Beth’s Garden


One of many scenic viewpoints in Beth’s gravel garden.

Long after Beth Chatto became famous for the “right plant, right place” ethos in her damp garden and woodland garden, and had launched an award-winning nursery and collected 10 consecutive gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, she demonstrated what it truly means to be an ecological gardener by turning her hands to a compacted and parched parking lot.


Artistry in the gravel garden.

There, she carefully prepared the soil and then selected plants to match the site’s inhospitable conditions. The number and variety of plants that thrive is remarkable, but it is the gravel garden’s exquisite beauty that makes it such a spectacular success.


A peek at the damp garden from the elevated position of the Chatto home.

I’ve been lucky to see the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex twice, visiting first in September 2015 and then again in late May of this year, just days after Beth passed away at the age of 94. This recent visit was especially poignant as Beth’s right-hand man, Garden and Nursery Director David Ward, lead a tour of the garden for the group I hosted on “Gardens of East Anglia.”


David Ward

During our time with David, he emphasized Beth’s artistry, pointing out the triangles created by plants, a consequence of Beth’s early training in Ikebana, as well as the many plants featuring exceptional foliage and form rather than flowers or fruits. He frequently said, “I don’t know how she did it,” and noted, “she was always working — sitting on a fold-away stool, observing and jotting down plant descriptions.”


Iris ‘Benton Susan’, a Cedric Morris cultivar.

Best of all he promised, “We won’t go far wrong here, this will always be a garden for plant lovers.”

Learn more about Beth and her many contributions to gardening on the website of The Beth Chatto Gardens.


13 thoughts on “Beth’s Garden

  1. FlowerAlley

    I have several books about her gardens. I am amazed by her marriage of art and horticulture. My main focus for twenty plus years has been learning to keep my plants happy. I am just now starting to think about the art involved. I am ashamed to admit that. I guess it’s all my science training. Thanks for this lovely insight.

  2. Martha Robinson

    Marian, when we walked around Beth’s garden – and so soon after her passing – I really felt like she was there!! Artistry is exactly how her garden pleases all our senses. Not over done, just right. Was one of my personal “best garden ever” moments.

  3. Chloris

    The amazing thing about the gravel garden is that it always looks good, all year round, it never has an off day. Beth will be missed she was an inspiration to us all.

  4. pbmgarden

    Marian, the garden looks amazing. Hope to get there in person one day. Your photographs show your own sensitivity to design–just lovely. Hope you’re doing well.


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