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The Gardener King: The New British Monarch’s Passion for Sustainable Gardening

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The Gardener King: The New British Monarch’s Passion for Sustainable Gardening

October 13, 2022

Whatever your thoughts on monarchy, King Charles III has been a hugely vocal and consistent campaigner for nature. Long before we had even heard the term “climate crisis” or “sustainability,” he was pleading for a more eco-friendly approach. When he was just 22 years old, the fresh-faced Prince of Wales addressed the Countryside in a 1970 conference to speak on what we’d now call “green issues.” He was often dismissed as a crazy eccentric who talked to his plants. But as we’ve all collectively caught up with these ideas, Great Britain’s newly minted monarch has looked prophetic.

As the heir to the throne, he could campaign tirelessly about these issues. As monarch he is constitutionally obliged to be impartial but he’s likely to still wield some soft power, setting an example as he has done for decades on royal estates and through national programs. Protecting nature is, he believes, a moral duty, above any political wranglings.

Photography by Clare Coulson, unless otherwise noted.

Above: The meadows in spring at Highgrove.

Highgrove, the King’s beloved country house in the Cotswolds, has acted as a test bed for sustainable gardening. When he bought the house in 1980, he set about implementing all his ideas on nature and horticulture. He tasked Dame Miriam Rothschild with creating wildflower meadows, including the famous swathe of vivid blue camassias that frame the grassland up to the house.

And that passion has now extended to the royal parks, with areas given over to meadow planting and grasses allowed to grow longer in a boost to biodiversity. He understands the potent social and therapeutic benefits of everyone having access to outdoor space. There have even been whispers of a green belt across central London joining up Green Park, the 39 acres of walled garden around Buckingham Palace, along with Hyde Park to create a nature corridor. The Palace’s garden alone is one of the most biodiverse in London and also houses the national collection of mulberry trees.

Above: Bulb meadows with alliums in spring are edged with simple bent birch branches at Highgrove.
Magnolia trees are a favorite of the King. Here, a magnolia in early spring comes into flower outside the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery.
Above: Magnolia trees are a favorite of the King. Here, a magnolia in early spring comes into flower outside the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery.

Trees are another passion that has inspired national planting programs. For the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012, six million trees were planted to mark her 60 years on the throne. For this year’s platinum jubilee a similar scheme was launched—the Queen’s Green Canopy, to plant one million trees across Great Britain in any green space from private gardens to public parks and community spaces.

Photograph by Isabel Bannerman and Dunstan Baker. The King has famously worked with numerous designers including Julian and Isabel Bannerman who created a stumpery at Highgrove and installed green oak temples there too. They went on to develop the gardens at Trematon Castle (pictured), their former home on the Duchy of Cornwall estate. Charles has also co-designed two Chelsea Flower Show gardens including one with Jinny Blom in \200\2.
Above: Photograph by Isabel Bannerman and Dunstan Baker. The King has famously worked with numerous designers including Julian and Isabel Bannerman who created a stumpery at Highgrove and installed green oak temples there too. They went on to develop the gardens at Trematon Castle (pictured), their former home on the Duchy of Cornwall estate. Charles has also co-designed two Chelsea Flower Show gardens including one with Jinny Blom in 2002.
Above: The amazing espalier apples at Highgrove.

The King has also helped promote more sustainable approach to floristry. The marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was notable for its sustainable approach under the direction of florist Shane Connolly, who introduced living maple and hornbeam trees to Westminster Abbey that were then planted at another royal property in Wales, Llwynywermod. This approach has continued— most recently at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, where the beautiful flowers were cut from royal estates and made into an entirely compostable wreath. All the flowers laid by members of the public around Windsor and other royal estates have also been collected and composted.

Above: Herbaceous borders at Highgrove featuring towering cultivars of the King’s favorite delphiniums.

In 1985 as Prince of Wales, Charles converted his own farmland at Duchy Home Farm to organic, developing his own Duchy Organic brand that was consequently sold to the supermarket chain, Waitrose. Via workshops and other initiatives the farm promotes organic growing and sustainable farming. More recently he has applied his organic approach to the gardens, estate and farmland of the Sandringham estate in Norfolk. Since 1990 suppliers to the Prince of Wales’ household have also had to demonstrate a responsible approach to the environment and social issues.

Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer. Dry stone walling is one of the heritage skills preserved by the King&#8\2\17;s training centers.
Above: Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer. Dry stone walling is one of the heritage skills preserved by the King’s training centers.

But it’s not just about his personal enclaves. The King actively promotes green ideas and natural skills. At Dumfries House in Scotland, which is now part of his charity, The Prince’s Trust, he is building a rural skills training center that will open next summer and teach recent high school graduates and others about potential careers and heritage skills in the countryside, including hedge laying, dry stone walling, woodworking and fencing, preserving this specialist knowledge for future generations.

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