Walking up the narrow grassy path from the wildflower meadow into the heart of the Secret Garden, the winding paths and mosaic of colour have never looked better. It is the visible, beautiful result of planning and preparation and a tribute to Paul and his gardening team, the result of winter work, of mulch and soil care, pruning and planting.
Planning and preparation is about detail and list making, getting ahead with the important jobs so that the unexpected urgent tasks, which invariably rise up, can be tackled in a timely and sensible way. In some ways the gardens are simply a more visible example of good business practice.
Like all businesses, everything at Highclere is about time spent in planning and preparation: what, how and when. Diaries and archives suggest this is little different from the past in terms of the defined departments and responsibility though, in terms of numbers of staff, the departments are far smaller despite the fact that the house and estate remain the same size meaning there is always plenty to do. Naturally it does not always go to plan but with Highclere humour and speed of reaction we can, and do, muddle through.
For all the years of our marriage, Geordie continues to be entirely surprised and amazed that I did actually train as a chartered accountant. It causes him constant amusement but, as he teased me yet again, I did dig out my old certificate just to remind him. It is my sometime disinclination to open envelopes and reluctance to budget when I am decorating a house or Castle room that seems, in particular, to set him off.
Despite Geordie’s and my focus on sensible things such as marginal contribution, it does appears that neither of us seem ever to remember to accurately measure a room, a wall, a tapestry or carpet.
Some time ago now, I had organised a new rug for the North Library to be made. Sadly, when it arrived, rather than a rug with some wooden floor showing around it, it was the size of the room or more. It was incredibly heavy and, having heaved it in through a window and cleared the room and laid it out, we had to fold it back up. It then had to go back to be reduced in size by about two metres in each direction – not my finest hour.
Geordie recently bought a beautiful old tapestry for the Castle which unfortunately suffered the same challenge. John the castle manager and I ended up literally carrying it around in circles (it was not very heavy) looking for a suitable wall with John claiming I must tell my husband to get a bigger castle. Eventually John and I found the best fit and it now does look absolutely marvellous as if it were perfectly planned for the very wall but we have to confess to serendipity rather than planning.
These light moments in time are most welcome at a time when many of us feel our lives have lost focus and strategy. Looking back, the five years I spent with an accountancy firm have underpinned much of our work life recently. The process of audit is a skill set which is about understanding previous audit files, asking the manager about the key points and risks from their view, preparing the current year, allocating time and team, getting to know the client and their business and undertaking the work. The parameters are the time given to prepare the statutory accounts, discuss them, present them and file them within budget and time before moving on to the next project.
Now that the country is rather bumpily moving on, this process too should be about informing ourselves as best we can, planning and anticipation, examining the research on health analyses, economics and politics, being prudent like any good accountant and stepping forwards at a steady pace. We need to keep looking, 5 days ahead, 5 weeks ahead and 5 months ahead. Time spans help us plan short term and gives us all focus and reassurance.
Unfortunately, some of the politicians appear to have a rather different approach where they fly kites, ideas and instructions almost as if they are assessing their popularity, structuring their latest pronouncements more on what might garner them approval rather than any real research into all sides of the picture. But then, unlike most businesses, politicians can also borrow endless money without seeming to consider the long term consequences.
I too enjoy flying kites, in that it at least impresses the direction of the weather which has a direct effect on our car parking issues. However, we could not run our business like this, it would lead to disaster. Looking forwards we have our strategy and within us we try to find that still small voice of calm and to keep following it.
Perhaps the only real answer is to find a quiet corner in a garden, make a cocktail and tell a funny story. Laughter is not just the best medicine: sometimes it is the only medicine.
Lady Carnarvon lovely the pictures of time spent thank you email and would love to visit highcelere castle
Oh, once again I marvel at your ability to write thoughtful, intelligent, and entertaining posts about Highclere and your life and wonderful stewardship of its marvels. You and Geordie make a wonderful team along with your Highclere “family of workers” who must care about it as much as you. Our government in the US is not any better. I always plan to look into dual citizenship with the UK as my grandfather immigrated from there.
Savan Wilby Wilson
Bonjour Lady Carnarvon,
Merci pour vos merveilleux blogs et votre humour si enthousiasmant !
Les tapis et tapisseries sont des splendeurs.
J’espère sincèrement qu’un jour prochain… Je pourrai enfin réaliser mon rêve de visiter le Real Downtown Abbey !!!
Molière disait : “Le rire est médecin” et je suis entièrement d’accord avec lui !
Avec tout mon respect pour vous et votre mari, ainsi que pour toute l’équipe de Highclere.
