Thursday, 11 August 2011

A wonderful week at Great Dixter

I'm still revelling in the experiences I had last week at Great Dixter, a magnificent garden in Sussex known for the daring, unusual and exciting planting schemes created by the late Christopher Lloyd and continued by his head garden Fergus Garrett.

It is a truly inspiring place to have spent a week working - the spirit of the garden is unique and I hope that even just a tiny bit of it will have rubbed off on me and will influence the way I approach garden design. It is a garden which looks and feels spontaneous yet it is the product of careful planning, continuous upkeep and the tireless application of a principle of 'succession planting' whereby plants (bulbs, self-sown annuals, early and later flowering perennials) replace each other in a bed to provide constant, packed interest in borders.

I was at Great Dixter with three of my classmates from KLC. Also there for a work placement was John, a trainee gardener at Hidcote in Gloucestershire, another famous English garden. I'm not sure how he really felt about being landed with us four girls for week but we certainly enjoyed his company and as well as his excellent plant knowledge and splendid attire. One evening during the week he arranged for us to visit Sissinghurst, yet another classic English garden. We had the place to ourselves and it was a wonderful experience. So here's a picture of four of us there that evening:

Back to Great Dixter. Even with my limited photographic skills I could fill pages and pages with beautiful images of the garden. All the fantastic planting combinations are set against a structure which is the backbone of the garden: the house, a series of outbuildings, and a network of clipped hedges, topiary and stone paths which divide the space into distinct areas or rooms. Here are just a few images to try and capture it:

Perhaps the most famous of Christopher Lloyd's creations in the garden is the Long Border - I had the pleasure of spending much of last Friday in there tidying, dead-heading and generally enjoying the experience of talking to visitors in the sunshine.  

I took some of my best shots early one morning when Abby and I spent a good couple of hours sweeping many of the paths in the garden. Even a seemingly mundane job like this was fun, providing a chance to get up close to the plants, admire the colours in the morning light and even take a sneaky picture or two...

 Another of the activities we got involved in was harvesting vegetables for sale to visitors at the house, for cooking in the house and for selling at the Hastings carnival street fair last Thursday. We went down there and Great Dixter stall stood out along the street with giant Gunnera leaves towering into the sky.

 Around 50,000 visitors a year come to the garden and most, if not all, will be inspired by colours, textures and shapes which they never could have imagined working together. Fergus is providing the leadership to make sure that the garden continues to be new and exciting for visitors now and we experienced first hand how he is still experimenting each year in the garden with new ideas. If they don't work, so be it, he'll try another idea next year. This was very refreshing to see!

Great Dixter is an amazing place to visit, even for those who aren't really into gardening at all. I'm not sure there are too many gardens you can say that about.  


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  2. Fantastic stuff Angela! Your photographs are wonderful! :)