All the King’s gardens, by Alan Titchmarsh

Alan Titchmarsh celebrates the new monarch’s outstanding contribution to British horticulture, which has always been based on organic methods and a strong belief in farming and management.

[This article appears in the special coronation commemorative Country Life issue of 26 April, 2023 — see what else is inside, and find out how to order a copy.]

Over the past century, our kings and queens have left their mark on British gardens and horticulture. Queen Mary, wife of George V, took great pleasure in picking ivy from tree trunks when she stayed at Badminton House in Gloucestershire during World War II. George VI developed a passion for rhododendrons, working with Sir Eric Saville to create the Saville Garden in Windsor Great Park and with Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe to design a series of garden rooms at Sandringham in Norfolk. His widow, Queen Elizabeth, after the King’s death, set up her own retreat at Castle Mey in Caithness and closer to home at the Royal Lodge in Great Park, where she spent her weekends.

Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh left their mark on the gardens of Windsor Castle, where, Prince Philip told me, he “remodeled the east terrace, including the fountain in the center” and supervised the arrangement of the “sitting room.” from the garden” under the walls of the terrace. At Balmoral, he “remade almost the entire garden, with the exception of the formal rose beds directly to the west of the castle.”

All these efforts contributed to the personal pleasure of sovereigns and their spouses, but they also emphasized the importance of gardens and horticulture, regardless of rank and stature. Gardening has always been a great leveler, and whether the participant lives in a castle with thousands of acres or in a rental property with a neighboring property, growing plants to enrich our lives both mentally and physically and thus benefit the natural world. definitely uplifting.

A century after Queen Mary’s active but rather limited involvement, we find ourselves with a new monarch whose influence on gardens, horticulture, conservation, sustainability, organic growing, rural craftsmanship, art and design is by far the sovereign’s most comprehensive contribution to British horticulture. that this country has ever experienced.

His Majesty the King, Hedgerower at Sandringham Manor, Norfolk. 1 credit

Charles III is not just a figurehead. In his current role, his opinions may not have been as freely expressed, but as the Prince of Wales, he left no one in any doubt about his passion for the environment, in particular the wider landscape and gardens. He was not inclined to make empty statements; instead, he became actively involved in promoting healthy horticultural practices – I chaired one of the several plant health seminars he attended and saw him in action both locally and nationally, where he, along with the Prince’s Foundation and Foundation Prince’s countryside makes a practical and positive contribution to the perception of gardening in all areas of society.

This love of gardens and horticulture is evident in the gardens he himself created and in the people whose guidance he sought and whose skills he championed. Never has the world of horticulture been so well represented by the Crown.

Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh belong to the Crown. Sandringham House and Manor in Norfolk, Balmoral Castle and Manor in Aberdeenshire and May Castle in Caithness are residences of the monarch that have been passed down from generation to generation. The King added to these Highgrove in Gloucestershire, owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and leased by the King, and Dumfries House in East Ayrshire, which owes its survival and development as a center of horticultural excellence to the Prince’s Trust.

Wherever he happens to be, the king’s involvement in the gardens and grounds of each of these domains is clearly visible. New projects, new plantings and the participation of skilled craftsmen and women are central to his life. Like most of us, the garden offers him solace from a crazy world, a chance to feel at one with nature, and to ensure the health and perpetual resilience of the landscape.

Highgrove, Gloucestershire

The King purchased the 18th-century Highgrove House in 1980 and set about restoring it, along with the surrounding park and abandoned walled garden, which is now a practical and ornamental vegetable garden. It was here that he raised his family, and the place remains a haven for him within relatively easy reach of London. He took the advice of Miriam Rothschild to create a meadow of wild flowers, a precursor to the Coronation Meadows, which he famously championed in honor of the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Elizabeth II in 2013.

Camassias and tulips fill Highgrove Meadow, inspired by Miriam Rothschild. Credit: Highgrove / Photography by Jason Ingram.

The late Molly, Lady Salisbury and Sir Roy Strong also had a hand in the design of the 15 acre gardens, while Julian and Isabelle Bannerman made important contributions with their imaginative and romantic wood and stone garden designs. The organic nature of growing in all the gardens and estates of the King is a belief in those old-fashioned principles of “farming” and “management” that seem to be so often neglected in today’s world of quick fixes.

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Burkhall, Aberdeenshire

Located near Balmoral Castle, Birkhall was used by the king after the death of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. Given to their son Edward by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1852, this particular Prince of Wales only visited once before opting for more spacious lodging at nearby Abergeldy Castle. Burkhall remains the favorite residence of the king and queen, not Balmoral Castle itself, and having visited the gardens there, I understand why. “This is a special place,” says the King, “especially because it was built by my grandmother. It’s a childhood garden and all I’ve done is improve it a bit.”

