Why Highgrove?

by AnneWareham on September 8, 2013

Post image for Why Highgrove?

OK. No names – right? Because the garden world is not robust enough for people to express their opinions openly and I don’t want to upset people more than I already have.

But this was illuminating to me and so it may be to you. I was at a social event with garden professionals and I overheard a very eminent garden professional say what a dreadful disappointment Highgrove’s garden is. I thought I’d check out with the person they said this to whether I had overheard correctly – and she not only confirmed that I had but then continued to give an eloquent and heartfelt analysis about just why Highgrove is so awful.

I had just received a review copy of ‘The New English Garden’ – and there, in the twenty odd gardens that have been chosen to feature (This is not sour grapes, all you Christopher Bradley-Hole discounters – Veddw is in Wales) was – Highgrove. (and The Laskett….)


Crocosmia.. You aren’t allowed to take pictures at Highgrove, so although I’ve been, you’ll have to settle for a pretty picture..

The garden world is full of dirty secrets like this. We all know this that or the other garden is awful – but…. no-one is going into print to say so.

And – why? Why are Highgrove (and the Laskett) in the book, did everyone think? My naivety was once again shown up – the consensus is: to sell books. Especially in America.

One of my companions was told by an American tour guide that if she’s organising a tour in the UK she just needs to include Highgrove and she’ll fill the tour. Then she can take the tour to the good places after they’ve done the duty visit to Highgrove. ‘They won’t like it, but they’ll have been’.

Well, I’m a bit less stupid than I was when I got up this morning…

Later addition Or maybe not. Tim tells me he had no commercial motivation in including these gardens. If I understand him – and I may well not – more that it gave him an opportunity to say what he thinks of them. Fair enough, and my apologies to Tim.

fear the general status and exposure  (and inclusion in garden tours) of these gardens may still have something to do with this analysis.

Hydrangea Blue Wave Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham 7th Sept

Hydrangea Blue Wave

(and here are James Alexander-Sinclair’s online thoughts about Highgrove )

Latest post on thinkingardens – Go it alone? by Rory Stuart – how do you like your garden tours?


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John September 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm

The consummate marketing ploy. Just make a label (you know what they are) with the phrase “This lump of earth stuck to my shoe when I was at Highgrove”. Stick it in a flowerpot in a prominent position. Then advertise Veddw in the US as a Welsh garden with a royal connection.

And for the sake of accuracy, I notice a full stop has fallen down the page a little!

Martin September 9, 2013 at 6:48 pm

I had a look at the book description on that link Anne, and it uses words like “significant”, “famous”, “challenging” and “thought-provoking” but doesn’t give a value judgement. All those words apply to Highgrove.
Also the physical experience of a garden is so very different from a photographic representation – photographers can do amazing things to make everything look fabulous.

The down side of the selection is rather the really depressing thought that no-one has produced a small suburban garden that gets rated – I would have loved to see a 12 Acacia Road, Ackrington on the list. Do you have to be rich before you are significant?

AnneWareham September 9, 2013 at 10:49 pm

The choice of the 25 gardens to feature in such a book is generally taken to be a value judgement of the gardens in itself.
Most of the gardens are by major garden designers. I guess you’d have to be rich to employ them, but I don’t think rich has informed the choice. Names that will help sell the book,I think, may have.

Martin September 10, 2013 at 9:03 am

I had a look on the internet to remind myself of the author and it seems he has always rated Prince Charles as influential – number 11 on his 2012 top 30 list – but given the description of the garden by James Alexander-Sinclair and the comment Richardson gave to you “edit and focus” and that he calls himself a garden critic – I see your point about names. Also a bit surprised that it’s included in a list of gardens that have been “made or remade over the past decade”.
On the other hand if it helps people become more aware of other new gardens that are among the best in the country because it helped the book get published then that can’t be a bad thing, and if people visit then I’m sure they will be able to see the difference between good and not so good.

AnneWareham September 10, 2013 at 9:10 am

I wish I felt so benign about it all. I do seem to be unusual in being surprised and minding about this sort of thing.

