King Charles has proudly revealed how he ‘tweaked’ the gardens at his home of Highgrove in a new documentary to be broadcast tomorrow night.
The monarch appears in The Cotswolds & Beyond with Pam Ayres, which airs at 8pm on Channel 5 as he offers the presenter a tour of his gardens at the Gloucestershire estate.
The estate, which Charles bought in 1980, boasts a residence fit for any reigning monarch. A nine-bedroom, six-bathroom mansion once home to Maurice Macmillan, son of former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, it has beautiful interiors by the late decorator Robert Kime.
But the property is also as modern and eco-friendly as possible, being equipped with solar panels and a natural waste water filtration system, no doubt the King’s requirements.
Yet it is the gardens that are perhaps the most important aspect of the estate.
In the programme, which was filmed ahead of the Queen’s death in September, King Charles recalled how the gardens were ‘a jungle’ when he moved in, adding: ‘Half the battle, I think, is walking around enough times and suddenly an idea comes, a bit of inspiration.’
King Charles has proudly revealed how he ‘tweaked’ the gardens at his home Highgrove in a new documentary to be broadcast tomorrow night
The then Prince of Wales personally escorted Pam on a guided tour of the beautiful gardens that he has designed and tended over the past four decades.
Along the way, the Prince and Pam discussed his passion for gardening, his commitment to the environment and how sustainability is at the heart of everything he has done at Highgrove.
During the discussion, Charles said he ‘absolutely’ did not have a plan for his gardens at Highgrove when he bought the property.
The king said he completed it ‘one bit at a time’.
The estate, which Charles bought in 1980, boasts a residence fit for any reigning monarch – it has nine bedrooms and is modern and eco-friendly
He added: ‘I got some good advice from a wonderful person called Lady Salisbury who knew a lot about it. It was how you complimented and put the house a bit into a frame.
‘I realized, little by little, that I wanted a path all the way around the outside of the lawn and connected all the different bits.
‘One by one I grabbed, they were all jungles when I came…’
Ahead of the programme’s broadcast, Pam said: ‘We approached Highgrove for this new series and I sent HRH The Prince of Wales a poem I had written about hedgerows and how valuable they are to wildlife.
‘During our shoot, HRH definitely said he liked my poem, so who knows, maybe that made him open his garden to us!
In the programme, which was recorded ahead of the Queen’s death in September, King Charles recalled how the gardens were ‘a jungle’ when he moved in.
So he was happy to participate, which was great for us, and it was great to talk to him. He was very easy to talk to.
‘He showed me around and we talked about the garden and all the beautiful wild orchids he has there and how he’s got these wonderful hedgehog escapes in his ponds.
‘If hedgehogs fall in, unlike in many ponds where they have vertical sides and they just drown, in his ponds they can crawl out.
‘It was so fantastic to hear about these nice little details that he has got in the garden.
‘We also talked about the sad fact that so many wildlife, species and insects have declined and whether anything can be done to reverse it.’
The then prince enjoying his wild garden and spring daffodils at his estate in April 2022. The gardens now boast many rare trees and flowers
Over the past four decades, Charles, with the help of highly respected gardeners such as Rosemary Verey and Miriam Rothschild, has transformed Highgrove’s gardens.
Not only are there a large number of rare trees, flowers and heirloom seeds, there is also a wild garden, a formal garden and a walled kitchen garden.
Another haven is the Woodland Garden with two classical temples made of green oak and a stumpery – a garden feature similar to a rock garden but made from parts of dead trees, particularly stumps.
So impressive are these gardens that they now attract 30,000 visitors a year, with tours taking just under two hours.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana pictured here in the wildflower meadow at Highgrove with their two young boys. The family spent most weekends here when the children were small
But for the king, they are clearly more than a visitor attraction; they are a place where you can ‘rob’ the soul.
In the 2014 book, Highgrove: A Garden Celebrated, Charles wrote that his efforts represented ‘…a very small attempt to heal the appalling short-term damage to the land, the landscape and our own souls’.
He added: ‘Some don’t like it, others may scoff that it’s not in the real world or that it’s just an expensive indulgence.
“Whatever the case, my abiding hope is that those who visit the garden can find something to inspire, excite, fascinate or reassure them.”
Prince Charles tending his herb garden at Highgrove in 1986. The King has long spoken of his love of nature and the need to look after the environment
As a further tribute to them, the King recently created a perfume with the help of British perfume house Penhaligon’s inspired by the floral scents of summer.
Called Penhaligon’s Highgrove Bouquet Eau de Parfum, it is described as a ‘crisp, confident burst of warm energy’, opening with ‘vibrant lavender and geranium’ with the scent of ‘blooming weeping silver lime’.
So important are these gardens and outdoor spaces that the King has added to the estate over the years and now owns around 1,900 acres of strictly organic farmed land.
But as soothing as these gardens are, there is more to Highgrove that has helped ingrain it so deeply into the King’s heart.
Because – like Balmoral for the Queen – Highgrove is filled with memories and family connections. Princess Anne, for example, the King’s sister, lives six miles away in Gatcombe Park, while Camilla’s private home, Ray Mill House, in Wiltshire is just a 30-minute drive away.
Camilla, the new Queen Consort, pictured at Highgrove in July 2022 to mark her 75th birthday. She is said to enjoy gardening on the estate
After Charles’ first marriage to Princess Diana in 1980, it became their marital and later family home. After Prince William and Harry were born, the family spent most weekends there, and Diana expressed her distaste for the countryside.
She preferred the city life available to her from Kensington, but she also reportedly disliked the Gloucestershire home as it was so close to Camilla, who lived nearby.
Andrew Morton wrote in his biography Diana: Her True Story that Diana referred to her trips to their home in Gloucestershire as ‘a return to prison’ and ‘rarely invited her family or friends’.
Of course, since Diana’s tragic death and Charles’ subsequent marriage to Camilla in 2005, Highgrove has become a popular base for the couple when they’re not on royal engagements in London.
Camilla shares a love of gardening with her husband. She recently told Homes and Gardens magazine how much she enjoyed planting, weeding and just being creative.
She said: ‘It’s just one of the most relaxing things anyone can do. Go out into the garden, get on with it’.
The Cotswolds & Beyond with Pam Ayres – Friday 7 October at 20.00 on Channel 5