A great day at Great Dixter house and gardens

Great_dixter_16It’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.

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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.

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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.

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I love the way you can get up close and personal with the plants.

Great_dixter_9 Great_dixter_3 Great_dixter_10 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Great_dixter_19 Great_dixter_29Great_dixter_20Above is the exotic garden with its bananas wrapped for the winter. This used to be a rose garden but could easily be a conifer garden depending on what Fergus and his team decide to do.

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.

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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.

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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.

 Great_dixter_13Naturalistic by nature.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Blogger list:

 Great_dixter_65Great_dixter_64 Great_dixter_66Thanks for a great day Great Dixter!

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?

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53 Responses to “A great day at Great Dixter house and gardens”

  1. thesneakymagpie April 3, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    Great Dixter is on my list of places to visit this year, in the summer. I’ve always wanted to go. And Rye is one of my favourite places to go to (accompanied by a copy of Mapp and Lucia). There was a garden in Wimbledon I saw as a part of NGS which left me so inspired. Petersham Nurseries do it too, and of course Sissinghurst, their white garden is perfect. I must look up this hosta-like slug resistant plant, sounds just like something I need.

    • Anna B April 3, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

      Anything slug resistant is good in my books! Although until I see the proof of this I’m not convinced that anything is safe from my monster spanish slugs! NGS gardens are great aren’t they, real people gardening, that’s how I felt at Great Dixter. I think you’d love it there. Rye is awesome isn’t it. I’ve never been to Sissinghurst, so many places to add to my list! Thanks so much for your comment :)

  2. gardeninacity April 3, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    I’ve never been to Great Dixter, but it looks like a garden I would fall in love with. Sadly I have lost my heart many times, although I will never get over leaving Giverny. It was a tearful farewell! I haven’t read any of Lloyd’s books, but they are on my list. Plus, we will be in southern England in September and may actually get to visit Great Dixter then! Only thing is there are so many things we want to see and we have only a week.

    • Anna B April 3, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

      Hello Jason! Oh you have to go! You wont be disappointed, it’s just the type of natural garden I think you would love and the nearby small town of Rye and the beach at Camber would be a lovely glimse of southern England that even some of us British never get to see. Giverny does look amazing, I enjoy your pictures in your posts and have always wanted to go. Maybe I will venture there this year, I have no other holidays planned as yet! Thanks so much for dropping by :)

  3. VP April 3, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    Hi Anna! It was lovely to meet you and Adam and hear Adam talk about his work up in Leeds :)

    It was a super day – it looks like it had a profound effect on a number of us! You’ve got lots of fantastic pics – it must have taken you ages to sort them out. Did you find you had a problem in selecting which ones to show? I did – I left loads out because I could only use a small number to fit with the rhythm of my blog post. No doubt I’ll find other ways of using them over the coming weeks ;)

    • Anna B April 3, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

      Hello VP! It was great meeting you too! I think it’s definitely had a profound effect! I’ve just seen you’ve done another post today too. It’s taken me ages to go through all my photos and I’ve saved some back for future posts! I am aware that this one is rather lengthy, like a holiday slideshow for everyone to get through but I couldn’t help it, I just loved it there so much! Hope we all get another chance to meet up again some time :) Thanks for dropping by!

  4. banner6 April 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    Lucky you, to have such inspiration near at hand, and lucky us, that you share it so generously. The great Christopher Lloyd came all the way to Portland, Oregon to address the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon (HPSO). He shared many slides of his gardens and was in no way snobbish or aloof…an altogether wonderful presentation. My open gardens book from HPSO just arrived in the mail, so I am looking forward to
    more garden visits to add to inspiration already accumulated. Please show us how you apply these “aha” moments in your own garden.

