Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gravetye Manor

One of my favorite evenings in July was spent with Great Dixter students at Gravetye Manor, the famous old home and landscape of William Robinson, a pioneer of wild gardening.   A few years ago, Tom Coward was hired as head gardener and began an extensive renovation of the neglected gardens that were overrun with bindweed. Prior to his arrival at Gravetye, he was the deputy gardener under Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter. It was very exciting to see Great Dixter influences in plantsmanship, creative combinations and full plantings, but it was also inspiring to see Tom Coward's own style emerge in the spirit of Robinson. We arrived in the early evening and just caught the last rays of light on exuberant plantings.

Looking out the meadows from the main borders. This geranium feels like it is calling out to the meadows- it is a perfect transition plant, connecting the cultivated borders to the wild.

Stipa gigantea, a plant I never got tired of. Everywhere I saw it, it was spectacular.

This combination of plants keeps crossing my mind:  Stipa gigantea, Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum', Cephalaria gigantea, Digitalis, and Cirsium rivulare 'Autopurpureum.'

Always amazing to have foxgloves blooming at odd times of summer. Since they are biennials, gardeners can often sow them in the fall, and get them into bloom in the spring. If they are sown early-late winter, you can get a later bloom time, pushing them into summer. In Vermont for the past few years, I have purchased digitalis starts from Walker Farm. Every year they put up blooms in August and September. It is a little shocking to take in the fall garden with foxgloves in full bloom.

The perennial bineweed is so tenacious that the borders have to be dug out and over each year. This makes planting foundation plants and more permanent plantings difficult. Tom Coward has creatively used plants like the biennial Angelica archangelica to add substantial structure to his borders.

This was my first sighting of Silene 'Blue Angel,' a plant I sowed, handled, and planted at Great Dixter in March 2011, but never saw bloom. I was immediately drawn to it and then when I was told who it was, I had one of those exciting recognition moments of putting a face to a name. It is interplanted with lacey Orlaya grandiflora.

At the grandest entrance facing the meadows is this very grand Rheum specimen.

A very tall foxtail lily (Eremurus) in the walled kitchen garden. It was likely eight feet tall, dwarfing Makiko and Rachael.

Nigella hispanica in the kitchen garden.


  1. What a gorgeous setting and wonderful garden...that Rheum is amazing! Bindweed is just about the worst weed ever...I had it back in Nebraska and it really is impossible to eradicate. Still, digging up and replanting the whole garden over and over'S determination!

  2. Thank you for a look at Gravetye, Helen! I remember seeing it in its first year last year (post-renovation). Tom has definitely brought it Dixter style. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Wow, what a LOT of work, ridding a garden of bindweed! But such beauty as a result! Just lovely!

  4. Beautiful post. Love the Rheum and the flowers growing on the steps behind it. Also need that nigella in my garden - I have such a soft spot for them.