Saturday, July 27, 2013

Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden

This month at Great Dixter has been packed full of incredible experiences, including meeting Beth Chatto and seeing her incredible garden. Beth Chatto is an amazing woman, in the her nineties now, and so generous, sharp and poignant. I hung on her every word, enthralled, listening to her stories and ideas. And then her garden was glorious. I was most enamored by her Gravel Garden, an experiment in zero-irrigation gardening, cultivating and expertly arranging truly drought tolerant, tough plants. They were beautiful, textural, sculptural, wispy and brilliantly colorful. Asa Gregers-Warg has been gardening with Beth Chatto for thirteen years and she led us through the garden. She said that in the gravel garden, the arrangement and design had more to do with editing at this point than with anything else; deciding which self-sowers to leave and taking the majority out. I was impressed by the spaces created by all this editing. I think it is hard to pull out all those great plants- and it would have been easy to leave in many more, but the effect was just perfect. 

I love the above combination with the yellow Alcea rugosa, maroon Allium sphaerocephalon, gray leaves of Artemesia, and the bright gold feathery leaves and stems of Asphodeline liburnica.

Stipa gigantea catching the morning light.

A beautiful Genista aetnensis in full flower and fragrance. I have seen these small trees/large shrubs in other gardens too, including Chelsea Physic, Wisley, Sissinghurst and here at Great Dixter.

A nicely framed vista

Beth Chatto's garden is beautifull composed. Here is a nice example of the layers and shapes she has created, with lots of varying textures and colors. The scalloped gray leaf plant is Ballota, and likely B. pseudodictamnus.

A bee coming in for a landing

This was a great plant, Galactites tomentosa. It's buds, seed heads, and flowers all kind of blended together and you had to get up close to really see what was what. From a distance it was a fuzzy field of silvery white. I saw another form of this plant at Siisnghurst, with slightly larger purple flowers with glossy mottled green foliage.

Stipa gigantea swirling around with Verbena bonariensis.

My favorite moment in the garden was sitting on Beth Chatto's patio, listening to her stories and peering out from under the Magnolia into her garden. There are two massive conifers, rising upwards like thick, dark green columns framing the view. The early morning light was passing between them and illuminating a wavering stand of Verbena. It was glorious!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Views from the Weekend

The best part of spending a month living and volunteering at Great Dixter, is being in the garden in the early morning and late evening- when the light is the best and the crowds have dispersed. This is the time to capture the best photographs as well. Above in the Barn Garden is the lovely Salvia scalera 'Vatican White,' flowering with the Lychnis coronaria 'Alba.' Fergus came around a few days ago and said the gods of Sissinghurst are playing a trick on us! The Lychnis was meant to be magenta pink for some outrageous color contrast and instead it looks like a slice of the white garden at Sissinghurst.

The pot displays all changed around on Friday. This ensemble was created by Fergus to show the students how to do it.

The Long Border in full swing. 

Late sowed foxgloves still looking gorgeous despite the heat.

One of my favorite parts of the garden right now is the Orchard Garden with Erigeron annus floating through.

Lagurus ovatus with pink Amberboa mauritanica in the Barn Garden.

Thalictrum 'Elin' with the new plumes of Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' in the Barn Garden.

The Exotic Garden. Stay tuned for more on that- it is starting to put on some growth!

Looking down the Long Border in the evening light, watching that teasel grow.

Looking up the Long Border.

The wonderful Campanula lactiflora is blooming in pockets all over the garden. It is such a great, glorious plant, with giant, thick heads of purple on sturdy, slightly arching stems. This specimen is growing right on the edge in front of the iconic Eunoymous 'Silver Queen.'

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Meadows

The Agrostis capillaris grass just came into bloom in the meadows, taking the meadow-loveliness to another level. Yesterday morning I was out moving the sprinklers and came across the dew in the long grass and it was breathtaking. I continued to photograph it as it changed through the day. Here is the meadow in the early morning light, with a few remaining meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense) and the native Iris latifolia.

The afternoon light,

with Centaurea nigra just coming into bloom.

I love coming up from the lower meadow and seeing the long border against the tall grass!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Peacock Garden

The Peacock Garden has been a continual show stopper since I arrived, with two signature plants swaying up there in the breeze: Thalictrum 'Elin' with Ferrula communis subsp. glauca. The nursery has officially sold out of this perfect Thalictrum, much to everyone's dismay- and there won't be more until next spring. It is a really good cultivar, each plant bears multiple stems that are tall and self supporting.

Here they are coming into flower, bright lime-yellow puffs emerging out of lavender shells. They get a little frothier every day.

