Cookham & Cookham Dean
To create a garden is to search for a better world. Whether the result is a horticultural masterpiece or only a modest vegetable patch, it is based on the expectation of a glorious future
Whatever one’s opinions of Prince Charles, and his suitability or otherwise as a future King, I think most of us who were lucky enough to be on the trip to Highgrove recently would agree that he has created there a truly memorable garden. It helps of course to have plenty of money and to be able to enlist the help of people like Rosemary Verey, Sir Roy Strong and Miriam Rothschild in the planning, but the overall concept is his as is the philosophy of organic gardening and recycling or composting absolutely everything.
We were met by our guide, Fiona Wharton, who for the next two hours led us through the different areas of the 15-acre garden and told us of the aims and ideas that shaped the way it had all been planned. The first part we visited, after passing through one of the many attractive gates in the garden, was a laurel tunnel underplanted with hostas, ferns and hellebores. HRH now has almost the national collection of hostas, as well as one of ferns. This then led us to a pond and bog area, from where we had a view of the house through a path bordered by many “balls” of yellow yew, all showing different styles of topiary by the 10 gardeners employed at Highgrove. Each gardener had apparently been allowed a free hand to cut the yew in the shape or pattern he wanted, the result being a very varied assortment of shapes and designs. 3500 thyme plants had been obtained from Jekka McVicar to underplant along the path. A feature of the garden is that, from each of the 4 sides of the house, there is a vista along an alley of trees or shrubs leading to another distinct area of interest.
The pond itself had a large central “sculpture” made of Spanish holey limestone and designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, 2 designers who are responsible for many of the structures and focal points in the garden. This was topped by a huge gunnera and was most effective. Elsewhere around the pond were large rocks whose flat tops were covered with beds of moss. Nearby a large ornamental yew hedge traverses a considerable area of the garden and the clippings from this are collected on white sheets and sent to a nearby centre for processing into the cancer drug, taxol.
Our tour took us through the Mediterranean garden, where salvias, achilleas, rosemary and honeysuckle thrive, then on to the 6-acre wildflower meadow
which contains many camassias among the usual poppies, oxeye daisies and dandelions. Miriam Rothschild advised the Prince on the planting here. Here also the Prince has the national beech collection which is still at a fairly early stage.
The Stumpery is a really unusual feature, 2 wooden temples built from green oak like pieces of stone facing each other across a grass circle and bordered by huge upturned stumps of sweet chestnut roots from Cowdray Park in Sussex. The effect is amazing, like large teeth and antlers, and with hellebores and ferns planted all around. Nearby is the Southern Hemisphere garden, containing tree ferns, phormiums, lilies, gunneras, more ferns and eucomis.
The kitchen garden is every vegetable gardener’s dream. Walled, of course, with tunnels of espalier apples, sweet peas and runner beans and beds edged with box. Olive trees are also there, wrapped in bubblewrap in winter for protection. All the vegetables grown are used in the house. This leads into the arboretum which is bordered on 3 sides by a ha-ha – Sir Roy Strong gave some advice here.
The soil at Highgrove is mainly alkaline, but there is an acid strip where acers have been planted. The centrepiece is a sculpture of 4 girls, about 4’ high, in bronze, by Frederic Hart, in a small clearing. This is one of many sculptures throughout the garden, most having been given to the Prince by the artists themselves. Other interesting features were the groups of pots we saw in many places, all looking so right in their setting, and the many attractive gates into the different areas. Everywhere there are lovely seats, either at the end of a path or set round a large tree, and always seeming to be in just the right place.
The cottage garden was a riot of colour and very much reflected the style of Rosemary Verey who advised the Prince on the planting. Nearby was the Tulip Walk, an avenue of fastigiate hornbeam leading from the south side of the house and set in a field which is planted with over 8000 purple tulips every year. The Prince had originally planned to line the avenue with beech, but was advised to use hornbeam instead as it is more hardy.
Around the house are other distinct areas – the Sundial Garden, or black and white garden, where black grasses, black violas and bronze-stemmed dahlias are mixed with white flowers such as snowdrops and aquilegia. The Terrace Garden on the west side where the focal point is a small pond with a millstone in the centre. The ground is paved with flagstones and cobbles and planted with mature shrubs and roses, with low-growing plants such as lavender, alliums, pinks, osteospermum and alchemilla mollis between the stones. There is also a raised acid bed for azaleas and rhododendrons.
The last area we visited was the Carpet Garden, re-created 2 years ago at the Chelsea Flower Show. It is in the Moorish style and the colours are based on an oriental carpet owned by the Prince. It is quite small compared to other parts of the garden but very charming, with small channels of water giving a cool effect. From here we made our way to the Orchard House, a building specially constructed in the local style to house the shop and a large refreshment area, where we were given tea or coffee and delicious Duchy biscuits. Of great interest were the displays of photographs showing the progress of Highgrove garden since Prince Charles bought the property from the Macmillan family in 1981.
It was a truly memorable visit, and I have found it hard to summarise such a varied range of planting and design styles in a comparatively short article. The overall impression was one of great creativity and imagination, and of an owner who, wherever possible, wants nature to take its course but to enhance the effect at the same time. He has been able to take the advice of experts but it is definitely “his” garden and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see it and learn about its development.
Affiliated to the Royal
President: Mabel Vevers
Vice Presidents: John Linegar & Barbara Samuels
Chairman: Brian Thompson
Vice Chairman: Susie Tremlett
Secretary: Diana Benson 472163 firstname.lastname@example.org
Treasurer: Janet Shanks
Programme Secretary: Mary Fallon and Susie Tremlett
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