The statement is modest, since this is a garden, not preserved in the bay, but alive and alive, running down the southern slope from the house to the foaming waters of the Muik River, a tributary of the Dee. Burkhall is 600 feet above sea level, and Muik’s waters have repeatedly damaged the lower part of the garden, washing away the bridge and carrying away the flower beds and borders. “The river is magic,” says the King, knowing that she can also prove her retribution.

Burkhall Garden, the Scottish home of the Prince of Wales on Balmoral Manor in Aberdeenshire. The sloping lawn is surrounded by borders of red roses such as Europeana and Le Mans. Credit: Clive Nichols/Country Life Image Library

The overwhelming feeling in Birkhall is that of seclusion – a garden surrounded by woods – but by no means dark and dreary. The double borders on both sides of the central path that descends to the river were planted during my visit in July with a brilliant mixture of annual sage – sage hormones in shades of pink and purple. The Bell Garden, named after its general shape, includes beds of fruits and vegetables, as well as flowers. Ducks waddle among them, helping to repel slugs and snails, and are protected from penetration into sensitive areas by a strategically placed net. Red squirrels have been known to enter the King’s house and rifle pockets for nuts in his office. It’s easy to see why this Scottish garden means so much to him.

Dumfries House, Ayrshire

Undoubtedly the then Prince of Wales’ most impressive horticultural creation, Dumfries House and its rare collection of Chippendale furniture, was saved to the nation in 2007 for a royal sum of £45m (£20m of which came from the King’s own charitable foundation). ). When I toured the house and its five-acre walled garden with him in 2011, it was abandoned, little more than overgrown wilderness. A battalion of natives followed us, no doubt as frightened as I was by the sight of this overgrown and wild jungle of brambles and couch grass.

The restoration of the garden at Dumfries House was an extraordinary undertaking. Credit: Andrea Jones.

As in the garden at Birkhall, the land here slopes steeply to the south, making tillage doubly difficult. However, just three years later, in 2014, the Queen opened the magnificent garden, and in the nine years since, both the garden and the estate have established themselves as a beacon of excellence as well as a valuable local employer. Managed by the Grand Steward of Scotland, Dumfries House Trust, the estate not only has a drawing school and courses offering all kinds of training in various skills such as textiles, hospitality, health and wellness, the built environment and building arts, but gardening is vital knowledge of growing skills.

Greenhouses run along the walls in the upper part of the garden, and outside there is a large arboretum with a lake. Seeing the joy of life of those who take part in the upbringing of Dumfries and learn from its many schools of knowledge, is an inspiring and enriching experience for individuals as well as for the local economy and the surrounding landscape.

Rothesay garden in spring at Dumfries House, Ayrshire. One of the many rustic follies commissioned by the king, this eye-catching specimen in the Ayrshire garden was designed by Julian and Isabelle Bannerman. Credit: Andrea Jones

May Castle, Caithness

The walled garden of Mei Castle, beloved by his grandmother, is used by the king as a summer retreat in August. Of all his gardens, this is the most remote and the most unprotected from the weather.

Walkway in the protected walled garden of Mei Castle, with cosmos and marigolds (left) and candelabra primrose (right). Credit: Wirestock, Inc. / Alamy

In its high walls of pinkish local stone grow beds of roses, fruits and vegetables, additionally protected by a network of hedges. From here the king can see Orkney across the Pentland Firth, take a tour of the now deserted island of Stroma, paint and relax in the most mundane of all his gardens.

Sandringham House, Norfolk

As early as this year, the King initiated the construction of a formal topiary garden on the west lawn at Sandringham. He recalls visiting the house as a child and seeing “the most wonderful topiary garden that Queen Alexandra, my great-great-grandmother, planted in the building of an old dairy farm.” I still remember how they took me as a child, even rolled me in a stroller, and it was so unusual, these trimmed animal figures, peacocks, birds. I never forgot it. I would say it had a profound effect on me.”

Sandringham House and Lake, Norfolk. 1 credit

More than 5,000 yews and 4,000 herbaceous perennials and bulbs will be planted in the new “climatic and insect-friendly” topiary garden. It will greatly complement the landscape of the western side of the house, which is still quite simple.

If anyone doubted the faith professed by the king in the power of nature and his conviction of the need to preserve our landscape and pass it on with a good heart to those who come after us, it is enough for him to look at his gardens. Their very existence and the manner in which they are administered prove the sincerity of man and emphasize the fact that they are in the most capable hands.

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