
The vibrant Carpet Garden was inspired by a Turkish carpet and originally shown at Chelsea Flower Show (left); Cretan pots are planted with colourful bedding and grouped together for maximum impact (right)

At this time of year, a bed or border might be thoroughly cleared, to invigorate it for future plantings. "This will work for a bed that's two feet by two feet or 20ft by 20ft," said Goodenough.

Gardeners clear the ground, digging it over, in sizeable sections. They take out weed-infested or sickly plants, and hold others in pots until they can use them. Then they plant bulbs for a spring display, and after they've flowered, dig those up and sow or add plugs of annuals.

When the annuals have finished, the bed is dug over again, sown with green manure such as pretty purple-flowered phacelia, and planted permanently the following spring. This lengthy but clever technique means the soil is reinvigorated while displays continue. Troublesome weeds here are ground elder and bindweed, which likes the Cotswold stone walls. The team dig it out where they can, and make a path like a firebreak at the back of the wall, so they can spot where it starts to creep in. A mowing strip between hedge and border allows for mowing before bindweed invades the borders.

There are some exceptional plants at Highgrove, but most are not out of the ordinary. The gardeners look for hardworking plants that are tried and tested such as Sedum Autumn Joy, Fuchsia magellanica and hydrangeas, that still look good even when the flowers are waning.

SPECIAL H&P OFFER: HIGHGROVE GARDEN TOURS SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER 2013
Book a Highgrove garden tour and receive a free copy of the guide book (worth £6.95) and a pot of tea or coffee.
Read more and book...

Follow us on Twitter @HomesProperty and Facebook

Comments