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Hidden secrets of a royal garden

By tboullemier, Sep 9 2017 07:55PM

NO cameras. No recording devices. And definitely no mobile phones. Leave them all in the car!

These are the very firm instructions from our hyper-efficient guide.

Since we’d already had to make an appointment to visit. And to show our passports to the men on the gate, the security instructions seem somewhat over the top for an afternoon stroll round a country garden.

But this is no ordinary garden. It is the extraordinary estate of Highgrove House in Gloucestershire, private home to Prince Charles.

It is immediately clear that potentates and premiers will never have worry about what to buy Prince Charles for a gift. Just get him ‘something for the garden’ is clearly the way to go.

Highgrove is bursting with presents from right across the world, all fused into an eclectic garden that few others would be able to assemble.

Statues, busts, giant urns, tiles, sundials, pavilions, pagodas and temples, poke out of the woods and adorn the walkways. To say nothing of the vast variety of rare plants, trees and shrubs.

By all accounts the place wasn’t much to look at when Charles bought it off Maurice Macmillan (son of Harold) in 1980.

He sympathetically softened the front of the house to make it easier on the eye. But it’s the garden that really sets it apart and what he’s done at Highgrove (with the help of 18 gardeners) is outstanding.

There’s an Islamic-style courtyard carpeted in tiles; an Eastern pagoda in memory of late brother-in-law Mark Shand; a ‘Temple of Worthies’; a spellbinding statue of The Daughters of Odessa; an elaborate dovecote; an ornate wooden tree house that was used by William and Harry; and topiary to die for.

Mind you, we were told the hedges had been hit by ‘box blight’ which sounds frightening, especially as weed killers are banned in organic Highgrove. Weeding must be a nightmare for the faithful 18.

My wife inspected the statues and plaques of Royal Family members and grumbled that there were none for the late Princess of Wales. The nearest we got was a stature of Diana, Goddess of Hunting.

But as the Princess didn’t like Highgrove, that seems fair to me – if not to her legions of admirers.

There was, however, a chapel-like ‘sanctuary’, built from timber with earth walls. Buried deep in the woods, it was blessed by the Bishop of London.

And you can imagine HRH spending some not inconsiderable time there, contemplating his late wife.

Sadly, we weren’t shown the inside before our guide briskly whisked us into the tea-room for cakes and champers. Followed by the inevitable visit to the gift shop.

But don’t knock it. The rules for visitors might be unbelievably strict. But Prince Charles has a back garden to be proud of.

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