It’s not every day you have an experience that has an amazingly profound effect but our little pre-Easter visit to Great Dixter has done just that. We haven’t stopped talking and thinking about it ever since.
We felt so privileged to be invited by Naomi from out of my shed to a bloggers meet at Great Dixter, one of her favourite places – and I can see why it’s a favourite. Luckily Adam could come with me, it’s such a long journey so we made a little holiday out of it. Staying in Rye for a couple of nights and stopping in Warwick on the way down and Oxford on the way back.
Great Dixter is the former home of gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd and since his death the garden has been managed by Christopher’s friend and head gardener Fergus Garrett.
As part of our meet up Fergus gave us a brilliant talk about Great Dixter and everything they’re doing there. We also had a house tour, nursery tour, met the woodsman and deputy head gardener Siew Lee showed us round the garden. Everyone we met had a genuine passion for Great Dixter, it felt very much like their home and their garden that they share with visitors.
To me it felt like a living breathing garden where no corner is left unloved. Heritage, preservation and innovation all coming into play.
With the house and the bones of the garden being preserved and loved in the memory of Christopher Lloyd the planting is carried out in a spontaneous and experimental way that ‘Christo’ himself would have done and would be proud of.
I love the way you can get up close and personal with the plants.
Textures and unusual planting schemes really grabbed my attention. It’s one of the most visually interesting and tactile gardens I’ve visited. Soft evergreens contrast with the spikey exotic or the barky. This is really a garden where there is interest throughout the seasons.
Great Dixter are experimenting with planting schemes that aren’t just for the hell of it but for the wildlife and for the future of gardening itself.
Something both Adam and I found totally inspiring was their meadow planting and they’re encouraging local land owners to join with them in this to really make a difference to our British countryside. Fergus mentioned that the reduction in flowers at nearby Romney Marsh has lead to a decline in the number of bees, so if Great Dixter can encourage the local land owners to also do their bit with meadow planting then this should help restore the bee balance.
The knowledge they have on how to manage a meadow, leaving it till the last seed head has dropped at the end of the summer before chopping, is superb. Their experiments really are carried out so they can get the best out of what they’re doing and then they pass it on. If you visit in summer you will see the meadows under the topiary, a very unique planting combination and mixing the two styles has roused some controversy but in my opinion is pure genius.
Fergus on the right, busy at work in the long border. Just look at all the textures in this photo.
A few weeks back I reviewed a book by a fellow blogger and mentioned that I feel gardeners are people who ‘share’ and this was very evident here. Fergus shared his passion and experience with real honest enthusiasm as did everyone else that we met.
Great Dixter really feels like it’s all about gardening rather than a show, even though this place was an absolute show of colour, skill and uniqueness. No bed was left bare and this was something that Christopher Lloyd started and is being carried on. The stunning views, the oast house, the colours of the wood. Fergus said they could turn the medieval barn into a café to make more money but they don’t want to because they “prefer having a man with a beard in there making things out of wood.” I prefer the man with the beard (Simon) too, he was an absolute crack up and his traditional craft work with green wood and traditional tools was fantastic.
This is an evolving garden that can change, allowing the learning process of gardening to be at the forefront of what the Great Dixter experience is.
Great Dixter is like a little haven of unspoilt paradise. You feel like you’re a million miles away from everything here, there’s a magical feeling of being in the presence of a house and a garden that was and still is, so well loved.
Even the house appears textured…
The day we returned home we had guests coming to stay. I popped down after only 5 minutes of them arriving and greeted them, the first thing Amy said was “Adam’s just been telling us all about your brilliant day out at Great Dixter!” Wow! They must have had a Great Dixter onslaught as soon as they walked through the door!
I’m not surprised though because I just don’t think Adam or I have been quite so inspired by a place as this one. I don’t think this will be the last time I blog about it either as it really will influence my gardening from now on.
I love the fact they leave their perennials throughout winter for all the same reasons that I do, they look interesting, add odd textures and are great for wildlife. The architectural forms of the teasel (above) left standing were like beautiful memories of the summer and winter just passed.
The planting was just stunning, where most gardens this time of year are looking rather bare and bleak the succession planting at Great Dixter meant that everywhere you looked something was growing, even in the most random of places. This is something I’ve wanted to achieve for ages, whenever I see a garden that is awash with colour and interest it’s a step closer to me being able to do that myself and I certainly got some ideas here.
Just look at what they create here with clever under-planting techniques and planting schemes for all seasons. If the colours and textures are like this at the start of spring this place must be bursting out of its seams with colour in the height of summer.
I also bought a couple of plants from the amazing nursery. I chose an arum italicum, (apparently slug resistant) perennial that looks a bit like a hosta, which Siew Lee pointed out to us. It sounds great for shady areas providing glossy green colour in winter and berries in the summer. Adam chose a helianthemum also known as a rock rose because it flowers for such a long time, sustaining colour in the way Fergus talked about.
I brought so much more back with me in terms of ideas though and a good feeling that what I’m doing with my garden is right. Not just what I’m doing though, what anyone is doing. The act of gardening no matter what your style, is right. Fergus’ talk instilled within us that you should follow your heart with gardening and work with nature. In the nicest possible way I couldn’t wait to leave and get back into my own garden and get planting.
Talking of good gardeners who share it was a pleasure to meet all the bloggers and thanks to Naomi for sharing one of her favourite places.
I can completely relate to the gardening at Great Dixter. My own garden isn’t based on design or trying to be something in particular. I simply love it being crammed full of anything I like and anything I can get hold of basically. I’ve even been known to salvage ‘past their best’ plants because I couldn’t bear to see them being discarded and they added colour and interest to a bed that I’d just ripped a load of marigolds out of. I love the fact Siew Lee embraced the ‘common plant’ too. All plants are natural and equally beautiful in my book, there’s no place for ‘snobbism’ in my garden or at Great Dixter.
When Fergus ended his talk he simply said, “we love gardening…we just absolutely live and breathe it here” and you can’t half tell.
Have you ever fallen in love with a garden that isn’t your own? Have you ever been inspired to try new things after visiting a garden? Have you ever been to Great Dixter?