Tag Archives: Beth Chatto Gardens

Beth’s Garden

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

 

Q&A

How fun to be tagged with the Liebster Award, a gardener’s Q&A, by John at A Walk in the Garden.  If you like to read a variety of blogs, you’ll be interested to know John previously wrote a garden column and though he lives up the road a bit in Stallings, NC, he has ties to Greenville too.

How would you describe your gardening style?  In the garden, and life, I like order, so a symmetrical layout with carefully considered points of interest is the most pleasing to me personally.  I love plants, but I’m not a collector.  What’s important to me is how the garden reflects the best of each season and the natural progression of the year.  I favor plants that offer multiple seasons of interest with their flowers, fruits, foliage, and bark, but not those developed to rebloom contrary to their typical pattern.  That said, however, I like most garden styles and more than a handful of nearly worthless plants.

Previous garden, July 2008--View of the back garden from the house.  There was also a cottage garden around the front porch, a woodland garden, and a tiny vegetable plot which you can just spy in the left of this photo.

Previous garden, July 2008–View of the back garden from the house. There was also a cottage garden around the front porch, a woodland garden, and a tiny vegetable plot which you can just spy in the left of this photo.

What new plant have you been dreaming about planting this year?  I’m still looking for the plant that’s going to make me fall in love with shade.  My previous garden was groomed to be its best in autumn, which just isn’t going to happen in the shady space I have now.  But I’m making the effort to embrace spring, which is the shady garden’s big moment, and the many winter-bloomers which I already love.  Chloris at The Blooming Garden recently mentioned a shrub that caught my notice, Lonicera purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’, but I haven’t yet been able to find a source in the U.S.

What is the most important lesson you learned last year?  I couldn’t tell you what I learned yesterday, much less last year!  But I think the most important lessons to be gleaned from the garden are about patience, tenacity, and our part in the web of life.

Flowers or foliage?  Both; I favor flowers, especially those with perfume, but the shady garden dictates foliage.

Current garden, July 2013--The white flowers of hosta scent the secret garden with their perfume.

Current garden, July 2013–The white flowers of hosta scent the secret garden with their perfume.

What characterizes the ideal nursery/garden center/etc. as the best place to obtain plants?  Quality merchandise, knowledgeable and helpful staff, and creative display, in that order.

Potting soil: Buy or mix your own?  Buy, but I make a very satisfactory leaf mold.

How did your love of gardening begin?  I grew up on a farm and couldn’t wait to escape, which I did for more than a decade.  A hanging basket of red geraniums (Pelargonium), a birthday gift from my Aunt Jean, circled me back towards my agrarian roots and kindled a passion for ornamental gardening.

What training/classes have you attended to improve your gardening knowledge and skills?  I earned the distinction of Master Gardener in 1994 and Master Naturalist in 2007, but pass-along knowledge and practical experience top everything.  I absorb a lot through my writing too, and traveling to study gardens and garden history has broadened my views as well as my understanding.

What plants together produce your favorite color combination?  I like a narrow color scheme.  My favorite is what I think of as “silver and gold.”  Essentially, it’s white and yellow with small touches of blue for contrast and it depends on foliage as well as flowers.  Needless to say, I’m a big fan of single-color gardens, such as the purple border and the white garden at Sissinghurst.

Silver and gold at Bosvigo Garden near Truro in Cornwall, England.

Silver and gold at Bosvigo Garden near Truro in Cornwall, England.

What garden(s) is on your bucket list?  Lucky for me, I’m visiting several gardens on my bucket list this year—Gresgarth Hall, Arley Hall, Chatsworth, York Gate, and Scampston Walled Garden.  (Yes, I have a very long bucket list!)  The garden most yearned for and not yet on tap is Beth Chatto Gardens, but I’m angling towards an autumn visit.  I also want to visit Powis Castle and a handful of gardens in southern Wales, including Veddw House.  Gardens of the Netherlands and some in Japan are on the list.  Of the places I’ve seen, I would most like to revisit the gardens of northern Italy.  I won’t see all these places, I know, but it’s fun to dream.

What is your favorite winter plant?  My friend Margot once said, “Picking a favorite plant is like choosing a favorite child or dog, senseless and impossible when you love them all.”  For me, this holds true with winter plants—I truly do love them all.  Prunus mume is a stand out, of course, Edgeworthia chrysantha is so ridiculously easy to grow, Iris unguicularis reminds me of my grandmother who loved purple iris, and nothing beats the decorative show of Ilex verticillata and some other species of deciduous hollies.

Curbside display of Ilex verticillata at BB Barnes Garden Center in Arden, NC.

Curbside display of Ilex verticillata at BB Barnes Garden Center in Arden, NC.