Merci – La Tapisserie est un Aubusson du 17ème siècle – belle couleur
Being married to a master builder everything is so carefully measured, it made me giggle to imagine a CARPET being too large for the intended room, Lady Carnarvon you are a ‘one off’! God bless!
Everything is beautiful but I would love to spend a month with all the books.
A month would be but an appetizer I fear.
Tapestry looks beautiful, hope to see see it when I visit again, I was lucky enough to visit last year, wonderful day.
It would be lovely to see you again!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
your planning and preparation are paying off, the house and gardens look wonderful!
My husband and I so enjoyed the tour of the house and surroundings in 2017. Recently I rewatched all of DA and it has only served to make me wish I had taken in more details of your beautiful home.
Bladenboro NC USA
Measure thrice, purchase once.
I cannot imagine the planning that must occur in order to run an estate of such significance and size. What a blessing that you have the necessary skills to keep Highclere moving forward so that so many can enjoy the castle. I hope to get there one day and so appreciate the glimpses that you give us into your life in a magnificent English manor house. You & your husband are doing an amazing job of keeping Highclere. God bless you in your endeavors to preserve and enhanse your glorious home.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I love reading your antidotes of castle life. I especially enjoyed reading about the carpet and tapestry difficulties . My husband and I are going rug shopping today and I will surely measure again to make sure it will fit our living room space. Your article was most timely.
Hello Lady Carnarvon
Looking forward to my visit to the Proms and later in August, the Castle & gardens.
Your last blog inspired me to visit.
Hope the new tapestry is not in direct sunlight.
Given Sally a challenge so that I can collect an armillary that will be a Christmas gift for someone.
My one, collected at the VE Day event looks fantastic. Big decision then, the armillary or gin.
When you did the audit on my part of the company, you slumped back on the desk and said that these accounts are beyond me. Now go and paint the flagpole again.
Hope Highclere benefits when the restrictions are lifted.
Carry on Highclere.
After reading your words just now, I thought of a line from a John Lennon song, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” I have to remind myself to live in the moment, as well as to plan for the future. All of the hard work by you and your staff at Highclere helps to continue a beautiful tradition.
Actually, John Lennon “borrowed” that particular quote from another. The lyrics of “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” contain the famous Allen Saunders 1957 Readers Digest quote “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.
Beautiful pictures so enjoyed seeing them.Also enjoyed you telling about the carpet and tapestry. We are hoping to come this year but that is not to be it will have to be next year.thank you so much for sharing things with us from the united stated.
Hopefully you will be able to visit
I am finding the transition from solitude for 15 months to suddenly hosting and socializing at numerous events to be a bit stressful. Thank you for your suggestion of laughing and adding humor to our lives. If you can manage an estate and castle and keep your sense of humor, I can do the same while managing my home and life.
Beautiful work. Planning and chugging forward, two excellent reminders. Thank you. Have a nice cold one in the garden and enjoy!
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
Thank you for another beautiful, inspiring message. I continue to look forward to visiting Highclere Castle one day soon. My planned trip to England has been postponed twice due to the pandemic.
Carol, from the USA
Good morning from a retired CPA in Tennessee! I love the library. Might there be some accounting textbooks tucked in there somewhere?
I totally agree in regard to finding a quiet spot and enjoying a cocktail! That and your beautiful garden makes the jumble of numbers and questions a bit less stressful. I would make one with the wonderful Highclere gin! Cheers!
Good Monday Morning
A beautiful rug and tapestry.Thank you for sharing your experience.
Hopefully one day I will see this in person.However with the pandemic and my being 83 years old It is a huge question
Have a wonderful week and thank you for the lovely blog.
Kathleen from Canada.
My husband and I agree whole heartedly with your paragraph about the politicians. Tis the same here in the USA! We were hoping to see a photo of your “old” accountant certificate – chuckle, chuckle. 😉
–Alan & Ina Sue Fox
With lives encountering problems this past year, it is a blessing to be able to see that planning ahead indeed does pay off – in constantly encouraging beauty in our homes and gardens as well as the duller habits of paying bills and planning personal economy. You have done both so well at Highclere! Thank you for reminding us we can and need to plan ahead – espcially for the late afternoon in the garden.
Thank you Martha
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you for another joyful insight into daily life and planning at Highclere. Your photos are stunning, as always.
On this the 73rd anniversary of the beginning of our NHS, it is lovely that you mention laughter is the best medicine. I believe humour brings the best out in everyone whether they feel under the weather or not.
Wishing you all a happy week in your beautiful surroundings.
Laughter is definitely the best medicine!!