A nice grass, Ampelodesmos mauritanicus, and a monotypic genus. It seems to get better as the days pass. It has been a terrific, jam packed, hard working and garden touring week. It is hot and dry here and I have been on sprinkler patrol, moving them around every hour or two for days on end. All that good watering pays off, the garden looks amazing- more and more so each day.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Rose is a Rose

Rosa 'Ballerina'

It has been an amazing week here at Great Dixter. I have been planting a lot- pulling out and cutting back spring bedding and planting in the next round. I have also been working in the Exotic Garden working on a round of planting, diligently trying to place and plant everything just exactly right. Here plants are put in as they are meant to look- there is no waiting for something to grow into its place. I have to focus on un-learning everything I have learned about planting things straight up and down and away from the edge, etc. I am getting a real "edge-ucation." I finally put in a little Tagetes lemmonii in exactly the way I thought Fergus would like and he said to me, "Well, you don't want to over-do it." There is a fine line and I have a feeling it will take years to find it!  

Every month, Great Dixter runs a plant study day, headed by Kemal Mehdi, a long time horticulturist, teacher, and friend and neighbor of Christopher Lloyd. Afterhours, the staff, students and volunteers are offered the same garden walk. Kemal led us through the garden and through nine pages of plant names. It was amazing. His knowledge of the plants, history of the garden, anectdotal stories, and humor made the nearly five hours zoom by. He wonderfully brought us into his own journey of plant identification- since there are not perfect records of every plant in the garden, there is a complex process to uncover the truth about who's who. Still there are mysteries and it was terrific to hear Kemal's thought process and exploration. At the end he told us, "This list is just a map, it doesn't actually matter if you know all the names of the plants, what matters is what you can do with them."

Kemal went through many of the roses in the garden. Here are some of them (thought there are still many more) looking completely gorgeous and in full bloom! 

Rosa 'Florence Mary Morse' seen in the Long Border, but it is also found in the Exotic Garden.

Rosa 'Madge'
I think this is one of my favorite roses so far- it is a perfectly sized 3-4 foot shrub, with excellent foliage, buckets of flowers, and a terrific scent. This is seen in the Exotic Garden, also known as the old rose garden. The old rose garden still has at least seven different roses in it.

Rosa 'White Wings' in the Exotic Garden. In combination with 'Madge' and 'White Wings,' is Rosa 'Chanelle,' which hangs down from above with clusters of smooth apricot perfectly formed and perfumed blossoms. 

Rosa 'Chanelle'

Rosa 'Mrs. Oakley Fisher'
This one came as a cutting from Vita-Sackville West and is an early hybrid tea rose.

In the Orchard Garden there are a good many roses lining the central path. The dark pink is Rosa 'Cerise Bouquet.'

Together they are scrambling up and through the Prunus lusitanica 'Variegata.' In the early morning and late afternoon, the light catches the roses sprouting up out of the canopy.

Rosa 'Fantin Latour'

Rosa 'Kiftsgate' in the Kitchen Drive

Monday, July 1, 2013

I Have Arrived!

I am back at Great Dixter to volunteer for the month of July. I keep pinching myself to make sure I am really here... It is remarkable to be back after almost a year and a half and to see the garden during the peak of summer. This time I am staying in the house, in a little bedroom, looking out over the tropical garden. Yesterday I woke up and took photographs before the garden opened, the day was so sunny and warm with a nice breeze and I had the garden practically to myself.

The Long Border!

White Salvia scalera 'Vatican White,' with purple hesperis (Hesperis matronalis) and the parsnip, (Pastinaca sativa). Both the parsnip and hesperis grows wildly in the roadside ditches in Vermont and I have been particularly admiring of the parsnip these past few years. This parsnip is featured throughout Great Dixter this year, particularly in the High Garden.

One of my favorite views in the High Garden, and always changing. These beautiful Bachelor Buttons are Centaurea cyanus 'Blue Diadem.' The seeds are sowed in autumn and plants are wintered over in cold frames, resulting in plants with serious stature.

The little wooden bench in the High Garden is one of the nicest spots in the garden. Here you can enjoy the yellow tops of the parsnip. 

Silene fimbriata

Peacock garden

The Kitchen Drive showing off the incredible giant umbel Ferrula communis ssp. glauca.  It has a dark purplish stem with yellow flowers that glow a bit orange. This is one of those plants that I heard a lot about in March, but had never seen it flower. It is spectacular!

I love this picture looking out over the valley with the Verbascum echoing the fastigiate oak in the background.

Snap dragons in the Solar Garden.

The Barn Garden.

The Topiary Garden.

The meadows, with the signature orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii.

The steps leading to the terrace with Erigeron karvinskianus and Centranthus ruber.

The stock beds on the Orchard Garden with a nice red-hot Lychnis chalcedonica.