The Beth Chatto Gardens


Home of Beth Chatto, with the water garden in the foreground.

Not long ago I remarked how nice it would be to have a snowy day on the sunporch and today my wish was granted, although it is sleet and ice that blankets the Upstate. For company, I choose The Shade Garden by Beth Chatto, a best-loved book I’m revisiting as I formulate plans for a renovation of the back garden.


A view of the gravel garden.

In September, I visited Chatto’s renowned gardens for the first time. In addition to her own books, much has been written about the gardens, so I won’t attempt to explain what others have already expressed better than I can, other than to say I’m thankful I was able to visit the gardens in her lifetime and that they are even better than pictures can possibly show.  For those not familiar with Chatto and her method, often called “ecological gardening,” I recommend a short collection of notes on a 2008 exhibition held at the Garden Museum, found here.


Called ecological gardening, Chatto’s method matches plants to conditions where they can thrive.

The main object of my visit was the woodland garden, but I found its late-summer charms were overwhelmed by those of the gravel garden and water garden. In fact, I’m afraid shady spaces were mostly overlooked that day, which adds to my impatience for another visit.  Since the gardens are only a short train journey from London, I hope, with time, to enjoy them in every season.


Korean reed grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha, adds interest with striking foxtail-like flowers.

Tomorrow’s column in the Greenville News features a small handful of grasses grown in the drought-resistant gravel garden and the photos on this blog fulfill a promise to show more views of Chatto’s landscape.


The scree garden.

Without a doubt, British gardens are among the most beautiful and noteworthy in the world. The best, such as the Beth Chatto Gardens, exhibit the highest standards of horticulture.  And, in general, British gardening professionals have been the primary leaders in both design and plant cultivation for the past 400 years.


The nursery at the Beth Chatto Gardens.

If you haven’t noticed the Hortitopia Tours page, take a peek every once in a while. Currently, I’m featuring a June 2016 garden tour to southern Wales and England.  Among other highlights, the trip includes Cothay Manor, distinguished as one of the “20 Best Gardens in Britain;” Montacute House, featured in the recent BBC production of Wolf Hall; Veddw House garden, a celebrated contemporary garden and favorite of Piet Oudolf; the National Botanic Garden of Wales, a nearly 600 acre garden that looks clearly to the future; and a visit to the home of Dylan Thomas.  For details, click here.


One of Somerset’s finest historic houses, Cothay Manor is surrounded by 12 acres of magical gardens.



18 thoughts on “The Beth Chatto Gardens

  1. Gloria Ballard

    Lovely to see all that green on a snowy day. We’re blanketed by about seven inches of snow in Middle Tennessee!

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Gloria–We have an inch or two of snow on top of yesterday’s sleet and I’m enjoying the wide variety of birds at the feeders this morning. On a day like today, it’s hard to believe that spring is just around the corner.

  2. Alison Piasecka

    Beth Chatto is such an inspiration….have you read the book of letter between her and Christopher Lloyd…great fun and also often profound- they didn’t always agree at all! Went there a few years ago and still live the photos of that visit on a very wet, cold May…

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Alison–My only disappointment was not seeing the great gardener herself, but I understand she is not often out and about these days. I saw Christopher Lloyd in his garden in 2001 and he was larger than life, just as everyone says.

  3. Christina

    I think if I could only visit one garden Beth Chatto’s wonderful garden would be the one. So much to inspire; so much to learn from. The gravel garden was a huge inspiration to my garden here. Do try to visit the shade garden, I remember being blown away by the variety of plants that were thriving in her wood land garden.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Christina–I’m sad to say I’m unlikely to get to Essex in 2016, but it tops my list of must-see-again gardens. I agree with your assessment, it is probably THE most inspirational and influential place I’ve ever visited. It would be impossible to describe the effect this garden had on me and the more I think about it, the more amazed I am.

  4. Frogend_dweller

    We’ve only visited her garden once (just this last year) and it was such an eye opening trip. We spent a lot of time outside the ticketed garden enjoying the tapestry of plants in the gravel garden. I mean to visit again, somewhat earlier in the year this time though.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Frogend–Eye opening is a spot-on description of the garden. My impression of the woodland was that it was surprisingly similar to the gravel garden, but with a different palette of plants. When visiting, it’s easy to see Chatto’s brilliance is not just in matching plant to site, but in plant to plant combinations.

  5. Cathy

    That looks lovely! Beth Chatto’s garden is near the top of my list of gardens to visit one day. I recignized the last picture immediately… Wolf Hall was on German TV for the first time just a couple of days ago and I really enjoyed it. 🙂

  6. johnvic8

    It was clearly a grand visit for you. That was a garden we didn’t see on our trip some years ago. My favorite was Rosemary Verey’s garden. When she spoke in Chapel Hill several years later, she offered one of the best pieces of advice I have heard: “If you want something for the garden, give it to your husband for Christmas.” (It applies to wives as well:)

  7. Julie

    Hi Marian, I really enjoyed your tribute to Beth Chatto and her inspiring garden. I’ve just clicked through to the tours link, you’ve chosen some fabulous gardens to visit and will be travelling through really beautiful countryside on the trip.

  8. Pauline

    It was Beth Chatto that first inspired me, first of all her books and then visiting her garden when our daughter lived in Essex. Her garden is truly wonderful and I would recommend a visit to anyone.

  9. rusty duck

    I read ‘Woodland Gardening’ just before we moved here and it has been an inspiration. I would love to visit. Shame it’s the opposite side of the country!

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Jessica–About 300 miles? It would be the perfect destination for a long weekend. Three days would do it, four or five days would make a nice mini-vacation. I would add Helmingham Hall and a visit to the coast, maybe even a peek at the great Scallop at Aldeburgh.


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