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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.