(my garden club article) I reached the pinnacle of existence for an organic gardener in England today- our Garden Club toured Prince Charles's Gardens at Highgrove. Highgrove is all organic. My true (but just serendipitous- they requested this visit 5 years ago!) reward for being chairman last year, and a once in a lifetime opportunity even for British gardeners. He was in residence there today (flag flying) but we did not see him in the grounds. He actually permits 9 tours a day almost every weekday all summer long (all to benefit his charity if we choose to donate or to buy at the gift shop, and to reward groups like ours) and our guide reports there are days when he gets up and takes his paperwork inside for 5 minutes every time a group comes by. What a sacrifice of his privacy! Highgrove is all organic. Prince Charles also runs Duchy Organics http://www.duchyoriginals.com/ which produces organic foods and toiletries. I brought home a memento tin of the shortbread biscuits my family is already fond of as well as some soap and shower gel for Mum. The lovely mandarin and rose hand cream in the cloakroom was sadly not on sale at the gift shop. I also got some Highgrove champagne for the neighbors who further explained the Prince's passion for his causes to me, and probably will explain him to me some more over the champagne soon. I said it was my last chance to see formal English gardens before going to the US and tossing lines and symmetry and formality out the window for the informal American (or Gertrude Jekyllian) style but HRH actually is not very formal nor very symmetric- many whimsies and casualnesses that other English gardeners have not been so relaxed about. I will now never try to perfectly match all my garden paving tiles, or find perfect wood to build any temples I might erect- but I would still love to have a half mile (or 100m) long view through parallel yew hedges... with a fountain along the line to look from in either direction, and then past when you get to one of the ends... Yet even in this he defies the rules: in one of his lines which should shoot a straight path to the south of the house, there is a DELIBERATE curve (that does not obscure the vista) in the path from the gate framing the view. His yew hedges make one think of Alice in Wonderland and the hatter rather than royalty. He instructed the gardeners to rejuvenate the hedges along the E-W Thyme Walk in any shapes they wished and they have charmingly and whimsically complied. The views were the most significant aspect of the gardens for me. One of the earlier occupants of the house had the spire put on the Tetbury church in exchange for an unobstructed view of it from the North side of Highgrove House. This is charming across the cow pasture. A massive cedar of Lebanon frames the west side of the house, visible along the Thyme walk from a fountain midway or from the dovecote at the farthest west on the enclosed grounds. Sadly the Cedar's time is almost over- in a few years it will probably have to be cut down. Next in strikingness is the fountains. Our guide said the Prince does not want them to obscure the views so almost all of them are gentle below waist level dribblings or overspills, no jaunty plumes. None obscure conversation but all add tranquility and peace to the auditory experience. He has so many gifts of clay pots and vases (and other clay reliefs and keystones of all sorts) that they litter the gardens. I think my favorite was a stone bell pepper on top of a small upright stone in the Laurel Tunnel. He has even had made a 'wall of gifts'- stacking interesting stone/bricks he has been given that will fit in a dry wall. He also has a stumpery- a good suggestion for anyone with a dumptruck and access to the hurricane damaged areas of the American South. His life sculptures were too sad for me- mostly people he has known who are dead- and Frederick Hart gave him his Daughters of Odessa http://www.jeanstephengalleries.com/hart-daughters-maquette-bronze.html as a memorial to the slaughtered Czarinas which brought me to tears. Saying I could not bear to contemplate it (as described to us) in my garden our current chairman kindly pointed out that they are his cousins so it is a family memorial; not a morbid memento to be avoided by the healthy. The plants. He goes for a lot more purple than anyone other than me that I know of (I really would have relished meeting him- a liberal organic gardener who likes PURPLE and flies helicopters in the Army Air Corps ((like my husband))- my kind of man). Once again the hellebore rises in my esteem with further exposure- he had a few miniature hellebores which are even more tolerable (though ghastly purple in his black ((purple really)) and white garden) right next to the house. The box hedge are suffering the fungus and they are trying (organicly) to help it recover by trimming the box with a peaked not flat top to avoid water collection. If this does not work the next group of our members who visit may see no more box there. This was an odd touch to the walled garden but fit right in with the broad beans onions and just started peas and just blooming pears. Beyond that there are a lot of plants- oh for 1600 acres and 10 full time gardeners for just the house gardens. Our guide was Mrs Armytage who opens her Sharcott Manor near Pewsey every summer for the Yellow Book and invited us to schedule a special HHDRA (our club name) visit to her gardens. She had answers for every question such as "Why do you use Spanish bluebells?" (Because this is not a natural woodland so they will not escape.) After our lovely stroll (over two hours) through the gardens they served us a lovely tea and some organic shortbread biscuits, and on departure we had to pry a few of our members (you know who you are) away from the gift shop (which has plants as well as food toiletries and souvenirs).