Scythes at Highgrove

There’s one more special ‘Learn to scythe’ course from last year that hasn’t had a mention here on the blog. I didn’t write about it at the time in the hope that there would be a photo to accompany it but it looks as if that’s not going to happen unfortunately.
After the Anna Karenina experience of 2011, a few friends and I had been wondering what might happen that could be the match of it in 2012 when I got a very interesting request. I’d been selected to teach the garden staff at Highgrove, HRH Prince Charles’ home with the possibility of HRH himself being there. I knew that HRH is very keen on gardening, agriculture as well as traditional skills and that he has a special interest in mowing with scythes through his connection to Romania so it made perfect sense that he would want to employ them on his estate.
After several weeks of planning and preparations, Christiane and I headed down to Gloucestershire. Once through security we were met by Debs Goodenough, the head gardener, and the three members of her team that we would be instructing. A very down-to-earth group, they made it clear that some were more convinced about the usefulness of the scythe and I would have to prove it’s merits to them over the course of the day, a challenge I was happy to meet.
We set up together and then went to mow in one of the wildflower meadows on the estate which, due to all the wet weather, was difficult but manageable mowing. We worked on the tai-chi style and also trimming around trees and along fencelines. Early after lunch, Debs disappeared to return a short while later in the company of HRH himself. We were introduced and shook hands then chatted in a very relaxed way about the merits of the scythe, our work training people and the beauty of the Romanian landscape.
By the end of the day they were convinced; not for every job, it’s true and some of the team more than others but they could all see how the scythe would be a useful addition to their already extensive toolkit.
The following day, the rest of the scythe gang arrived. As well as the mowing course, we’d arranged for a group of mowers to spend a couple of days working with scythes to mow at Highgrove. A dozen mowers from around the country arrived and were put to work cutting the meadow headlands. We’d been intended to cut the meadow itself but the poor weather had delayed the wildflower seeds so the crop was being left for later harvest. In many ways this was to our advantage as it meant we were employed on a wider variety of tasks in more areas of the estate; tidying ditches, trimming meadows nearer the house and clearing inside park tree guards. It all demonstrated perfectly the versatility of the scythe and we had a great time over the two days. I wonder what security thought of having so many people armed with huge blades on site?
As a treat, on the second day we were given a guided tour of the gardens which are a beautiful mixture of formal plantings, quirky corners and wilder spaces with some wonderful examples of craft as features, representing HRH’s various interests.
Oh, and there was one more lesson. A small group of us were picked out and taken to the house to formally meet HRH where he was presented with a very special scythe with an antique blade and snath custom made by Peter Vido. Being a practical chap he immediately asked if he would have the opportunity to learn to use it and Christiane was chosen to teach a private lesson. Without revealing details, she tells me that she was impressed at how hands-on he is and his ability to watch her working and quickly learn the movements.
Home FarmMany thanks to Debs and all the staff at Highgrove who made us feel very welcome and to David at Home Farm where we camped during the stay.

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