The Gardens at Highgrove

Highgrove in Gloucestershire is the family home of The Prince of Wales, bought by the Duchy of Cornwall in1980. Now open to the public on certain days, and on a strictly invitation only basis, I joined a few friends and WI members on Friday morning as we wended our way through the countryside by coach to Highgrove. And what a lovely day we all had. We set off at 8, the rain cleared by 9, and as our tour was due to start at exactly 10.25, by some miracle the coach driver timed the two and a half hour journey perfectly to within 2 minutes.

The original house was built in 1796 in a Georgian neo-classical design, and since 1980 both the house and garden have been subjected to many thoughtful and innovative changes. When the Prince first arrived, Highgrove possessed little more than a neglected walled garden, an overgrown copse, some pastureland and a few hollow oaks. Now, apart from being the family home of the Prince, the Duchess of Cornwall and Princes William and Harry, it’s also a centre of excellence for organic farming and gardening as well as a haven for wildlife.

As Prince Charles said
 “It is to achieve a sense of harmony that I have, over the past twenty years, worked with various people whose professional skills I admire in order to blend the arts of imagination and architecture into what, I hope, has gradually become a garden which delights the eye, warms the heart and feeds the soul.”

Although we were not allowed to take our own photographs at Highgrove, here are a few glimpses of some of the sights we saw.

From the Thyme Walk, Woodland Garden, Southern Hemisphere Garden and Arboretum, to the Azalea Walk, Walled Garden, Wildflower Meadow and the Sanctuary, everything we saw in our two-hour tour of the gardens was a delight to the eye and certainly fed the soul. The second picture shows the Tree House – one of the favourite haunts of the young Princes William and Harry.

The above bronze by the late American sculptor Frederick Hart, situated within the Arboretum, appealed to me most of all. It’s titled ‘The Daughters of Odessa: Martyrs of Modernism’ and is dedicated to all the oppressed people of the world, and is partially surrounded by a curved seat made by Stephen Florence for the ‘Healing Garden’ which was designed by the Prince of Wales for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2002 and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

I wish you could see the serene faces of these lovely young women. Our guide said the sculptor most probably based them on the features of the four daughters of Czar Nicholas II of Russia, who were cruelly put to death by the Bolshevics in 1918. I could have gazed at these beautiful faces for hours.

Later in the afternoon we had a chance to have lunch and a walk around the nearby town of Tetbury – thankfully not blighted (yet) by a succession of chain stores and dreary modern shop-fronts.

We arrived back home just in time for me to do a quick change before going out to the Orangery at Phyllis Court to celebrate Brian Hill’s birthday.

So far I’ve spent about 100 hours on my painting of Sir William McAlpine’s carousel. It’ll probably take me nearly 200 more to finish the picture. Here’s a close-up of part of the painting at an initial stage.

Sunday was selection day in London for the forthcoming annual exhibition of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters. Braving the endless road-works in London and discovering the Mall was closed, I finally managed to find my way to the Mall Galleries in time to join the other committee members. Out of over 700 entries we selected nearly 600 for exhibition. I also made a decision on my prize ‘The Mundy Sovereign Award’ for the best portrait. It will go to Michael Coe for his lovely little portrait entitled ‘Needlepoint’. Here we are at the selection.

Quite a long day – it was nice to get home before six and relax over a delicious roast dinner with Val.

Oh yes. On Monday evening the President of the RMS rang to tell me that my portrait of the photographer and artist Gilbert Adams (below) had won the Bonham Portrait Award. This especially pleases me as Bonhams is the leading auction house for miniatures.