Great Dixter

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Dahlia Chimborazo, Great Dixter, June 2017

This wickedly flambuoyant dahlia which I saw in the Great Dixter Nursery sums up the spirit of the place almost on it’s own .  Colour, variety, surprise and a little naughtiness mixed in.

Great Dixter was the last highlight of visiting gardens in England last summer.  It has a special place in my heart because when I first arrived in France, faced with a gardenspace that was new to me, I got into a groove of reading Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd’s beautiful, funny and incisive ‘Dear Friend and Gardener’ which led to me reading much more of both authors. ‘Dear Friend and Gardener’ may be out of print now, but good old Abebooks has copies, see the link.

Like all really great gardens, big or small, the wonderful thing about Great Dixter is the huge sense of presence from Christopher Lloyd, although he died in 2006,  and the freshness of the legacy of his style, his flair and also his massive commitment to the development of young people as gardeners and craftspeople.  The Great Dixter Trust is doing and has done great acts of restoration and of community building in it’s re-development of estate buildings and facilities- almost all of which, including the use of the house, is devoted to the education and growth of young people.  Fergus Garrett, who worked with Christopher Lloyd from 1992 when he joined him at Great Dixter, is now the Chief Executive of the Great Dixter Charitable Trust, and continues developing and extending the legacy of the garden.  When he is bored, he will leave, he says.

So, what a pleasure to spend a day there at the end of June.  So much caught my eye.  I loved the forcing pot in the vegetable garden towered over by mighty dying seed stems.


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Great Dixter vegetable garden, June 2017

The Orchard Garden was giving the Long Border a run for its money with a glorious mix of Acanthus, yellow hemerocallis, orangey-red crocosmia and allium seed heads, not to mention the leafy underplanting.

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The Orchard Garden, Great Dixter, June 2017

I have visited Dixter once before.  Back in the mid90s, my gardening was a small-scale pleasure with three small children, a fulltime travelling job, and a small, shady garden in Linlithgow near Edinburgh.  Back then, Christopher Lloyd had horrified the gardening establishment by ripping out his mother’s Rose Garden and creating the Exotic Garden.  I had never seen bananas growing before.  This time, I noticed the exquisite precision of the paving creating exciting and unusual angles for planting, see below.

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The Exotic Garden, Great Dixter, June 2017

In the Long Border, which was not blocked by crowds of other visitors, we could sit at the far end on a bench and really drink in the cacophony and delight of it all.  Some people could be heard grumping about the drips and moisture from the closeness of the plants to the path.  There will always be killjoys.  The splendour and colour of it drowns them out.

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The Long Border, Great Dixter, June 2017

Down in the Sunk Garden, there was a group of very raucous ladies, so, despite inner calls of ‘Go away’, I managed to sit it out and wait for the storm to pass.  In 1911, Lutyens created some of the parameters of the garden and its design which remain today. Curving hedges, sandstone paving, decorative tiling which echoed the use of tiles in local farm buildings, all ripple through the garden.  Christopher Lloyd’s father, Nathaniel, created the Sunk Garden (and much else), ripping out the vegetable garden remaining from the First World War effort, saying famously, ‘Now we can play’.  Like father, like son.  I love the pool…octagonal, I think.

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The Sunk Garden, Great Dixter, June 2017

All through Dixter, there are echoes and usages of the past.  The Horse Pond was originally used to water the heavy horses on the Dixter farm. Now, it is a luxurious oasis of aquatic plants, and Pontederia cordata was looking gorgeous with blue flowering spikes and sharp, spear-shaped leaves.

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The Horse Pond, Great Dixter, June 2017

Airy opium poppies drifted through other parts of the Vegetable Garden.

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The Vegetable Garden, Great Dixter, June 2017

And the whole is grounded by the house, combining modern to the left with Lutyen’s respectful and yet bang up to date design from the early 20th century, with the old, the ancient reconstructed house from Benenden added on, saved by Nathaniel Lloyd to add to the modern design.  Respect, use or change, and move on.  A Lloyd motto perhaps.

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The Porch of the House, to the left Lutyens, to the right 15th/16th century, Great Dixter, June 2017

Gardens in the Wild 2017

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Cotton grass blowing in the breeze, Euriophorum angustifolium, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, Gardens in the Wild, June 2017

A garden festival that has great intentions- bringing unusual individual gardens together in a loose network for visitors to combine over a weekend, coupled with a base that offered some stalls with garden plants and items, as well as a programme of speakers.  I really enjoyed listening to the soft, grande-dame tones of Mary Keen for an hour, a great plantswoman and garden-maker, musing and reminiscing with invited interjections from Anna Pavord who was in the audience.

But the central base creates it’s own problem- it’s a long way from any of the network of gardens back to the base, so probably many people only go there once.  Charging a fiver each time you  parked the car seemed a bit steep to me.  End result, seeing the visibly-less-than-gruntled faces of the stallholders for whom there were only slim pickings in terms of business.

And maybe some of the gardens need to showcase the smaller, more domestic gardens that surely do exist in Shropshire and Herefordshire, rather than just the gardens of those with obvious means?  A garden doesn’t have to be stately to be beautiful and interesting to the visitor.  So, I wonder if a bit more rigour in the selection of the network gardens in finding those that are not yet on the NGS radar, or doing some community endeavour and finding 2-3 in a village that could be viewed together, might not broaden the appeal of the festival, which did have a very high panama hat count. Not knocking, honest.

Meantime, at the Old Rectory, Thruxton, there was a garden made and being made over the last 7-8 years with great passion and dedication by the owners, both charming and very helpful people.  The garden around the house had some lovely planting, and a stupendous veg garden with a wall of mellowing fruit, with apricots already looking luscious in the hot June weather.  At the end of the garden, an accidental pond made when earth was removed, was a real highlight.  Big, shaped as if by nature, and planted with beautiful reeds and marginals, it was a delight to wander around and sit by. Amongst the planting there was a billowing cotton grass, Euriophorum angustifolium, and a pretty little marginal, Pontederia cordata, was just coming into flower, with fat spear-shaped bright green leaves.

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Pontederia cordata, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017

Two other lovely things that made me smile for different reasons were Morina longifolia and Romneya coulteri.  The former as I have grown it from seed in the garden here, and whilst short-lived with me, I adore the bizarre ice-cream coloured flower spikes and the thistle-like bright green leaves.  The Romneya has been dug out from our garden.  I love the fried-egg flowers but the thug price to pay is too high here where it revels in heat and sharp drainage- mine would have reached the moon shortly and was busy exterminating everything around it.  Maybe it would work in a cage?

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Morina longifolia, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017
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Romneya coulteri, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017

In the shadier part of the garden, my heart was won by a lovely small foxglove, Digitalis lanata, with strong lemon flowers in the usual spike, much yellower than the link shows, but there you go.

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Digitalis lanata, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017