    • Anna B April 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

      Hello Ricki! That is so interesting that ‘Christo’ as they called him at Great Dixter visited Portland and I’m so pleased the presentation was wonderful! I’ve just ordered 4 of his books to add to my ever increasing collection!! I’m so pleased you enjoyed my post, It’s far too long but couldn’t resist posting many photos and rambling on! I will definitely be applying these “aha” moments and will keep you posted! I hope you enjoy your new book and thanks so much for dropping by :)

  5. Cathy April 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm #

    One day I’ll visit! I’ve heard so much about it, and your post is so positive too. Loved reading about this great garden and the people involved. :D

    • Anna B April 3, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      Thanks Cathy! The people did really add to the occasion that’s for sure and they said anytime anyone visits to definitely stop and ask them things. We asked a couple of workers about some lupins towards the end of the day, we love growing them but ours don’t look as good as theirs, these guys told us everything we could ever need to know! So friendly!! Thanks so much for dropping by and for your comment :)

  6. Sandra Pullman April 3, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    I learnt heaps, look how they wrap their bananna’s. In Australia that is so unusual, we don’t get as cold so we don’t need to wrap anything. Love the little group of pots under the bush.

    • Anna B April 3, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

      Hi Sandra! I’ve never seen them protected in such an interesting way either! People tend to wrap things in fleece, these just look soo cute don’t they! I love those pots too and immediately rearranged all mine on the steps to my house when I got home! Thanks so much for dropping by :)

  7. loulou downtown April 3, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

    How wonderful! What a glorious place. So inspiring. Thanks for such a great virtual visit for your readers.

    • Anna B April 4, 2013 at 8:15 am #

      Hello there! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the virtual tour! There is more to it than that but I had to stop myself somewhere! The veggie garden, for example, was something that interested me. I took some photos and I hope to find out a bit more about that soon.

  8. Sue@GLAllotments April 4, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    I like the living wall odea.

    • Anna B April 4, 2013 at 8:14 am #

      Hi Sue, the living wall was amazing! I’ve got a more up close and personal shot of that too, which I felt deserved its own little post some time.

  9. acuriousgardenercolin April 4, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    hey, great blog! Was thinking about your ( and mine, and I think everyones!) battle against slugs and snails after our conversation…

    I’ve been experimenting with alternatives to well known, but slug attracting plants. couple ideas below!

    I have found that pineapple lillies ( eucomis) are really slug resistant, and have similiar foliage to hostas, plus an amazing flower heads

    Monks head ( aconitus), looks similiar to delphiniums in leaf and flower (from a distance at least!). Nothing seems to touch these at all, not that supprising since the whole plant is very, very toxic ( and was used as an assisination poison in the 14th / 15th centuries…)

    • Anna B April 4, 2013 at 11:46 am #

      Hello Colin! This is great news for gardeners everywhere!!! We all hate the slugs right. The plants sound amazing and Monks ‘head’ I think monks hood !! :) (did you buy one from Great Dixter?) has interested me ever since our conversation. I am going to buy ALL the plants you mention dude, they sound great. Thanks so much for dropping by, it was awesome meeting you and I really hope we get chance to meet up again!

  10. Jo April 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    Your enthusiasm for this garden is evident in your post, I can tell that you’ve brought away lots of inspiration for your own garden. I’ve never been to Great Dixter but I’m sure, from your photos, that it would be a garden I’d enjoy.

    • Anna B April 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      Hiya Jo! Yeah I just loved it. It had such a wonderful feeling and the planting was just incredible. Considering a lot of the other gardens I’ve visited lately were a bit brown and lots of soil showing this place had none of that! I really felt these guys just loved the act of gardening, it was a really humbling experience to be honest. It was in such a lovely area too. The only problem for me now is that I live miles away!!! Thanks so much for dropping by :)

  11. angiesgardendiaries April 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    I thoroughly enjoyed your tour. What a great place and to be able to visit – you are lucky!!
    If I’m ever down that neck of the woods Great Dixter is top of my list.
    I can tell from your words that you all had a very enjoyable visit. Inspiration is great – even if you can only translate a small bit into any garden, its good to know it works and has been tried and tested!
    This country needs more folks like Simon, many of these trades are dying out which is a same.
    I smiled when I saw those Banana plants wrapped up – I have a Cordyline that looks similar! I’ve been too afraid to take a peek to see if it’s survived.

