Pots and Gardens

When Geordie and I initially began to think about what visitors might enjoy at Highclere, one of the first things we considered were the gardens. I had read somewhere that 80% of National Trust visits were due to interest in gardens. This may or may not be an accurate figure and, unlike the National Trust, we remain, fundamentally a family home rather than a “museum”, but the gist of the statistics lived with me.

Creating gardens has a long history at Highclere. In the 18th century, one of Geordie’s ancestors, Robert Herbert, designed a more traditionally formal garden here with follies and statues. He enjoyed creating a delightful setting but possibly had an ulterior motive given he was apparently quite keen on the ladies, and the resulting meandering walks and secluded glades might lead to opportunity. Although six of the follies remain today, none of the statuary does although we could still see traces of his gardens.

Gradually we began to reinstate elements of the earlier gardens, from one 18th century avenue, to a new arboretum in Robert Herbert’s wilderness. Linking one area to another I created a Rose Arbour in memory of my mother, it is beginning to come into its own, an arched walk of scents and colour, as well as for me some poignancy. The walnut walk, with a pair of trees for each of my sisters, leads visitors towards it. Geordie and I have developed a fabulous wild flower meadow and so ten years later we are starting to see progress.

We have now named the woodland area the “Wood of Goodwill” as it is increasingly filled with trees and shrubs given to us by friends. It gives me a real sense of place and acts as an anchor for me, especially in times of doubt and trouble.

Our most recent purchase is some large amphorae to place in our walks and glades. These “jars” have their own story and are handmade using a blend of 3 clays with the detail pressed in using decorative mouldings. The jars are then air dried for two days whilst they become “greenware”, during which time they reduce in size by up to 15%. Then they are fired in an old a dragon kiln which is bricked in and left for up to a week. Once cool, a glaze is applied before they are fired again for another 5 days. The end result is always different and varies depending upon what combinations of minerals are used.

These pots are made by a co-operative called Distinctive Gardens in Yorkshire, the English county which was the theoretical setting for “Downton Abbey”. There are, however, documentary sources recording quarries and kilns for the production of tile, lime and brick here at Highclere during the medieval period. Today you can still see today the remains of quarries, hollow-ways and even a lime kiln on the east of the estate which makes clear reference to this early industry. The estate was owned by the Bishopric of Winchester (there was a Palace here at the time) and one reason for this investment in the tile business was that it can be very windy here and the tiles always had to be renewed. Obviously, maintenance was as much an issue then as now!

Although our pots are new, I hope they give much pleasure both to visitors today and to future generations in what used to be Robert Herbert‘s Pleasure Gardens, a place to wander and wonder.

44 Responses to “Pots and Gardens”
  1. Geoffrey Bounds says:

    It’s amazing what nature can do for the soul. Some of my greatest works come from spending time in the forest. I’m glad you have that outlet. Do you do any writing while spending time in “The Wood of Goodwill”?

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I tend just to wander but often have a pair of gardening gloves in my pocket and am more likely to weed!

  2. alexis parr says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your latest missive , the photographs were great and your description of the history of the
    garden at Highclere isl ike almost being there on an heavenly English summers day. I love the way you and Lord Carnarvon have recreated a
    traditional, pleasant meadow and Rose Arbour for your late mother also. Alexis

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you. The wild flower meadow has some really interesting varieties and is ever more diverse. We now have a few bee orchids as well so every year it become even better, a haven for beetles and butterflies..

    • Chantal Leblanc says:

      Dear Lady Carnarvon,

      I visited your nice estate in the last few weeks and it was raining when we got there in the morning after a good two weeks none stop of sun! But, lucky for us, it stopped around noon so we could visit your beautiful gardens. Your lane of lavender reminded us of our backyard in a much more modest space of course! We also saw the Rose Arbour and I promise myself to come back and see how it all grows in a few years! It is a very nice gesture from the Earl to pay tribute to his mother-in-law and you to your mother as we read stated on the description sign when we enter the garden.

      I enjoyed visiting your beautiful home as well, recalling very often of scenes from Downton Abbey when going through the various rooms and I was most delighted and honored to come down the beautfiul staircase!

      I saw the real portrait of Lady Almina that is on your book in one of the drawing rooms, which I just finished reading. I’m reading Lady Catherine’s story now, I probably saw her portrait as well, but I don’t recall… Oh well, another good reason to come and visit again eventually!

      Montréal, Canada

  3. Tamra says:

    Lady Carnarvon,

    I always enjoy reading the different historical aspects of Highclere Castle on your blogs as well as in your books. I’ve read them all! I had the pleasure of visiting Highckere last summer. As much as I absolutely loved seeing the inside of your amazing home, the gardens were a special treat. I spent a very peaceful afternoon meandering through them. It is so nice that you have created places to remind you of family and friends. Thank you for sharing all these interesting things with us.