Dear Lady Carnarvon:
Thank you for your Monday blog and the great pictures included therein.
For a change, I am ahead of my reading. Today is the closing day of the long Fourth of July (America’s birthday/independence day) holiday weekend. At the moment, the weather in Michigan is very hot and humid, so it is a good day to be quiet and just relax.
What a beautiful tapestry as seen in the sixth photograph. I am curious. When Lord Carnarvon made this purchase, was he provided with the history and storyline of the depiction?
I agree with you that it is necessary to always forward plan. Doing so was one of the few things that kept my mind focused during the COVID-19 lockdown last year. Also, I agree that it is necessary to be fiscally responsible. That concept is sorely lacking at all levels in today’s society. Perhaps you could address that topic in a future Monday blog.
Until next week, keep moving forward.
Your writings are so enjoyable! Thank you. I think your comments about politicians is spot on!
Good morning from Southern Oregon USA. Always enjoy your blog but today is was especially fun just showing that even though you live in such an incredible place with so much work to do constantly you always seem to have a sense of humor and a lot of fun with everyone there that works with you. What a joyous life!
Lady Carnarvon: Although I knew of Downton Abbey and the magnificent Highclere Castle, I became enamored of your real life there by watching Mary Berry’s episode on Country Houses. I was charmed by your intelligence, humor, graciousness, and of course, your wonderful delightful laugh. You had me at seven dogs! I will look forward to reading your thoughtful blog that relates so beautifully to all our gardens and all our life challenges. Bless you and all you are doing to preserve beauty and history. Carey from South Carolina
I now have eight!
I will share what I think is an amusing story about our visit a few years ago, at the height of the Downton Abbey series. After we toured the beautiful house, had a cup of tea and all too soon had to get back on the tour bus, my husband noticed that the grooves on the bottom of his shoes was studded with tiny pebbles from the driveway. As he started picking them out to throw away later I had a hilarious idea. We, and everyone else on the bus, saved the pebbles. When I got home I divided them into tiny plastic bags, made a label saying “Actual pebbles from Downton Abbey “ and gave them to several friends. Little did I know that they would keep those pebbles and proudly show them off!
We live in Asheville, NC which is the home of George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House. I wonder if any of their tourists take home the pebbles from their shoes?!
That is so funny!
Greetings once again Lady Carnarvon,
and thank you for yet another informational, educational, pleasant read and glorious photos to take in on yet another Monday morning. You are so right about the pre-planning and work needed to thoroughly enjoy lovely gardens in blooming season and events whenever they are to take place. You and your Highclere Team are quite talented and staying on top of it all (save for carpet measurements perhaps LOL). I too enjoy gardens and tapestries as the work and time put into both is much appreciated. Continue to enjoy strolling through you lovely gardens and savor the outcome of your time and talents (hopefully while carrying a Highclere Gin and Tonic!) while the weather cooperates.
Take care and remain well.
Thank you so much. I thoroughly enjoy reading and hearing about life at Highclere.
Thank you for posting the pictures of your lovely secret garden – such a heavenly oasis!
I can only imagine that managing Highclere must be like the “I Love Lucy” episode in the candy factory. You can either be ready and have done your planning, or be totally caught off guard and scrambling to keep up. Thank you for sharing some of the amusing moments!
Lady Carnarvon, Stunning photographs. Always good to plan a head as one never knows what the future holds. If it is negative, have a Highclere Gin and Tonic and relax! Cheryl
I do agree with that! A gin and tonic (Highclere of course) is the answer – a moment apart
This episode may be my favorite. Such a reminder that we are so alike regardless of where we live. The tapestry reminds me that our lives are like a beautiful carpet and we are like ants, unable to see how beautiful is the end result. We have the same frustrations……Oh yes!!! Lets have the cocktail in the shade and tell stories sprinkled with humor. Incidentally, your British sense of humor is the best!
Such a beautiful carpet with lovely colors. I do agree with you that at times laughter is indeed the only medicine. Thank you for these posts each Monday. They do brighten the day.
The new tapestry is stunningly beautiful–looks as if it is exactly where it should be, and as if it always was right there.
It does rather!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I really believe that you nail it with your comment: “…Looking forwards we have our strategy and within us we try to find that still small voice of calm and to keep following it”.
During these strange and difficult times for humanity as a whole, that is the most helpful and wonderful truth. We must all FIND that still small voice to guide us…right? It gives us calm and perspective and helps us to take the right decisions and sometimes it helps in the middle of turmoil just to sit down in a nice corner, and contemplate life, without any pressure and a cup of tea or coffee. Wonderful!