    • Anna B April 4, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

      Hello Angie! Thanks so much for your lovely comment! I did love it there and as well as Simon’s craft being so cool, he was so funny! We all loved him. You can buy the old fashioned wooden things he makes from their website. I hope your Cordyline is ok! I think it was a couple of years back now where it seemed like anyone who had one suffered from frost attack and a lot were lost…but they came back if you chopped them down! Mine was one of those and indeed, after cutting it right down it came back! So I have very positive vibes for yours. I bet it looks great all wrapped up! I think they just look adorable all wrapped for the winter :) Thanks so much for dropping by!

  12. Cathy April 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    What a fanatstic day out you had Anna – we had the pleasure of visiting a couple of summers ago with thousands of other people, so you saw it from a different perspective altogether, and had the personal involvement too. The impact it made is bubbling up from every word you have written! My favourite garden so far is East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden in Norfolk – have you been?

    • Anna B April 4, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Hi Cathy! Thanks so much for your comment! I’ve never been to the garden you mention but I’ve just been looking on their website and it looks very cool! Sounds like they are keen on chopping and changing and it looks very artistic too! I’d love to sail down the Norfolk Broads some time, so when I get round to doing that I shall also go to this garden! Thanks so much for dropping by and for your recommendation :)

  13. Caro April 4, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    Hey Anna! What a wonderfully enthusiastic report of our day out! You’ve taken some marvellous photos and it’s been so lovely to revisit the day via your blog. I really enjoyed meeting you and Adam and having the chance to chat to you at the end of the day – I could tell that, like me, you didn’t really want to leave! I’m glad you felt it was worth the long drive down from Yorkshire and I really hope that we can all meet up again in the future. It was a really special day, one I shall remember and be inspired by for a long time; and I plan to go back in the summer to check out the borders but it was a lot more fun in the company of fellow bloggers and enthusiasts! Happy gardening!! Caro xx

    • Anna B April 4, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

      Hello Caro! It was absolutely brilliant chatting to you! You’re right as well, I wanted to just stay, wasn’t it just so peaceful there at the end of the day. The pinky sky was so nice and being able to snoop round every part of the garden! I really want to go back again too and it would be great for us all to meet again. Thanks so much for dropping by! Really hope to catch you again some time :-) xx

  14. home, garden, life April 4, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    Nothing in this world like English gardens. Enviable! Thank you for this wonderful tour. Wish that I had an excuse to live there a while. And thanks for stopping by my blogs! Diane

  15. home, garden, life April 4, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    I confess, I am totally envious of those wheel barrows! None to be found here in the US. Could you squeeze one through my computer screen please! ;-) Thanks, Diane

    • Anna B April 4, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

      Hello Diane! I’m partial to a nice wheelbarrow too! They looked good leaning against the side of the building together! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the tour and I enjoyed your post about bluebirds very much. Thanks for dropping by :-)

  16. catharinehoward April 5, 2013 at 2:59 am #

    Fab piece and pics – bit of a comment on this new Narnia climate that the high vis anorak is the splashiest colour in your photostudy!

    • Anna B April 5, 2013 at 6:21 am #

      Haha! Yes, he definitely stands out in that jacket! :)

  17. catharinehoward April 5, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    Dear Anna B I am back to invite you to join in with #Terrifying Tuesday next week – post a garden related image that can take any shape or form that is vaguely disquieting. Even better get 10 other garden bloggers on board!

  18. catharinehoward April 5, 2013 at 3:58 am #

    too late at night……above SHOULD say #Terrified Tuesday.

    • Anna B April 5, 2013 at 6:22 am #

      Thanks Catherine, I’ll investigate :-)

  19. Nadezda April 5, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Anna, I see Great Dixter is a wonderful place for gardener to learn more and design it in their own gardens
    I love topiary, they force to think what the gardener wanted to make with.
    Thank you for sharing!

    • Anna B April 6, 2013 at 7:21 am #

      Hello Nadezda! Yes everything you see at Great Dixter in terms of succession planting and under planting and, well to be honest just about anything really can be scaled down and done in your own garden! Even the topiary could be copied in a little miniature way! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, thank you so much for dropping by!