    Best Wishes,
    Tamra, Virginia

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you. The wild flower meadow has some really interesting varieties and is ever more diverse. We now have a few bee orchids as well so every year it become even better, a haven for beetles and butterflies..

  4. Steve Bohill-Smith says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    Do you know where the name “Sidon” as in Hill comes from. You would think it would be Sidown or is Sidon from the old Hampshire dialect.
    Also is “The Long Walk” on the old map lined up with the “Heavens Gate” folly on the summit? This is a great place for picnics and the view of the castle is spectacular. Congratulations on the garden restorations.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      The odd thing is I studied Anglo Saxon as part of my English course at St Andrews University and it is occasionally useful! Many of the names or words around Highclere reflect the antiquity. “Side” means broad or wide and Dune means hill hence Siddown. It used to be grassy with few trees, however the hill is now quite closely planted. It is indeed a good picnic spot!!!

      As you know the tree skyline remains broken where the B17 crashed in such tragedy.

      The Long Walk was a double avenue which lined up to Heaven’s Gate on the summit and sometimes I think it would be rather fun to still retain it but Capability Brown swept it away. One of our main challenges is to consider the layers of significance as several are often so key.

  5. Natalie Graham says:

    This is so fascinating! I so want to be there (instead of contemplating my next work meeting… 😉 ) and spend the time exploring and learning as I know what you have a chance to tell us in your posts is only the very tip of the iceberg. Thank you for sharing such marvelous information about all the facets of Highclere and its grounds.

    I’m always so happy to see a link to your latest post in my inbox. My gratitude for taking the time in your very busy schedule to continue your regular articles.

  6. Jeanette Hewitt says:

    Highclere’s gardens are a treasure, as we recently discovered on a visit, and we found them to be quite a highlight of our time spent there. Another highlight, and one we are fortunate to keep and to cherish, is your wonderful new book, ‘Entertaining at Highclere’.

    Our sincere appreciation for sharing both past and present celebrations at Highclere Castle in such a high quality, polished end-product which will no doubt enthuse a new generation of historians, hostesses and cooks. What pleasure you continue to conjure up for us, thank-you!

  7. Mary Braun says:

    Beautiful pots and very interesting details! I am curioius if they will winter-over with no issues or if they must be taken into a sheltered spot (somewhere indoors) during the winter months?

    Love your blog and look forward to every new post!

    • Hi Mary,

      Yes, the pots are very weather hardy.. As Lady Carnarvon detailed we have to use a special blend of clay that can withstand two firings of up to 10 days so the end result is a very strong substrate and glaze (I would not like the task of bringing them inside for winter!). I do appreciate the concern though as conventionally produced clay or terracotta pots can suffer from sever winters…

      Best regards – David.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      They are frost and weather proof but will change colour and patina

  8. Stacey Brown says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    Lovely and well-tended gardens are a wonderful retreat for the senses and the soul! Gardens are always a work in progress, aren’t they?

    It is interesting to see how you and Geordie are transforming those bucolic spaces with formal and informal designs. The Wood of Goodwill looks so peaceful. A walk in the woods is always good for the soul. It must be teeming with wildlife! I wonder which bird species you see when you walk there. The Rose Arbor and Walnut Walk also sound so lovely. What a beautiful tribute to your mother and a living reminder of those cherished and precious memories. A wildflower meadow is nature’s masterpiece and a photographer’s dream. With the new pots, gorgeous flowers and majestic trees, these outdoor spaces are just stunning!

    Thank you for sharing these fantastic photos and your thoughts about these gardens. I genuinely appreciate seeing it, and I’d love to visit one day.
    I am so glad you’ve found a place to dream, to grieve and to celebrate life’s special moments. Beautiful gardens are a true treasure.

    Kindest Regards,
    Stacey Brown
    The Woodlands, TX

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you – it is special throughout the year and I have planted an area for Autumn with silver grasses to catch the sunset against smoke bushes and acers. It will be a few more years yet but again I look forward each Autumn to what I should plant next where!

  9. Paula says:

    I am sitting on my deck pondering the pots with flowers growing around me. My “garden” is minuscule compared to a fraction of the one you walk about daily, but beautiful and interesting as it evolves. I think the beauty of nature restores our soul as it feeds that inner longing for a return to the “garden of eden.” Thank you again for giving us a glimpse into your life’s work and the beauty around you.

  10. leslie chambers says:

    Enjoyed a lovely visit to your beautiful home in June 2017. The grounds and gardens are truly wonderful.

