Highbrow at Highgrove

I recently spent the day at Prince Charles’ country estate, Highgrove.

I did not travel the two hours to Gloucestershire to view the house, or what the English call another “stone pile”, but rather to experience the beautiful garden that the Prince has cultivated over the past 20 years.

The word, garden, is a bit of an understatement to describe the 900 acres that Prince Charles has transformed from barren fields grazed upon by lazy sheep to lush, themed enclaves bursting with bounty and beauty.

The garden at Highgrove embodies the Prince’s environmental philosophy: that it is better to work with Nature than against it.  When Prince Charles bought the Highgrove estate in 1980, he was adamant that it should be an entirely organic garden and farm that preserves rather than destroys the natural environment.  Everything here has a purpose.  The butterflies and birds help pollinate the flowers.  The frogs who live in the lily ponds around the moss fountain eat the the slugs in the surrounding foliage.  The outlining sun-baked brick walls provide heat that the pears and apples absorb as they climb along their surface.  On and on it goes.  For someone like me with a black thumb, it was truly fascinating.

A beautiful moss fountain sits in the middle of the Walled Garden, a vegetable and fruit grove that provides the household with all its organic produce.   Beds of flowers are interspersed among the vegetables and fruits in a well organized, but seemingly haphazard pattern.  Yet,when looked upon from an aerial view, the garden’s carefully manicured sections represent the Union Jack!

Every door and gate is decorative and is placed strategically at the end of a vista to draw the eye and “finish” a view.  Willows branches are often used to create natural tunnels, and paths are lined with vegetation.

Nestled deep in the interior, the Prince’s quaint private cottage reminded me of the gingerbread house visited by Hansel and Gretel.  Here he retires to paint the watercolors that adorn the buildings on the property.  His artwork is actually quite impressive, and his garden and the surrounding countryside provide endless inspiration.

Copied from the book I purchased, this is the view the Prince sees each morning from his bedroom window.  It reminds me of an Alice in Wonderland landscape with varied fanciful topiaries and structured clipped hedges.  Here it would not be surprising to see the Queen of Hearts to march along the paths trailed by her army of cards.  It is no small feat to maintain these meticulous sculpted shapes; it takes a crew of fifteen master gardeners 9 months to completely finish trimming the hedges that adorn the property.

The gardens are full of bronze statues, memorial plaques, historical busts, and recycled ecclesiastical stone.  These decorations adorn every path, wall, and hidden recess, adding significance to the various enclaves.  My favorite was the stone memorial to Tigga, the Prince’s beloved dog who used to accompany him on his walks along the garden paths.  This is the spot where she frequently got left behind when the Prince closed a gate forgetting that she was still milling about.  To memorialize Lucy, we’d have to carve a plaque into the door of the kitchen pantry, her most beloved spot in our house!

After the tour, we settled into the lovely restaurant on the property to sip the Prince’s favorite blend of tea and to enjoy a lunch of delicious food all sourced from the garden.

Though the Mad Hatter did not join our tea party, I felt as though I had stepped through the looking glass and entered an alternate magical universe, brimming with beauty and filled with settings reminiscent of fairy tales.

I had my own adventure in Wonderland.

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