Sarah's Highgrove Shop: Tetbury Florist
PUBLISHED: 14:32 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:08 20 February 2013
Katie Jarvis meets the Harley-Davidson-riding florist from Tetbury who fancies a glass of cider with 'The Boss' while listening to Leonard Cohen.Photography by Mark Fairhurst
YOU might think the personal florist to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales would favour grand arrangements and exotic blooms. Not a bit of it. Sarah Champier-Lowe's forte lies in recreating nature in the most informal way possible: "I'm wild at heart," she says. It's a style that very much fits in with the philosophy of the Prince (or the 'Boss' as Sarah calls him!)
Three years ago, a wish of the Prince came to fruition with the creation of a cutting garden at Highgrove that now provides nearly all the flowers Sarah uses.
"We've got everything: aconitum, delphiniums, lavenders, big old blowsy roses, long leggy tulips... The garden wasn't created in rows, but in 14 rectangles of miniature gardens, each with their own character. It's all about putting plants and colours together so that, when you look across the garden at any time of year, there's always something happening. For example, one has wonderful peonies - bowl of beauty and ballerina - Euphorbia polychrome, fabulous artichokes surrounded by the lovely pink Angelique tulip; there's Maureen, a tall leggy blond tulip, and a willow frame we grow gourds through. There's also an annual climber called corbea with amazing green to lavender flowers that are like cups - quite delicious."
Sarah also provides the flowers and plants for the new Highgrove Shop in Tetbury, where she undertakes commissions for floral creations.
She has two daughters: Laura, 25, a gym instructor, and Lydia, 18, a trainee manager at the shop on the Highgrove estate.
Where do you live and why?
In Tetbury, because I need to be on hand for my job - though I don't think of it as work so much as a vocation. I got the job 10 years ago through a Cirencester-based charity, WRAGS (Women Returners to Amenity Gardening Scheme), which helps women looking for gardening experience. They rang me one evening and said, "We've found you a garden you'll just love!" I couldn't believe it when they told me it was Highgrove. I'd recently seen a film on television, which included scenes of the Boss wandering through the vegetable garden, and I'd thought then how wonderful it would be to see it for myself one day. I'd only been working there eight weeks when the Orchard function room was completed and they needed flowers arranging for an event. Someone who knew I'd trained as a florist suggested me - and that became a habit! A few months later, I was asked if I'd like to work full time, doing the flowers for the house and travelling to other Royal residences as well.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
I was born in Brunswick Square, Gloucester. Apart from a period in France, I've lived locally all my life.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
It would have to include riding my Harley-Davidson bike. At 40, I decided to take my motorcycle test - I needed a challenge. The police at Highgrove gave me loads of help and good advice, though my family wondered what I was doing! I bought a Harley before I'd even passed my test - I had to get the guy at the dealership to ride it round so I could see what it looked like. He loaded it into my van and I took it straight to my instructor and said, "Please would you teach me how to ride this?" He didn't even blink. According to him, I was born to ride that bike. This year, it's my 50th birthday, and this month I'll be riding to Provence in the South of France, which will be a big challenge.
In the past, people who saw me on my bike assumed I was a man. I think I've made rather a mistake recently by buying a pink helmet!
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
We've just bought a wonderful 18th century house on Gumstool Hill and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. I work in a beautiful house but, even if I won the Lottery, my ideas are on a much smaller scale. What I have been able to do is to pick up style ideas over the years from places such as Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, Holyroodhouse and Sandringham. I think my favourite Royal house, though, has to be Birkhall in the Highlands of Scotland. That's as much to do with location as the building itself, because it's surrounded by the most spectacular scenery.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
As I said, not far from work, especially with the new shop. My time is divided between looking after the cutting garden, which is my baby, and working behind the scenes in the shop. Of course, in addition to that, I look after the private flowers at Highgrove.
Where's the best pub in the area?
The Cat & Custard at Shipton Moyne because it's local; they do great food; there's a wonderful garden to sit out in in summer; and we've had some great staff get-togethers there.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
In the staff room at work - Highgrove - where we catch up, laugh a lot and try not to eat too many Highgrove biscuits.
What would you do for a special occasion?
Arrange flowers! Generally, if I'm putting something together for a special visitor - such as when Al Gore came to dinner - I'll think about their character and interpret accordingly. Whatever we do, the Boss always makes us feel it's appreciated. He is very keen to know all that's going on and will chip in whenever he can.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
Being able to walk through woods where violets and primroses grow. It's also a reminder that we should all do our bit to help the environment. Highgrove is very green and that has an effect on what I do at home.