Martin September 10, 2013 at 9:18 am

You are unusual ! and I’m really glad you are because you always point out things that I wouldn’t have even thought about and make me think about them – for which I’m very grateful. Thank you 🙂

Of Gardens September 9, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Having not been, please tell why Highgrove is awful.

AnneWareham September 9, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Christopher Lloyd didn’t do too bad a summary: “Basically, Prince Charles’s tastes are very fussy and the plantings are all, and generally inappropriately, cottage gardening.” Christopher Lloyd.
And James Alexander-Sinclair amplified that a little here – http://thinkingardens.co.uk/reviews/the-wheels-on-the-bus-were-made-from-radishes/
Hope that helps.

Jenny September 11, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I have the garden book Highgrove. I love it. I have every intention of going to see the garden when next I am in the UK, if I can get a ticket. I’m sure I shall enjoy it as I have every garden I have ever visited when in the UK. As an American I find it a little insulting to hear that we might be tempted into buying a book because it features a royal garden. What is wrong with cottage gardens anyway?
There, that’s it. Nothing profound to say. I read the JAS article. It annoyed me. Why is it the British always have to be ‘clever’?

AnneWareham September 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Hi – sorry to have got your back up and do hope you enjoy Highgrove when you get there.

Martin September 12, 2013 at 1:18 pm

I think you make a really good point Jenny – there is nothing wrong with cottage garden planting at all and I think most people who visit gardens open to the public thoroughly enjoy what they see and have a lovely day out.
On the other hand, criticism of gardens is important (and of benefit – see Anne’s blog about how she changed her garden) and the debate that surrounds it, although mainly for a certain sort of garden geek. I’m sure that there are other gardens that could have similar comments aimed at them, but most people know of Highgrove and I don’t think Prince Charles is much bothered about what a few garden designers may say about his garden so there won’t be the typical British vicious passive/aggressive reprisals (like next time you visit having extra lumps of sugar put in your tea “because you need it dear”) to anyone being overly critical.
I think there is a percentage of the book buying public who will buy a book because it has a royal connection so it can go on the coffee table – the American connection is more to do with there are so much more of you over there and so it’s a bigger market for book sales. There are plenty of people in the UK who love the cachet of saying they have visited Highgrove and will buy the book for that reason.
I too have the Highgrove book, plus the estate one, and thoroughly enjoyed reading them!

AnneWareham September 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm

This is the article Martin mentions: http://veddw.com/annes-writing/being-criticised-by-anne-wareham/

I think one of my major problems with the lack of informed garden criticism is that people get complacent and don’t challenge themselves enough to produce the best garden they could for the benefit of themselves and their visitors. For me the evidence for that is everywhere in British gardens. Including Highgrove.

Kendra September 16, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Why do the British have to be so clever? They spoil it for everyone else.

Noel Kingsbury November 18, 2013 at 8:16 am

Whether we like them or not Highgrove and The Laskett are ‘new’ and ‘English’ and have a very high status, because of who they are created by. It would be hard not to include them. Also I doubt if Tim would had chosen the gardens, my guess is that Andrew Lawson would have done. This would have been Andrew doing a deal with the publisher for a filing cabinet load of previously taken pics, I very much doubt if he would have shot them specifically for the book. A good deal for both parties, without too much work being done. Andrew is a very good photographer who played a vital role in launching garden photography as an art form, he has rather patrician tastes (he did do a whole book on Highgrove remember) and why not celebrate the latter years of his career with a book like this with his choice of pictures, with Tim writing them up. If I had been asked to do this book, I know I would have found it very difficult NOT to do these 2 gardens, whatever I think of them (I can’t stand The Laskett and Highgrove I have never been to – and can’t stand the owner!). The publisher would want to include them because they help sell the book. The bottom line is we all have to make compromises to produce commercially viable projects.

AnneWareham September 10, 2013 at 9:40 am

Thank you, Martin. Might just be worthwhile being a bad tempered voice in the wilderness then…. Xxx