This Monday, Geordie and I are at the Chelsea Flower show which takes place at The Royal Hospital, Chelsea. The show was first established as an annual event in 1913 and has grown into a world famous attraction with huge pavilions, show Gardens built from scratch and international competitors. Thanks to the pandemic, we were last walking around and admiring the gardens and stalls in 2019 so it is lovely to be going back. It just a joy – the art of the dream and what is possible.
Geordie and I both adore gardening and hope that one of our legacies will be the gardens we have established once more at Highclere. Much of what had been built and grown here over centuries disappeared during and after the First and Second World Wars and, although the Parkland and trees remained majestically impressive, there were not enough meandering glades with filtered lights and colours and bulbs, surprises, cosy corners and views – well none, really.
The 6th Earl however had created the Secret Garden and we have just planted for more seasons so that it has a longer period of flowering. We have done the same in the Monks’ Garden and the White border. There is now more diversity and longevity of planting and the beds are a little fuller.
Beyond these Garden “rooms” is the Wood of Goodwill, the trees and winding walks with their hidden benches offering views, colours and scents to pause at and enjoy. With time lapse bulb planting in swoops and swathes it is, we hope, a joy to wander though. The Six Sisters Walnut Tree Walk leads to the Rose Arbour, from which you walk down a bank into the Wild Garden, the gate beyond leading up towards a further area planted for Lady Catherine in memory of Geordie’s grandmother. Just by the old Salt Hill is our latest project, a new glade to commemorate my mother-in-law. It is defined by white roses with just blue and white planting and looks across the park towards the west and the sunset. Trees were planted behind here for Geordie’s aunt Penelope.
The Wildflower meadow falls down the south facing slope in front of the castle lawns, the healing herb garden is just beyond the Courtyard and on the East lawns, the azaleas and specimen trees are just now a burst of wonderful clashing bright colours grouped in front of, and framing, the temple.
It means that visitors can wander and explore, to stand and stare, to sit and experience the scents, colours and sounds. Naturally, it also means that there is a lot more to look after but it is not designed to be perfect either. Around the rose arbour are nettles and weeds and long grass and we don’t use sprays and chemicals to control pests either. It all helps to encourage the insects and birds.
We mow paths through the wilder areas where is easy to walk but do not mow everywhere. In return, we have found that miraculously, bee orchids, other native British orchids as well as a wealth of wild flowers are once more flourishing. From one tree, a rose planted a few years ago will soon rain down with flowers. Last year, it was so pretty it was intensely moving.
This year’s Flower Show will be slightly different for us and much more personal as we are launching two roses with Philip Harkness Roses. One is a red rose tinged with white and is a climber called “Highclere Castle”. The other is a cream shrub rose with glossy dark green leaves and a lovely scent.
The cream petals open to show a pale apricot tinge inside which I am so honoured to have named after me as “Lady Carnarvon”. It is a very British project: roses grown in this country by a leading British Rose grower. This year we will have some available to sell and hopefully more in the next two or three years. It is tremendously exciting.
I cannot begin to count how many roses Geordie and I have planted at Highclere and how many hours we have spent planning colour and scent combinations. Personally, I think cream roses work amongst the grey leaves of sage, with Johnson’s blue geraniums, next door to blowsy extravagant deep pink peony’s but everyone has their own favourites.