How lovely it must be to unwind and escape the accounting and decision-making with a walk through your absolutely beautiful gardens. I wish we had more time to explore them the first time we visited, as well as the Egyptian museum. I spent too much time in your well-stocked gift shop! When I visit again, I will see everything with different eyes because of what I’ve learned from your blogs. I will appreciate even more the how, why, what, and where of your family’s stewardship of Highclere. Thank you for your care in documenting and accounting for generations to come, as Lord Carnarvon’s ancestors did in their time!
How magnificent and beautiful all the preparations that have been made and continue in order to keep Highclere and the grounds so splendid and welcoming. My wife and I hope to be able to visit on our next trip to the UK. Love the Gin cocktails to enjoy those wonderful quiet places too. Thank you for all that you do.
Love John’s comment to tell your husband to buy a bigger castle! And the word pictures of you struggling through the window with a huge carpet in tow & wandering from room to room with your stunning tapestry under the arm – priceless. My giggle for the day. Thank you from Tamborine Mountain Australia. Sadly we will never be able to visit your beautiful home now, but can enjoy second hand through your photos & stories. God bless, Anne.
Are you planning on writing an autobiography at all?
I would love to hear about how you felt going from life as an accountant to seeing Highclere for the first time, what you did to explore the castle. All the emotions of going from a normal life to an astounding one.
I am adopted and found my family a few years ago, to find my mother’s surname is now Aitken, I wonder if we are branches in the same family tree 🙂
I really enjoy your writings, having read your books these Monday Blogs keep bringing things to life. Thank you for taking the time for us.
How very kind – my latest book is at the printers now. – Seasons at Highclere and it is hugely helpful if anyone pre-orders so have a look at it on Amazon. Some beautiful photography inside the Castle and out
Thank you for the interesting stories. Visiting Highclere’s secret gardens are definitely going on my ‘to do’ list – in fact even for this summer. Property management, whether of Highclere or a smaller place (much smaller) is time consuming, but gardens really reward the effort and all the forward planning. One sentence jumped out for me, but I read it all with interest and a smile. That sentence was “These light moments in time are most welcome at a time when many of us feel our lives have lost focus and strategy”. One is glad not to be alone in these feelings. As for politicians, the weakness of democracy is short-termism. ‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… (Churchill). Thank goodness, we can still ‘refresh’ the politicians every five years – and get rid of the worst.
Love readings all your blogs!
What lovely memories a place to work and contemplate. The textiles are very beautiful. I remember seeing the red one in scene from Downton Abbey.
If things are taken care of they will last you a lifetime. And it appears that you all have done that very thing. Well done:)
Thank you for sharing
The tapestry is so beautiful.. I have worked for an accountant for a year. My family keep saying: everything you learn, no one can take away. Eiven though I am usually a letters person. I say: laughter and a sense of humor, is what helps us live.
As always I enjoyed your Monday morning blog. I will look on Amazon for your new book. So exciting.
Dear Lady Carnarvon, I absolutely love that rug in your library!! Is the library part of the tour? We hope to come to UK in 2022. We hope to come for our 50th, in 2020 but you know what put a stop to than. Thanks for your blogs. I have your Christmas book and tried your recipe for Christmas Cake. I loved it and it was a big hit. Hope to see you in 2020! Linda De Jong
Yes the library is part of the tour around the Castle
Lady Carnarvon, Off topic, but would just like to say your latest podcast on June 24th, Food for the Soul is outstanding. Like all of your podcast they are so very informative and a joy to listen to and this latest one is no different. I so very much enjoy them and encourage all to have a listen. You will not be disappointed! Cheryl
Thank you !
Well said my Lady.
Hi Lady Carnarvon, home from a wonderful visit to Highclere today. All I can say is wow!! We had the soup today and I can’t get it out of my head. Please would you be able to tell me the flavour? We couldn’t recognise it. Thank you Anna
Lovely to hear you experienced a wonderful day. The soup was white onion and cardamom.
I can definitely relate to the planning process. Our trip to England next May, is taking a lot of figuring and budgeting. However, the trip to see Highclere is worth every minute. I can’t wait to see your beautiful home and gardens up close. I love the pictures, it makes me even more determined to make it happen.
Kathryn from North Carloina, USA
What kind of tree is that in the rear center of the first garden photo? It resembles the Rockerfeller Center’s in NYC main building in shape and height. Very beautiful your garden’s are. As always your blogs are great and creative.
so beautiful again thank you for sharing. from: Cornwall, On Canada
Lady Carnarvon lovely pictures of pot of gold and lovely to visit highcelere castle