Prince Charles' Highgrove gardens inspire Canberra couple

Susan Parsons
Let's do the thyme walk again: Danielle Hyndes in the orchard at Calthorpes' House in Red Hill perusing the ...
Let's do the thyme walk again: Danielle Hyndes in the orchard at Calthorpes' House in Red Hill perusing the Highgrove: A Garden CelebratedPhoto: Rohan Thomson

John and Danielle Hyndes live on a property called 'Meadow Cottage' at Gundaroo. In their garden there are old apple trees, apricot and pear trees, pomegranates, rhubarb, raspberries galore, asparagus and strawberry patches and, the highlight, quince trees planted around 1930 that continue to provide bounteous crops.

This time last year, on a trip to Britain, Danielle Hyndes visited 'Highgrove', the garden of Prince Charles. It provided a memorable day for Danielle and her United Kingdom hosts and they felt privileged to be part of a champagne tour (booked online) that included high tea in the Orchard Room where Prince Charles celebrated his 50th and 60th birthdays. She says, "The philosophy of the garden appeared to me to be not only a centre of excellence for demonstration and education of organic principles but also to share Prince Charles' desire to share this beautiful creation 'to please the eye, warm the heart and feed the soul'."

A thyme walk leads away from the main house and consists of twenty species of thyme planted as a living carpet by HRH. The vista extends from a lily pond to the spires of the village of Tetbury. The Stumpery reminded Danielle of a lost, pre-historic world where a multitude of weathered tree stumps have been imaginatively re-used to house ferns with a glade of hellebores and hostas. The Stumpery is a haven for wildlife.

A copy of <i>Highgrove: A Garden Celebrated</i>, some fruit blossom, a tin of Duchy Originals biscuits, and a pack of ...
A copy of Highgrove: A Garden Celebrated, some fruit blossom, a tin of Duchy Originals biscuits, and a pack of Highgrove bumblebee cards, photographed on the front verandah at Calthorpes' House. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Prince Charles has been at Highgrove for 34 years and says an ancient Cedar of Lebanon that dominated the west-facing elevation was among the elements that persuaded him this was where he would "like to take root." He has gardened from a painter's perspective, considering shadows and light and the placing of pieces of sculpture and his watercolour painting of Highgrove and The Cedar Tree featured on a tin of Duchy biscuits in 1995. The tree was attacked by fungus and was removed in 2008 and an obelisk with a gilded finial has been built in its memory.

Now Highgrove: A Garden Celebrated by HRH The Prince of Wales with Bunny Guinness (Hachette Australia. $75; e-book $29.99) has been published in all its glory. Profits from sale of the book will be donated to The Prince of Wales's Charitable Foundation.

The book is divided into months and 'Charles' introduces January with the walled, organic kitchen garden which is a vital and productive place in mid-winter, with brassicas, herbs and leeks filling the geometric beds. The kitchen garden was once used for fattening pigs and there was a dunking pool used to fill watering cans but now the water feature has a fountain where bees drink from its wet moss in winter. Hyndes says the layout for vegetable plantings are the crosses of St George and St Andrew bordered by germander that attracts bumble bees and butterflies among contrasting rows of lettuce and rocket, carrot 'Purple Haze', beetroot, broccoli, potatoes 'Pink Fir Apple' and 'Charlotte' and berries.

A kitchen garden at Highgrove.
A kitchen garden at Highgrove. Photo: Marianne Majerus

Danielle Hyndes took the Highgrove book to one of inner Canberra's oldest home orchards at Calthorpes' House in Mugga Way (a historic place, open to the public weekend afternoons).  A Calthorpe daughter, Dawn Waterhouse, was visiting the house and she showed us the fruit trees in blossom and a prunus regarded as special by the family. The orchard was planted before the family moved into the house in 1927.

Beside an apricot tree, Hyndes perused a chapter on Highgrove's orchards where branches of crabapples Malus 'Golden Hornet' have been linked to create coronets and there is a planting of old varieties of heritage apple trees. Violet-black fruit from damson trees is made into a liqueur and other royal favourites are pears, plums, figs, Morello cherries. In a two-acre paddock filled with fruit trees there is a bee house and 200 chickens whose eggs are sold on site.

In September, crab apple jelly, red 'Discovery' apples, courgettes, onions, peas and beans are harvested for the Highgrove farm shop, the table and the kitchen. 

<i>Highgrove: A Garden Celebrated</i>.
Highgrove: A Garden CelebratedPhoto: Marianne Majerus

For Hyndes, a highlight at Highgrove was the wild flower meadow, a six-acre area under the hand of head gardener Debs Goodenough that, periodically, is grazed by Shropshire sheep. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 2013, Prince Charles established 60 new 'Coronation Meadows' in Britain.

For her 'Meadow Cottage' in Gundaroo, Hyndes is about to sow a meadow from wildflower seeds purchased online from Highgrove.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.