    Restoration of the kitchen garden might be a great future project, especially given the interest we notice here in B.C. Canada in the many garden documentaries on our commercial free station called Knowledge Network. Pairing with a local horticultural school might be a wonderful joint endeavour as they could offer modern training and techniques to help recreate a link to the past. Restoring the kitchen garden which would have played a significant role in the day to day operation of the household might make a great documentary as well.

    Thank you again for providing a truly magical experience for our visit in June. I enjoyed hearing your fascinating historical facts about Highclere (especially the role Lord Carnarvon played in Canada’s history). The friendly expertise of the guides (who were incredibly kind assisting my elderly mother-in-law on the tour) and the delicious high tea also made the tour amazing.

  11. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Pots, herbs, scents they are about the pleasure they give as you look out!

  12. KImberly Adkins says:

    Hello Lady Carnarvon,
    I enjoyed very much my tour of your lovely home. After some research on one of my favorite landscape engineers,Capability Brown, I found that he had worked on designs on your estate. Is his work still intact and is accessed to the public?
    Kimberly Turley

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Sally Popplewell in our gift shop has a little book I wrote on Capability Brown in the shop – do contact her. I have given some lectures on the Park -it is spectacular..

  13. Jean says:

    I love how you expound on the finest of details to expose fascination and magnificence in your surroundings.

  14. Barbara Warren says:

    I enjoy each of your posts but especially enjoyed today’s entry about the gardens! I have had the opportunity to visit Highclere twice, once this May for a Jane Austin lecture. The only downside of that visit was that most of the perennial gardens hadn’t really begun to bloom. But, luckily I had my memories of the gardens in July 2015 when I had first made the trip from the US.

    Your insights about the property and lifestyles of the past are a treasure–please keep posting away! Hoping to visit again soon, Barbara

  15. Amanda says:

    How about a photo tour of the roses you mentioned? I love hearing about the gardens : )

  16. Lynne Hess says:

    This was a wonderful article, Lady Carnarvon – as an avid gardener half a world away (Pacific Northwest of the US) I love reading about other gardens around the world. And of course, as a Downton fan, I love hearing about all the aspects of Highclere Castle. I remember you said in an interview awhile back that you wanted to develop the gardens and I’m so glad to read this post and see what’s happening. Those beautiful jars and how they are fired is really most interesting.

  17. Lady Carnarvon says:

    A reason to come back in early September!!!

  18. Nora Huber says:

    I was thrilled to visit Highclere in July and was truly awed by the beauty of the house and the splendid gardens. I also was overjoyed to see the Egyptian Exhibition – so glad you made all the interesting items available for our viewing. What a fabulous story. I have told everyone about the curse of King Tut’s tomb. Some have wide eyed belief and some just look at me with disdain. Any opinions here???

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I think tend to be respectful and careful! I did quite a bit of research when I was writing “Almina” and was not sure I could resolve it all, but then I don’t think we know it all!

  19. MUHARREM says:

    Hello Lady Carnarvon,
    I was very happy when I met your post. Reflecting work on the rehab facilities at Highclere Castle is a testimony to your care and passion for maintaining them while holding gloves when you go out in the garden. A walk through the garden calms and refreshes the energies
    I always hope to visit those wonderful settings.

    With respect


    Kavaja, Albania

  20. Amy Walker says:

    As I read your blog I was reminded of a quote by Henry David Thoreau. “The world is but a canvas for our imagination.” Your garden is definitely your canvas. I am excited to say that we are planning a ‘garden tour’ of England for our 30th anniversary in 2019 and Highclere is at the top of the list!

  21. Linda Olds says:

    I love gardens–flowers, shrubs (especially flowering ones), trees, and pots to put them in. It must be fun, as well as a lot of work, to keep your garden growing. Before, I was thinking mostly of the building when looking forward to visiting Highclere, but now, I’m thinking about the garden as well.

  22. Janet Kidwell says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    I have watched Downton Abbey so many times and have fallen asleep with it on that I feel I know your magnificent home, even though I have never been in it. I truly hope to visit your home and gardens soon.

    You are such a lovely person and very down to earth that I find reading your blog is such a delight. It’s like reading about a friend and her home.

    all the best,

  23. Jeffery Sewell says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    Very interesting and such wonderful photos.

    By the way, it is my understanding that although amphorae serve the purpose of storing many varied products and substances, they were mainly used (at least in ancient times) for the storage of wine. That certainly is in keeping with the opening statement of your blog that your husband and you were thinking about what visitors might enjoy at Highclere!

    Also, unfortunately I have never possessed a green thumb and have been in awe of those who are so gifted. After reading in your blog of Robert Herbert’s (potentially) ulterior motives in establishing gardens at Highclere, I am even more envious. I should have realised why gardeners are always smiling.

