The Prince of Wales has some practical advice when it comes to composting, pruning and watering. Susie White discovered some princely tips.
As an organic gardener of many years, I am always interested to learn how other people achieve the same aims, so I was delighted to see Prince Charles's new book, The Elements of Organic Gardening.
Written with Stephanie Donaldson, gardens editor for Country Living, it is a very practical as well as inspirational book about a subject close to his heart (and mine).
At my own Chesters Walled Garden there are naturalistic flower borders, mossy lawns dotted with daisies, vegetables and wildflowers, all grown without chemicals. As a result, there is an impressive sixty-seven species of birds, as well as frogs, toads and newts in the ponds and more elusive red squirrels. I suppose it is in my blood; I am proud that my grandfather was one of the founder members of the Soil Association, the leading environmental charity that promotes organic farming.
Opening this book, I was first struck by how beautiful it is, the photographs by Andrew Lawson creating a real sense of place. There is plenty to inspire from traditional vegetable growing, lovingly portrayed, to free-flowing cottage style borders and from walls cascading with honeysuckles to neatly clipped box hedges.
Three very different gardens are shown, each with varying soils, climates and problems; Highgrove on the limestone Cotswolds, Clarence House in central London and Birkhall in the colder Scottish Highlands. The latter has not been photographed before and you feel this is a very personal space, a place where the Duchess of Cornwall has put her own gardening ideas into practice.
The work of the gardeners is acknowledged throughout in photographs and quotations, and the methods used at the three houses gives plenty of ideas to try in our own gardens. There is a month-by-month calendar of jobs in the Highgrove garden with lists of vegetable and flower seeds planted. This is a down-to-earth book and although the gardens described are grand and well maintained, it is full of realistic guidance.
Much of the book can be used as a manual with detailed descriptions of fundamentals such as compost-making, getting the soil right, watering and pruning. There is a useful three year rotation plan for the vegetable garden which, scaled down, could give ideas to allotment growers. The creating and maintaining of the wildflower meadow at Highgrove will be something of interest to many, judging by the amount of wildflower seeds that I sell.
Prince Charles began converting Highgrove to organic practice some 25 years ago and his beliefs are keenly felt. He gardens when possible; time on his honeymoon was spent jointly planting the many living wedding presents they were given. When in 1991 I supplied thyme plants from Chesters Walled Garden for the Thyme Walk at Highgrove, I was told that he had planted many of them himself.
There's a relaxed approach to gardening in this book. Chemical-free lawns are "green spaces". As Prince Charles says, "A mossy lawn is a beautiful thing in its own right", so I feel he would approve of my daisy-studded turf! I found out things that I did not know and had the pleasure of saying, "Oh, yes, I do it that way too." With the charming, photographs and the informational text, this book is well worth its modest price.
* The Elements of Organic Gardening by HRH The Prince of Wales with Stephanie Donaldson is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20. All profits go to The Prince's Charities Foundation.