Tuesday, 22 April 2014

GREAT DIXTER

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We recently visited Greater Dixter, the famous garden of the late Christopher Lloyd.  I have visited the gardens before but wanted to take Simon along as he had never seen them.  Unlike me he is not a fan of cottage garden style so I thought I may have uphill battle on my hands, but he loved it.  


We visited on a spring day not expecting to see a great deal out in bloom, assuming it would look like many of the herbaceous borders we had seen recently at Wisley.  However fantastic colour and detail was everywhere.  There was so much of interest in the garden that you forgot you were visiting it at the very start of the season. 

The garden was designed by Edwin Lutyens in 1910, when he added to and restored the property.  He was responsible for laying out the surrounding garden framework but unlike Sissinghurst he did not work with Gertrude Jekyll to carrying out the planting on site. Christopher's father Nathianel directed the gardens and planted the key topiary pieces we see today.  Christopher Lloyd inherited these gardens and passionately enhanced them with additional plantings for the rest of his life. 

It is the sheer exuberance of planting and breathtaking landscape that make this garden so very special.  The gardens do feel like a more exuberant version of Sissinghurst, with plants bursting at the seams to escape their formal setting.  The formal garden compartments with their perfectly clipped topiary hedges and peacocks are in perfect contrast to the adjacent informal meadow and woods. Plants spill out from the beds over paths and restrict your access along the ever narrowing footpaths.The companion planting is  fantastic and voluptuous, and certainly deserves it tag as a dynamic garden.

I love the surrounding landscape; it reminds me of nearby Tonbridge where I happily studied at Hadlow college.  The garden effortlessly includes the external landscape in the garden, in fact it can be difficult to distinguish the garden borders.  

Great Dixter is a fantastic cottage garden because it breaks the rules of cottage gardening.  It is both formal and informal, a combination of both wild and tame. The informal meadow is the first area you see on the way up to the house, rather than a typical formal bed.  I love the contracts between the restrictive, colour filled topiary rooms and the green, calm meadows and orchards surrounding them.  

The exotic garden was created in 1993 by Christopher to replace Lutyens old rose garden. The bananas and t-rex were just starting to show when we visited, but I do remember the complete feeling of enclosure from the garden when I visited in summer last time and cant wait to see what bedding and overwintered plants will be positioned in the garden this year.


Christopher Lloyd worked hard with his head gardener, Fergus Garrett.  They were forever challenging the garden and changing the planting within it.  Rather than getting a stale garden with overgrown plants shading out and competing with others the planting at Great Dixter is dynamic. New plants are placed in new combinations to ensure a spirit of adventure within the garden. Following Christopher's' death Fergus now maintain the gardens for the Great Dixter Charitable Trust in the same adventurous manner as they had done previously.  

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