Inside King Charles’ garden at Highgrove

Highgrove view across the Thyme Walk

Highgrove and its gardens have been the private sanctuary of His Majesty King Charles for over 40 years. He has transformed the once rather neglected grounds into a garden that reflects his passions and showcases his organic principles. The King has created a series of unique and beautiful spaces within the garden, including a dramatic fern-filled stumpery, a highly productive and beautiful walled kitchen garden, that provides the kitchens with many of the King’s favourite vegetables, and an arboretum. The gardens at Highgrove are now regarded as one of the great gardens of our time.

Join Alan Titchmarsh as he explores the exquisite design and planting, with Head of Gardens for the Kings’ Foundation Melissa Simpson, and uncovers the principles of environmental stewardship that are at their heart. Our cameras will take you behind the scenes, to reveal how a team of passionate gardeners use entirely organic methods to create a garden fit for a king.

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Alan Titchmarsh: “It was not the most hospitable weather – fine drizzle – but it did nothing to dampen our spirits as I walked around Highgrove with Head of Gardens for the King’s Foundation Melissa Simpson. I’ve visited quite a lot in the 40 years that The King has called Highgrove home, in all seasons of the year, and the thing that strikes you most about the garden here is that it reflects the passion and personality of its owner. With a walled kitchen garden to die for, wildflower meadows and more formal areas close to the house, this is a garden of great variety and atmosphere.

“Quality of workmanship is everywhere evident, whether it is in the construction of garden buildings – from summerhouses to rustic structures in woodland – or the varied nature of the plant collection here which celebrates The King’s interest in nature and botany every bit as much as in the continued survival of rural crafts such as hedge laying and dry stone walling. You’ll gather from this that I am a fan of the gardens at Highgrove. They have a magical quality all their own – regardless of the weather – which I hope you can detect in the film we made. In Melissa Simpson, The King has an able lieutenant who understands the need for the evolution of a garden and the management needed to keep it vibrant and lively whatever its age and style.”

The gardens at Highgrove

Daffodils in the wildflower meadow at Highgrove
Daffodils in the wildflower meadow at Highgrove

Since 2021, the gardens have been overseen by His Majesty’s charity, The King’s Foundation, which acts as custodian of the gardens and manages their opening to the public, as well as offering traditional craft programmes at specialist workshops on site. The Foundation manages other gardens in Scotland at its flagship headquarters Dumfries House and at Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s beloved property, The Castle of Mey.

Sundial Garden

The south front of Highgrove house looks onto the Sundial Garden, and is smothered in sweetly scented climbers such as wisteria, honeysuckle and jasmine. In 1981, Lady Salisbury and the King started designing the space to create somewhere sheltered (by yew hedges) from the winds, and the cameras of the paparazzi. The layout is of a semi-formal English garden. There is an area of paving next to the house, where the King can have breakfast in the sunshine. The Yorkstone paving was lifted from the back entrance and cleaned up and reused, in keeping with the environmentally conscious approach to the garden. The sundial was a wedding gift from the Duke of Beaufort.

Wildflower meadow

The wildflower meadow is one of the most iconic areas of Highgrove. Appalled by the over-reliance on chemicals of modern farming and gardening techniques, The King was keen to create a traditional meadow at Highgrove. In spring, crocuses and daffodils are the first flowers to bloom in this area, followed by tulips, and then by many many wildflowers. The King has a wildflower seed mix sown, called Farmers Nightmare, which includes poppies, corn cockle, cornflowers, yellow rattle, amongst others. At first, dandelions predominated but gradually more species began to come back, including common spotted orchids, ragged robin, devil’s bit scabious, ox-eye daises and more, in an area that now buzzes with butterflies, bees and other vital pollinators.

Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden is just under two-thirds of an acre, on a gentle south-facing slope. Apple trees create cool tunnels and the paths are lined with box. Two of the vegetable patches are divided diagonally by a St Andrew’s cross and the other two by the cross of St George. A wide gravel path runs around the edge with walls covered in roses, nectarines, plums, cherries, apples and pears. A middle path leads to a mossy fountain with a round pool filled with koi carp. The King took inspiration from Villandry in the Loire, but created a simpler and more practical design that was better suited to actually growing vegetables.

Stumpery

Hidden away is the mysterious and other-worldly stumpery. Created from an old acid bed that once housed rhododendrons. Strange, eerie archways and waves were created using the stumps of many trees, including lots of large sweet chestnut trees, stacked on top of each other, with pockets planted with ferns. There are also hellebores and euphorbia and The Kings’s collection of hostas, which he loves. There are two temples, built from green oak. And paths sets with ammonite fossils.

Arboretum

The King, inspired by nearby Westonbirt, wanted trees that would give good autumn colour. And so planted acers and Cercidiphyllum japonicum, and a Cladastris lutea. There are also many ornamental cherries, including Prunus ‘Kursar’, magnolias, camellias and azaleas. These are underplanted with shrubs, such as hydrangeas, and spring bulbs, including bright blue scilla.

Thyme Walk

Lining the thyme walk are a series of majestic golden yew topiaries. Each yew is playfully clipped into a different rather fanciful shape – the King encourages the gardeners to exercise their creativity. The yews were here when the King bought Highgrove, at the time they were simple, low mounds. And Sir Roy Strong and Rosemary Verey advised the King to remove them. He had other ideas, and now they are one of the most recognisable features of this garden. The thyme walk itself was originally plain gravel. The King had random stone sets and paving stones added, and then he planted hundreds of thyme cuttings himself, in the gaps.

Carts

Accessories

Flower Seeds

Composting

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