Friday, November 4, 2011

Beth Chatto's Gardens

At Great Dixter Deb and I each bought a book of published letters between Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto, titled Dear Friend and Gardener. It is a wonderful read on friendship, gardening, and plants.  Now as I sit at home reading this book, it is wonderful to be able to picture the gardens from which both of them wrote. It seemed to take all day to get there, but when we arrived, we had that gorgeous, low light that made the garden glow and, as usual, we practically had the garden to ourselves. Cold, blustery, gusts accompanied us on our walkabout, which enhanced the feeling of fading autumn days.

Pictured above and below is the Gravel Garden, which was initially planted as a water conservation experiment. Her husband, Andrew Chatto, devoted his life work to researching plants in their natural environments and determining the environmental conditions for growing species plants under cultivation. East Anglia, on the Eastern side of southern England, is typically dry and so Beth Chatto planted a garden full of plants that would never be watered. The garden is full of drought tolerant beauties that seem to be thriving under their conditions. The color palette of drought tolerant gardens are always so stunning, desert shades, interspersed with silvery foliage, and bursts of vibrant flowers. Structurally too, these gardens feel different, with the arrangement of sturdy flower stalks and seed heads, spiky succulents and billowy grasses. The closer you look, the more you find, like some small alpine gem tucked under the eaves of some great Euphorbia.

Amicia zygomeris in full flower.

What a glorious grass, inter planted with Verbena bonariensis and Nicotiana mutabilis. When I came home I noticed that it looked very similar to a grass we recently planted in Gordon Hayward's garden, Molina 'Skyracer.'  I do know that I saw this same grass, whichever it is, at Great Dixter and at Kiftsgate, and it was terrific everywhere!

A nice, late blooming combination of Aster and Geranium.

A wonderful full border with trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials.

Chartreuse colored Tropaeolum speciosum clambering through the evergreens.


The wonderful tree leaning in from the right is Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. Niphophila and catching the dramatic light is the much revered Calamagrositis 'Karl Foerster.' Those large pine trees arching in complete the scene.

This garden was different from Great Dixter in many ways, but I do think that Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd were doing some very similar things, just on different scales. Beth Chatto was equally interested in plant combinations, color, texture, foliage, design, and contrasting shapes and forms, but I think she was doing it on a much larger scale. At Great Dixter I was immersed in the intimate jumble of plants, and at Beth Chattos I had to step back, lift my head, and take in the long views. This garden is one I would like to see again, in the spring, to witness the emergence of new early green leaves, the spring flowering shrubs, and to admire the lushness of her woodland garden.


  1. Wonderful post! I love the first photo of the Gravel garden.

    I read Dear Friend & Gardener during the long winter months a couple years ago... during midnight feedings for baby #3. It gives such a window into their personalities and substance of their lives.

    You have a good point about the larger scale of the BC gardens. I love her plant designs, but the lay of the land would make experiencing the garden be more about the big picture.

  2. Hi Helen! I envy you. Beth Chatto's garden is one that's on my bucket list. Great post and photos! --Joe

  3. Just found your interesting blog, via Berties blog. Is the hardy geranium rozanne in your photo?

  4. Hi! I could not swear that this geranium was indeed 'Roxanne' though it certainly looks and acts that way. Without a tag, I wouldn't dare say which one it was- there are just too many! I have heard that there is much debate over the difference between 'Roxanne' 'Johnson's Blue' and 'Jolly Bee'- that maybe they are too similar to call them by different names.

    Thanks for you comment!