    Of course I jest, but the gardens, the pots and indeed the entire estate at Highclere are spectacular. The plantings you have done for Autumn should be especially rewarding to all who are fortunate enough to visit Highclere at that time. I await with great interest your posting of photos on this blog at that time.

    Regards & best wishes,
    Jeffery Sewell

  24. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Thank you – Robert Herbert thoroughly enjoyed his reputation as a dandy as well and it seems to be there in my son and husband who are constantly muttering about new suits or blazers…I am sure amphorae help wine and olive oil (not together I hasten to add) both of which are essential!

  25. Althea says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon
    My 2 sisters and a family friend had the pleasure of visiting Highclere on 18 July and had the most wonderful day exploring both your home and the lovely gardens. I can honestly say that it was a pure joy – we marvelled at almost everything believe it or not and took loads of photographs of the exterior and the gardens. We are avid Downton Abbey fans and have watched every episode (and have the DVDs so we can watch them over and over again). We appreciated both the architectural details of the building and the interior of Highclere – you have done an amazing job of keeping it as a home and, as a visitor, you can really feel that. It has a certain warmth that you can’t mistake – obviously happy family memories linger throughout the building. Those 50 foot ceilings were another revelation – how simply fabulous they are. You have a lot of exquisite antique furniture which didn’t go unnoticed either and the paintings, wall furnishings and decor were quite spectacular too. The gardens from the Rose Arbour, the walnut walk, and the wild flower meadow to the “Wood of Goodwill” with long views across the park created a very tranquil walk. My sister and I make our own preserves and chutneys with family recipes that go back a long way, so I was disappointed that we won’t be there when you have the Crabapple Jelly making day – its one of our favourites and we make it for gifts ourselves. I hope you get a bumper crop this year. Sadly we live in New Zealand, so until the next time we visit our family in the UK, we won’t be able to revisit Highclere. However, I did want to express how grateful we are that you have made your home open to the public so we could share its beauty with you. I’d also like to express our thanks to those assisting with information inside your home, the staff in the gift shop and cafe, all of whom were so friendly, welcoming and helpful.
    Kind regards

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you for you descriptions! It is a good feeling making preserves and chutneys isn’t it? ..I am just planning some cooking videos to collect the fruits and make them. There are a few medlars as well, although I am not sure the quince tree is very well and I think I need 2 or 3 new ones!

      Perhaps we can share and swop recipes? I am going to re -structure this blog website in order to put up recipe cards you can download and ones which complement the ones in the book as well as introduce you to the Castle kitchens and my family (rather messy!) kitchen

      We have some good people who work with us- I feel very lucky !

  26. Vicki Duncan says:

    My family and I plan to visit Great Britain in December. Being a huge DA fan I had hoped to visit when we came. Are there any public activities scheduled? My son-in-law was born in England and after being separated from his father for 30 years recently was very happily reunited! They’ve had two wonderful visits, one in the US and one in GB, and now my husband and I have been invited to visit there!! Having wanted to visit the British Isles for years, I am ecstatic!! A visit to Highclere has always been on my wish list and would be a dream come true!!!

  27. Lady Carnarvon says:

    We will be open with different events though the first week of December – it is around charity from raising money for children’s ward for those who are seriously ill on Monday December 4th, two Christmas Fair Days for the Air Ambulance and our local church and then a day for refugees in Lebanon and Syria – Christmas is a story about refugees and rejection so I wish to take small steps to help others today. It ends on about December 12th! Do come to something ..

  28. Ann C. Flood says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    The gardens of Highclere castle are absolutely spectacular, and I especially love the Cedars of Lebanon trees on your grounds. I was wondering if you would ever consider writing a book about Highclere’s grounds and gardens? I would love to hear stories of these natural wonders from your perspective as the owner of the estate. Your lovely descriptions and the history you would provide would be lovely reading, indeed. I wanted to tell you I reordered my copy of At Home, and I have the picture in my mind of you arranging flowers for one of your weekend house parties. Your love of flora and fauna is delightfully evident in that photo from the book. I hope I have provided you with some food for thought this afternoon! The grounds, after all,are one of the most beautiful
    assets of Highclere Casle. I would love to see them in a new book (by one of my very favorite authors).

    Kind Regards,

    Ann Catherine Flood

  29. Ann C. Flood says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    I was curious as to whether a book about Highclere Castle’s grounds had already been written. Much to my chagrin (but delight) I see it already has! So as to my suggestion that you write one, I guess you can disregard my comments! I will definitely order one in my next order from the Castle’s gift shop. I am happy this will expedite my wait! I can’t wait to see about Capability Brown and Highclere’s Park. I will leave it to you as to the subject of your next (glorious) book! Enjoy your weekend. (I am writing this on Saturday) and Thank You for your patience.

    Kind regards once again,

    Ann Catherine Flood

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