Tag Archives: Beth Chatto Gardens

Conservators of the Gravel Garden

The gravel garden on August 31st.

Got home from Dublin last night, a wonderful visit with Aideen and her new puppy. Today it was back to weeding and cutting back in the gravel garden.

July 27th

At the end of the day we walked around identifying tasks for the next week, which include weeding and cutting back in the water garden and reservoir garden. 95%* of our time is weeding and cutting back. Very little time is planting or doing anything else really.

But it’s hard to fault this when the garden looks so good.

June 21st

I know I’ll never be able to resist the allure of combining dahlias and other annuals with my perennial plantings, and won’t have the patience for leaving my borders alone for years on end. But being here teaches one the value of an almost pure perennial border, basically an exercise in restraint.

June 22nd

This is particularly true of the gravel garden. Plants interact with one another but are mostly given their own space to fill out naturally. Knowledge of their growth habits and careful positioning allows them to contribute to the implied pyramids and asymmetrical weighting that make the beds visually appealing, without much intervention from the gardener. Hardly anything gets moved or planted, the self-sowers are truly self-sown. All the gardening comes from dead-heading and cutting back at the right times, careful pruning, editing of self-sowers, and endless (endless) weeding. It’s dynamic through the seasons, yet essentially frozen in time (beds are occasionally renewed but are usually so in tune with existing plantings that the visitor would be hard pressed to notice). We are essentially conservators.

June 28th

 

June 28th

June 21st

Gardening in this way requires a shift in mindset. At Dixter, it’s about dreaming and scheming for new combinations – how to push brighter and bigger and faster and weirder – while also spending an inordinate amount of time trying to make plants do what you want them to through massive amounts of staking, watering, replanting, etc. Here it’s about maintaining some of the most successful, stylish plantings you will ever see. Going over them again and again to get them looking better all the time, but essentially allowing the existing plants to grow naturally (until we cut them down…).

June 30th

 

As we come out of the Dutch Wave, we take naturalistic planting for granted, but when Beth began gardening in this naturalistic but artful style it was brand new. Her Chelsea stands, her books and the garden itself provided inspiration to so many gardeners and designers looking for a more ecological approach. The gravel garden may no longer push boundaries, but it still looks damn good pretty much every day of the year. A living legend.

June 16th

June 16th

May 27th

May 30th

May 30th

May 15th

April 27th

April 9th

April 1st

April 1st

March 16th

March 7th

 

March 7th

March 2nd

February 18th

January 18th

*I made this up. Maybe it’s slightly less. We also have the benefit of not having to do any mowing or hedge trimming and our time spent on watering/irrigation is minimal (right plant, right place!). Also no staking. Thank god.

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Homes, places we’ve grown

Most evenings I wander the Beth Chatto Gardens, where I now live, alone. I don’t quite have a route like I did at Dixter – but the spaces are slowly becoming familiar to me. Since the snowdrops peaked about a month ago, spring has accelerated to that point where the daily growth is now visible. Things bud, bloom and fade in what feels like a matter of days, especially in the woodland and shade beds, which are crammed with all manner of tiny gems.

Today I spent some time on my knees admiring the Erythronium ‘White Beauty’ dotted amongst a sea of Anemone nemorosa ‘Flore Pleno.’ They harmonize beautifully, with contrasting foliage and inflorescence, but the same flushed cream buds and pure white flowers.

While the woodland garden is very much a ground level show, the panorama views in the water garden are sublime, especially with the slanted evening light. Prunus ‘Tai-haku’ is absolutely stunning right now. The clouds of white blossoms with delicate pink stamens, reach down to meet the emerging fern fronds below. It stands out against a background of just barely budding trees and the enclosing black outlines of oaks.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone at Beth’s and we’re slowly settling into some semblance of a routine. I alternate 4-day weeks in the nursery and the garden, with a flexible Friday that has lately been dedicated to things like making flower arrangements for the house and shop, and devising installations for the tea room, in addition to potting up various bulbs and tubers, and pricking out seedlings that are destined for my cut flower border. The joy of cutting and arranging from the garden hasn’t worn off, nor the pleasure of such tasks as cutting all the yellow hellebores in the stock beds (the flowers are just a waste of energy when the plant is to be divided).

The garden and nursery do lay bare the yawning gaps in my plant knowledge and I wear my company shirt with a bit of dread these days as more and more plants catch the visitors’ notice that I don’t know. I’m picking things up, but realistically I should be studying more. It’s hard to find the energy after work though, and I try to get a good chunk of socializing in on the weekends to stave off any feelings of being trapped in the middle of nowhere.

It’s strange to compare the differences a year and a new garden bring. I often felt like I was losing touch with reality at Dixter, high on plants and people willing to talk about them. April proved particularly surreal.┬áThe weekdays passed in a haze of weeding, planting, and potting on, and the weekends were consumed with road trips and gardens (Rousham, Stourhead, Gravetye, Sissinghurst, Chatsworth…). I moved into the house, with its particular smell of old fabric and woodsmoke, constantly creaking stairs, the tiny gabled kitchen that hardly had room for the five of us students, and happily shared a room overlooking the long border. I relished the constant company.

This exact weekend last year, we were caught up in the whirlwind that is the Dixter spring plant fair. I was in charge of organizing the plant stand and we duly cut down a willow tree to cascade over it, spent hours moving hay bales and trolleys of plants, baked lots of cake for the cake stand and over two days made countless pots of (bad) coffee and tea. I fawned over Barnhaven’s primulas and Monksilver’s tiny treasures, and bought Beth Chatto anemones as a present. It was exhilarating and exhausting; we ended up hiding out in the bluebell woods for a bit.

This year, I went down with the Beth Chatto crew on Saturday morning, gratefully free of the responsibilities Dixter-ites bear. We quickly set up the stand and were selling plants within two hours of arrival. Apparently we even had a sales record this year!

I have to admit, I was more excited to see everyone than the garden itself. The people are as warm as ever, but for all that the garden once felt like home, it is now largely impenetrable to me. I’ve been twice this spring and both times found myself staring with bemusement at the overflowing beds (although the crocus lawn this year had me on my knees with joy).

After a stumble through the stock beds, it was a relief to emerge into the familiar confines of the Peacock Garden. The view down towards the cat garden, with the flowering prunus in the meadow just visible over the top of the long border hedge, is a week or so away from exploding into technicolour with tulips and ferula. It immediately reminded me of the weeks we spent carefully tiptoeing around the hundreds of bulbs while weeding, planting, and (god help us) tickling out.

I miss being part of that motley crew some days, but I hope a few will come visit me. I keep offering a (non-luxury) stay in my caravan, but somehow that hasn’t been a selling point. The banana cake and peanut butter muffins I distributed at least proved I can still put together a decent tea. I thank Amazon for my toaster oven every day.

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Filed under Amy, Flowers