A Visit to Highgrove Gardens

A Visit to Charles at Highgrove

June 14, 2012

            Early this year I saw an article that advertised that Highgrove, the home of HRH Charles, the Prince of Wales (one of his homes) would be open for tours of the garden.  I immediately tracked down the times and dates and such on the internet and saw that you could have a champagne tea at the end of your garden tour.   We must have looked up to see where Highgrove was at the time we ordered the tickets but today, we had forgotten and were a bit dismayed to see it was almost a 2 hour drive away from us.  OH well, the chance to see a Royal Garden is very enticing and a champagne tea afterwards.  Goodie.


My husband only works ½ day but luckily I call him to remind him it is time to leave to pick me up.  I am looking in vain through the information sent to me which states very clearly that I would have detailed directions to get there but all I found was a postal code.  At least the GPS knew it must be a single address because it didn’t ask me for a house number.  We set off and we were within the view of the checkered flag on our Sat Nav but we were early and the instructions definitely said don’t arrive more than 10 minutes early because they had limited parking so we pulled into a side parking off the road and ate a packed lunch.  Our tea was several hours away.


We got back on the road to still be a bit early when we realized that the GPS was telling us to turn into the front drive of Highgrove which was blocked off with cones.  Further down the road was an entrance but absolutely nothing to tell us if it was the right place or not.  We circled past that entrance several times before decided it had to be it and we were right as we were now in a short queue with a policeman checking our tickets and our identification.  He directs us to the parking lot where our tickets and identification is checked again and then we park and go into the Orchard House where we will begin our tour.


We get to see a video of Charles first as he tells us how he came to own Highgrove and viewed its potential as a wonderful place for a garden and with the help of travels and gardeners and ideas and such, it has grown into a wonderful place for sustainability and organic farming and gardening.  He also pushed his charities a bit and then let us get on to the part of visiting the garden.  Much to my disappointment, he wasn’t actually there to greet us.  Well, I expect no one told him that I was going to be there today so he had staying in London or elsewhere on business.


John was our guide and took us out into the parking lot to give us some more background on the garden before we went into the first section.  He never gave us a lot of plant names or pointed out this plant or that one rather more than the huge ones or if someone asked but rather spent a lot of time explaining how one section of the garden had come to be and what it was before.  He was interesting and I did enjoy his stories.


The gardens themselves were wonderful.  A lot of them look overgrown but they aren’t really, they are full and lush and pretty with a lot of the flower plants already gone but getting ready for the summer plants to bloom.  The garden had a lot of different “garden within a garden”  areas separated by old stone walls or yew trees and shrubs planted and cut into fantastic shapes which included a huge snail, a huge frog and a squirrel.  There were things all over the garden to see besides plants as well.  Huge urns and vases, stone work, sculptures, tree houses, the stumpery, fountains and more.  I liked the stumpery the best.  It was an area where stumps have been left and used to support other stumps and plants and it probably is very spooky in the winter when there isn’t any greenery but now, it was quite lovely and I’d like to have my own stumpery.


The only problem with the tour was no photography allowed.  I can understand that they need to protect the Prince and I can also understand that if people were allowed to take photos, they would be in the garden forever.  Still, it was a big disappointment not to have any photographic remembrances to the tour.


Our last stop before the tea was the carpet garden which was patterned after Turkish rugs from inside the house with a small fountain that spilled water into channels that ran between the plants.  It was set up for the 2001 Chelsea Garden Show.  I don’t recall seeing anything that lovely at the garden show this year.


By now, it was drizzling on us so we were glad to get out of the rain and into the Orchard Room for our Champagne Tea.  We were sitting with a gentleman for the Netherlands who comes over to visit gardens for a week to 10 days every year and often visits the same gardens at different times of the year to see them in the different seasons.


We get our ½ glass of champagne.  I have learned already that a champagne tea always seems to mean just ½ glass of champagne.  They never come around and give you any more champagne but we did get two pots of tea, one for our Holland friend and one for me and a pot of coffee for my husband.  Our tea also consisted of finger sandwiches, about 4 apiece and a scone apiece and some candies.  All were delicious but we couldn’t manage to finish all the sandwiches or candies.


Still raining so we took a little time to look in the gift shop.  There were some lovely gardening things in there plus some great teapots and wine glasses and of course some of Highgrove’s own wines and jams and chutneys.  There were some plants for sale as well but we ended up with a very pretty blue glass water jar and a couple of lovely wine glasses as all of our glasses are mismatched and ordinary.  Now we have two nice ones.


Time to go.  The parking lot is almost empty and the only one remaining on duty is the policeman at the gate who opens it to let us out.  It is pouring rain by now so we get a long drive home in the rain.


Very nice visit and a nice day even if we didn’t get to see Charles and didn’t get invited into the house.  It’s a lovely garden and I would certainly go again.


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