An un-illustrated Blog

An un-illustrated talk by Highgrove head gardener, David Howard

16th March, 2007

This was CAR Gardens’ first, eagerly anticipated, opportunity to see what was going on behind the scenes at HRH.Prince Charles ‘organic’ country estate in Gloucestershire. It was also an ideal opportunity to introduce ourselves to the Island’s Botanic Garden society.

Arriving at the Riverside centre, all the seats had been filled and anticipation filled the air…

However, after about 10 minutes it soon became clear that all was not well as an announcement was made. I’m paraphrasing but “wires were crossed”, and the search was on for a working slide projector. It became clear that the ‘illustrated talk’ was soon to become just a ‘talk.’ The slides sat lonely and redundant at the back of the hall. I think at this point the relaxed psyche of the gardener shone through in the audience but perhaps most importantly by the manner in which Mr Howard calmly took to the stage ‘unplugged’ as they say on ‘MTV’.

Without slides of Highgrove, Mr Howard gave an extended talk about his history and the pathways that eventually led him to, what was at the time considered by the press, the wacky world of Prince Charles’ horticultural aspirations. Little did they know!

From this potted history (no pun intended) we could ascertain that perhaps the saviour of all organic principles could be traced back to two old ladies in Scotland who interviewed the young master Howard. They rolled their eyes when he explained he had no references with him but was his time working for the Queen reference enough?

The talk then got down to the details of Howard’s organic methods, particularly dealing with organic material (OM). OM was separated into three compartments – Wood chip, leaf litter and compost. Wood chip is used as a good mulch and weed suppressant. Leaf litter eventually gets used as an excellent soil conditioner/ peat substitute whilst the compost broke down to be a feed for the plants. It is was interesting to note that the compost was bagged up and placed undercover so that rain would not leach all the valuable nutrients away.

What did impress me was the strict adherence to organic principles. Nothing was overlooked, from the hemp plant ties down to the pots made of feather ensuring everything would decompose into the earth.

At the end of the talk, in true Gardener’s Question Time style the audience were invited to ask questions. This ranged between how to treat two problem soil types (heavy chalk and heavy clay) through to the problem of moving prized asparagus 10ft without reducing next years crop.

A particularly pertinent question, given the flack that Highgrove has had over it’s first 25 years or so of inception, was whether the principles of permaculture were being used.

Mr Howard wryly replied that such plans were ‘under wraps’ at present and that it’s only recently that ‘organic’ has been excepted as a worthwhile and perfectly rational venture.

On reflection, despite the disappointing omission (an illustrated talk), a charming and positive evening was had by all. Mutual methods were agreed upon and new ideas were learnt.

I’m proud to say that CAR Gardens’ is soon to be a member of Ventnor Botanic Garden Friends’ Society and we are looking forward to future events.

Warren Oldershaw ( A Woz Blog).

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