  20. Anna April 5, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Sounds as if you had a most memorable day out Anna. Great Dixter is indeed a most magical place. After many years of reading Christopher Lloyd’s books as well as considerable written material about the garden we finally got there in September 2011. I was overwhelmed :) I really enjoyed your post.

    • Anna B April 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      Hello Anna! That’s great to know you visited too! I’ve just ordered a couple more Christopher Lloyd books, I think I’m becoming obsessed!!! Thanks so much for your comment, I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post :-)

  21. outofmyshed April 6, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Hi Anna, Fantastic pics and such a great summing up of the day. I love going to volunteer and visit Great Dixter for all the reasons you’ve written about. It just feels heavenly to spend time in the gardens and the nursery. Do let me know if you’re London bound and hopefully we can organises another bloggers meet later in the year too. Naomi x

    • Anna B April 6, 2013 at 11:58 am #

      Hi Naomi! It sounds like volunteering there is a really rewarding experience and you would end up learning so much! I said to Adam that I would just love to spend a week there volunteering in the summer! If only we lived closer! We will definitely be London bound again at some point this year though so I’ll let you know as I’d love to catch up and another bloggers meet would be brilliant. It was such a pleasure to meet everyone :) Thanks for dropping by! p.s. I’m going to pot up a load of strawberries tomorrow for the charity day next week, inspired by your post about them!! x

  22. adamleone01 April 8, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    Hello fellow allotmenteer! Love the website – What do you think of mine? http://www.carrottopsallotment.com/the-greenhouse-april-2013/ Any top tips please feel free to leave a comment :) All the best x

    • Anna B April 8, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      Hi dude! Thanks for visiting! I’ll check out your allotment blog soon.. :)

  23. Scotkat April 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    What a wonderful garden and way to meet up with like wise friends.
    Thank you for sharing you days out with friends.

    • Anna B April 8, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      Hello there! It was indeed a wonderful day. I’m so pleased you enjoyed hearing all about it! Thanks so much for your comment :)

  24. Christina April 9, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    I loved reading your post so full of joy in your visit. It is a wonderful garden but not one many gardeners can emulate, as it is one of the most high maintenance gardens I know. Great I know when you love gardening as much as the team do but difficult for gardeners without the stock beds and full time hands on gardeners present that Great Dixter has.

    • Anna B April 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

      Thank you Christina! Yes their stock beds are incredible! However, I did really feel like I could bring a lot of the ideas into my own garden. Fergus pretty much said just scale things down and it really made sense! More so than any other garden I’ve visited. I think we were so lucky to have had the talk to be honest. I’m sure I’ll be trying out some ideas so I’ll keep you posted! Thanks so much for your comment :)

  25. Laila Noort (@sowandso) April 10, 2013 at 5:22 am #

    I am bummed that I missed it. I got the invite as well but could not go because we just got two young puppies. Thanks to your photo’s and your blog post I got to enjoy it a bit. :)

    • Anna B April 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

      Hello Laila! Aw no! I would have loved to have met you! I’m so glad you enjoyed my post though and hopefully we can meet in the future. Hope all is good with the puppies! Thanks so much for dropping by :)

  26. Janet/PlantalisciousJ April 12, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    I feel faintly envious but invigorated and inspired. Clearly a wonderful visit, and who wouldn’t prefer a man with a beard doing wonderful things with wood to yet another cafe?! I’ve never been to Great Dixter, but it is so good to read that the experimental spirit lives on, it could so easily have been frowzen in time and preserved as some sort of “homage” to ‘Christo’, which from what I have read would have had him rising from the dead to hector and harangue! That cramming in of layers of plants trick is a real challenge, I look forward to seeing and reading about your experiments in that direction.

    • Anna B April 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      Hello Janet! I love your comment! You’re so right, it wouldn’t be right to just freeze the place in time, it’s great that Christo’s teachings are living on and that his house and gardens continue to inspire through innovation. I can cram layers when using pots but it is hard in borders! I’ve been really enjoying my gardening in these last few weeks and thinking about all sorts of things that I can do. Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving such a great comment! :)

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