I’m sure it didn’t escape the attention of gardeners across the nation that when the King needed to retreat, albeit briefly, from the public gaze, it was Highgrove and the garden he has created there over the past 40 years that he chose as his refuge.
For any of us who garden and who have suffered the loss of loved ones, have experienced troubled times in life, our gardens are a haven of peace, a destination in which to weather the stormiest of times.
It was therefore no surprise to me that the King chose this most personal of spaces in which to still this national but also most personal of tempests.
It took me back to a private group visit to the garden at Highgrove some years ago that I was fortunate to be included in. The one thing that impressed me more than anything was the overriding sense of it being a deeply personal space. You really felt the King’s presence, his personality had been invested in every part of this garden so that when you left you really felt you had a sense of who he was; as a man, as a gardener. It made a deep impression on me at the time and being only at the start of our own gardening journey here at Lewis Cottage, I made a vow then to be true to myself so that when visitors came to the garden they too, would come to understand the personalities that garden this four-acre plot we call home.
Some years later when we first joined the National Gardens Scheme one visitor kindly left a comment, ‘a garden that reflects the souls of those who garden in it, it is clearly an incredibly personal space that is a joy to behold ‘. To say I was delighted beyond measure, would be an understatement, I felt I had learned so much from that one visit to Highgrove.
Of course, one also pinches ideas too. The stumpery was a favourite area for me as was the wildflower meadow (far ahead of its time back then), both too labour intensive to adapt for home. But one feature we did bring home was the crinkle-crankle hedging that edged one part of the garden. At the time we were looking to enclose a new ‘allotment’ area but was unsure what medium to use. The idea of the crinkle-crankle (or Serpentine) hedge dates back to ancient times when it was believed that evil spirits could only travel in straight lines and in order to prevent the spread of pests and disease the best defence was to plant a Serpentine hedge. Now mature, our Serpentine hedge is a feature all by itself, whether it has defended the allotment from evil spirits remains to be seen however!
Autumn of course is the time of harvest; of windfall apples, ripe mulberries and bletted medlars, blue-black sloes, scarlet rosehips and fallen leaves. To be totally honest I rather love this time of year, though if you’d asked me 30 years ago I would have given you a very different answer. Back then, it was the start of the garden slipping into decay, now I view it as the start of a new gardening year.
And there is still SO much colour to enjoy in the garden too. Not only the traditional autumnal red, gold, bronze and copper hues but choose carefully and you can extend the pink, cream, magenta, blue and peach tones of summer for a few more weeks.
Wandering round the top garden I could pick out Mirabilis Jalapa (the Peruvian 4 o’clock plant), the claret leaves of Ricinus communis, the lime green seed pods of the cannas, the creamy green/yellow cups of Cobea Scandens Alba and the rich peach and magenta petals of Dahlia Big Brother and Bora Bora respectively.
Until next time…….
Jobs to do over the coming weeks
● If your greenhouse is fairly empty, now’s a good time to clean and disinfect it. This lets in more light and prevents pests and diseases from overwintering.
● Protect half hardy plants with fleece or bring them into a frost free greenhouse.
● Sweep up any fallen leaves that harbour fungal spores and provide ideal hiding places for slugs and snails. Use them to make leaf mould for the garden.
● Lift and divide any overcrowded herbaceous perennials whilst the soil is still warm.
● This month is the ideal time to plant hedging, trees and shrubs.
● Harvest pumpkins and squashes before the first frosts (no one likes a squidgy squash!)
● Autumn sown sweet peas will overwinter in an unheated greenhouse and provide earlier blooms than those sown in spring.Just remember to cover the pots with sheets of glass or perspex until germination or your local mouse population will feed on the seed.
● Sow hardy annuals such as English marigold, Ammi majus etc to get them off to a quicker start next spring.
Gardens open for the NGS in October
8 & 15 October, Stone lane Gardens, Chagford
15 & 16 October, Dunley House, Bovey Tracey
15 & 16 October, Regency House, Hemyoc