Attending a royal garden party, making a visit to a school, taking a tour of a local factory or meeting with community leaders—they’re all in a day’s work for Prince Charles, the Duke of Cornwall. In fact, he clocked 546 official engagements in 2017, more than any other member of the British Royal Family.
But given time to himself, the Prince would prefer to be getting his hands dirty in the gardens of Highgrove House, his private residence in Gloucestershire (and Camila has confessed that she prefers gardening to royal duties too!).
The gardens at Highgrove are world-famous, partly because a member of the British Royal Family has overseen their development very closely for more than 35 years, and partly because they’re a model of sustainable gardening, something Prince Charles is passionate about. His aim is to have a garden that is as eco-friendly as possible, and here’s how it’s done.
The beautiful Georgian house at Highgrove is festooned with climbing plants such as wisteria, honeysuckle and jasmine, creating a true country garden feel. But the house is also fitted with solar panels, making it energy-efficient and economical to heat.
Rainwater is collected to minimize the use of other water for keeping all the plants well hydrated. Systems have been installed to keep everything irrigated using rainwater.
There’s also a reed bed sewage system, so that all waste is processed naturally and the cleaned water fed back into the garden. You might not want to go that far, but here’s how to build a rain barrel in your backyard.
Every gardener knows that good, rich compost is the key to successful growing, and the gardens are Highgrove are no exception to this rule. Kitchen and garden waste is carefully composted to make the most of leftovers, weeds and cuttings, and the compost is used to enhance growth and also as mulch. Our guide to building a compost bin, and our tips for composting, tell you all you need to know to get started.
Everything at Highgrove is grown organically—flowers, fruit and vegetables alike. Prince Charles is determined that no chemicals are used, and instead the garden relies on the use of natural fertilizers. For example, more than 100 wheelbarrows full of manure from the Prince’s cattle herds are used in the garden every year. This approach also extends to the vegetables grown at the estate’s farm, Home Farm. And, the animals are only given homeopathic remedies rather than antibiotics.
Natural pest and weed control
The Prince won’t tolerate the use of chemical pest control either. He prefers to rely on local wildlife: bugs to feast on the aphids, birds to gobble up the slugs and snails, and even the local stoats (weasels) to keep the rabbit population in check.
And, he doesn’t allow chemicals to be used for weed control, preferring instead to rely on organic methods that protect the soil and don’t leave residue on fruit and vegetables. If you prefer organic weed control methods, check out our handy guide.
Gardening for wildlife
Several areas of the gardens are planted with a keen eye on keeping things natural and sustainable.
The Cottage Garden is filled with traditional garden flowers, and consists of two sections, with an emphasis on blooms that are attractive to bees and butterflies. (These plants are great for providing nectar for bees, and these are good for attracting butterflies). The older garden has old favorites like crocuses, tulips, and the Prince’s favorite flower delphiniums. The newer section, inspired by Tibetan silks, has flowers in yellow, pink and blue.
The Victorians were fond of growing ferns among tree stumps, creating an ideal wildlife habitat, and Prince Charles has developed this theme at Highgrove in The Stumpery.
Highgrove Gardens’ Thyme Walk has over 20 varieties of thyme, a magnet for nectar-loving species for weeks at a time. You might not have room for 20 varieties of thyme, but here are some perfect herbs to grow in pots.
Wildflower meadows are in serious decline in the U.K. So in 1982, the Prince established his own, including species such as ox-eye daisies, buttercups, dandelions, poppies, ragged robin, yellow rattle, lent lilies and ice follies. It’s managed as a traditional hay meadow, and is now home to wild orchids as well, providing a natural habitat for bees, butterflies, ladybugs and more. Sheep graze the meadow in the fall to tread seeds back into the ground.
Highgrove House Gardens are open to the public, with guided tours available. If you’re passionate about sustainable gardening, there’s no better model than this famous garden, personally managed by the Prince of Wales himself.
Photo: Courtesy of Orion Publishing/Amazon