... and the worst?
Which shop could you not live without?
Well, of course, it's got to be the Highgrove Shop. It's not only full of wonderful gifts and ideas for homes and gardens; it's also had a transforming effect generally on business in the town. Since it opened, suddenly everybody has a Highgrove recycled paper carrier! Lots of traders have been coming in to say thank-you for the difference it has made to them.
What's the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
It has to be Tetbury: I always thought it was incredibly underrated. There are lots of new interesting businesses opening in the town, and the Highgrove Shop is the cherry on the cake. His Royal Highness could have opened the shop anywhere, but he is keen to support locals in every way he can.
What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
What would be a three course Cotswold meal?
Trout from Bibury, served with the homemade horseradish I make that blows everybody's head off!
Highgrove lamb shank which I buy from John at Jesse Smith - he's a fellow bike enthusiast; I'd accompany that with Duchy Home Farm vegetables (which you can buy from the Highgrove Shop, and from the Veg Shed on the farm each Wednesday).
We'd finish with a dessert my husband has a passion for: bread and butter pudding, usually made with brioche and Highgrove marmalade, and laced with whiskey.
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
That's easy. It's as you come down Frocester Hill and look across the Severn Estuary to Blaisdon, which is where we lived before we moved to Tetbury. I used to look across from there to the wind turbine at Nympsfield, never imagining I'd be the other side one day.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
I always think of the Slaughters, because they are so perfect. But I think we're lucky to have so many pretty villages in the Cotswolds, and to be able to look round the gardens on open days. Among my favourites are Barnsley House; Mary Keen's, (the garden designer) at Duntisbourne Rouse; and Birtsmorton Court, a lovely moated house near Malvern.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds...
Abundant wild flowers and fauna;
And Jesse Smith's frying pan! This Tetbury butcher has an enormous frying pan that comes out every other Saturday, with profits to charity. They cook cooks sausages and burgers - the smell's heavenly - opposite the Highgrove Shop.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
Bowood House, out on the way past Chippenham. The garden has the most amazing rhododendrons. I always look for a perfect garden - with a house set in it... The other way round to most people!
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Use a plastic carrier bag. How wonderful it would be if the Cotswolds were free of them.
Starter homes or executive properties?
Not executive properties. If we want to keep our youngsters, we have to find them somewhere they can afford to live.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
My guess is Worcester, Bath, Stratford and the edge of Oxfordshire.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
Cotswold stone. I collect stones and pebbles wherever I go: I love the feel of them in my pocket - quite comforting. I did live in France for a while, with my previous husband, who is French. We thought it would be a complete change of life, and went back to the village, where he was born, to run a restaurant. I knew about one word of French when I arrived, but I became front-of-house while he did the cooking, which was a fantastic way for me to learn. I have to say, though, while my knowledge of French food and menus is great, my general conversation is lacking! But the experience has given me a deep-rooted love of France.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Smile at everyone - it's a good way to get to know people. And, if you want to see the Highgrove garden, put your name down the minute you arrive: there's a long waiting list!
And which book should they read?
The Prince's book, entitled The Elements of Organic Gardening: Highgrove, Clarence House, Birkhall - very informative, and full of tips and interesting plant lists.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
I don't tend to walk - I ride. I'd take my bike down Frocester Hill and across the Malverns in a big circuit. On a bike, you get the scents and smells of everything around you, especially on a warm summer's evening.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Either Tetbury Woolsack Races in May, or an event at Westonbirt Arboretum, a favourite place of mine.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I already feel I am invisible because I go to places other people never go. One particularly special example is the Sanctuary at Highgrove, a small place of worship in the arboretum. It's very private, full of solitude and calm.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
To the woolsack traders of the past; not the rich and famous ones, but the ordinary every-day workers who helped make Tetbury what it is.
The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?
Neither. We should be much more aware of the environment around us, looking at ways of keeping it as it is - but sustainably so.
Which attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
Inviting. People the world over have heard of the Cotswolds and know how beautiful they are, but not everyone realises how welcoming they are too.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
Definitely the Boss, whilst listening to Leonard Cohen, looking out across the garden! His Royal Highness is interesting and funny; and he takes an interest in each and every one of us who work for him.
You can visit the Highgrove Shop at 10 Long Street, Tetbury; ring them on 01666 505666; or visit the website at www.highgroveshop.com