If you only get to visit one English garden, I would recommend Great Dixter near Rye, East Sussex. In the lovely book ‘The English Country House Garden’ by George Plumptre, Frances Lincoln Ltd, Dixter is classed as one of the three essentials, along with Hidcote and Sissinghurst. All three are no doubt prime English country gardens yet Dixter is edgier, experimental and remains a constantly evolving garden, hence it is my favourite.
The house which dates back to the 15th century, was updated by Sir Edward Lutyens in the early 1900’s when the framework of the garden was set around the medieval manor, barns and oasthouse by a series of yew walls by Lutyens and Lloyds parents.
Christopher Lloyd known as Christo, trained in horticulture after service in the second world war. He lectured at Wye college in Kent, publishing his first book in 1957. He returned to Dixter in his early thirties to live with his widowed mother and used the garden at Dixter as a source of inspiration, trialing and experimenting with plants for his weekly column in Country Life. Christo published numerous books throughout his life including The Mixed Border and Exotic Planting for Adventurous Gardeners.
Christo may have been ‘posh’ and opinionated but he was immensely knowledgable, writing in a fresh entertaining style. He took the bones of the garden at Dixter and transformed it with his own distinctive, almost rock’n’roll style.
Gardens, really? Can they be different, can they ever be cutting edge? (no pun)
Certainly the framework of Dixter is quintessentially English: ancient buildings, walls of hedges, topiary, stone paths etc yet the planting is different; looser, bigger, bolder with clashing colour and texture.
The exclusive use of soft complimentary colours to sooth and recede lost their place to striking hots. Lloyd was never afraid to challenge the eye and used yellows and reds in his planting schemes, not in some intentional hot border, but amongst the planting, everywhere. Brash? So it may have seemed but this was ground breaking and has gone on to become almost the fashion for modern planting schemes.
The Exotic garden replaced the Rose Garden and outraged the traditionalists of the time.
The meadow which greets the visitor on arrival may now not be that unusual yet it has inspired countless copies to encourage the return of insects into our gardens.
If you are still reading at this point, thank you, I shall finish off, silently, with some more pictures.
Colour at Dixter