If you walk through the red brick courtyard, leaving the Castle to your left, you will notice on your right, inset into a young hedge, a beech covered archway flanked by two urns. Through this lies our Healing Herb Garden which Geordie and I planned and planted a couple of years ago. It consists of four herb beds marked out by box hedges with a central bed of lavender in the shape of two “c’s” (Comus Carnarvon). In the centre of the “C” is a sundial.
The more established “historical” gardens here at the Castle are situated further away from the buildings down various gravel and undulating grass paths so we wanted to create a small garden nearer the Castle and tearooms for those who might find it difficult to get to the main gardens. It is designed to be peaceful and accessible. Of course you can always use it to tell the time as well – a sundial uses the sun’s altitude and angle or plane to show the time. In the past it was part of mathematical study but it is also decorative as engraved in Latin around the sundial are some of my favourite lines:
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”
The verses carry on, reminding us there is “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted”.
Beyond the parkland around the Castle is the farm. This time of year is when we “pluck that which is planted”. The harvest is collected and stored, the rolling brown earth is sown with next year’s crops, all of which are cultivated on long rotation, just as they were centuries ago. Like any farm the key is the soil. The aim is to nurture it, to grow in it, to rest it and not to deplete it. It is looking after the landscape, the birds, the insects, mammals and animals both small and large, not just for the public good but with respect for the land and all its inhabitants.
What is so amazing is that from these empty looking fields of brown earth comes wheat for our bread, breakfast cereals and countless other uses, oats for racehorses and for humans, chamomile, wild flowers seeds, barley, sometimes linseed, sometimes rape seed, haylage and straw, sainfoin for horses, ponies and other animals. Now turnips have gone in for the sheep who eat them through the winter before the spring barley is planted in those fields for human consumption.
Autumn is such a beautiful time at Highclere when the myriad of different trees that flank the sides of Siddown hill turn to different shades of yellows, faded ochre, browns, reds, muted orange and tawny russets. Last Sunday, Geordie and I rode two bright bay horses to church for the Harvest Festival. This is becoming an annual tradition for us which echoes and augments an enjoyable and special service which specifically gives thanks for and celebrates this time of year, the seasons and life in the country. One of the hymns we sing is the “Hymn of the Hampshire Countryside”, which has quite a few verses celebrating the high downlands and ancient chalk streams.
There are also moments of melancholy at this time because it is as the leaves die and fall away that they give us such beauty. It is all transient and every walk you go on is different, with corners, surprises and moments of happiness like bubbles on the chalk stream. “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance”.
Of course a year ago amidst the golden autumn days and fading leaves the film crew and cast were filming what has turned out to be a most successful and much enjoyed film. In contrast, the TV series was made from February to July, so this was a new time of year to share here.
Next comes the shorter colder days of November with Christmas as a beacon of colour and laughter at the end to look forward to.