A Very English Garden

A Very English Garden

With no Chelsea Flower Show this year, we must content ourselves with cottage garden dreams. Dream with me as we walk through the wonderful gardens at Great Dixter.

‘I believe a really good way to understand a culture is by its gardens’

Monty Don in the BBC series ‘Around the world in 80 gardens’

The traditional old English cottage garden is always a favourite at the Chelsea Flower Show. We dream of nostalgic loveliness in a dreamy setting amidst old buildings and cottages with roses, honeysuckle and clematis climbing over the walls. Catmint and scented lavender will be gracefully spreading over onto the paths. It will be an old-fashioned and romantic beauty frozen in time, Old England at its past best with the unmistakable influences of Gertrude Jekyll.

Great Dixter

But all gardeners are dreamers, I certainly am – ‘it’s always going to be better this summer’. A garden to make you dream is my favourite, Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter where the cottage garden style has been developed into high octane theatre. 

As you approach the front door (See the photo in the Dixter website) the sense of magic draws you in through a beautiful front meadow filled with flowers. The wonderful entrance porch of Edwin Lutyens’ gloriously restored and developed old Sussex barn meets you like a stage setting for a dramatised children’s fairy story. You come expecting something special and you’re not disappointed, a theatrical entrance if ever there was one. You almost expect to meet Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll chatting with Christopher Lloyd amidst that glorious display of pots at the front door. This is an enchanting place.

Flower borders packed with colour at Great Dixter
A typical Dixter border packed with colour

The beautiful old house is draped around with sumptuous gardens to excite and please anyone. At the back lies the famous Long Border (see top featured photo) – a spectacular masterpiece with a delightful profusion of colour, constantly changing through the seasons. Alongside is another of Dixter’s famous flower meadows dreamily set among orchard trees. It’s a romantic setting, like an ‘impressionist’ painting, with an ever-changing relaxed tapestry. Monet would have loved this place. To see more, I recommend Christopher Lloyd’s inspiring book ‘Meadows’.

But the apparent informality is deceptive. The garden is very high maintenance with constant fine-tuning required to keep up the display through the seasons, as Christopher explained in the book ‘Succession Planting for the Adventurous Gardener‘.

A Cottage Garden

The front entrance at Dixter with its pot displays has always been an inspiration. I have used this idea myself in our own small front garden, as well as other ideas from Christopher Lloyd’s great garden. A friend who often visits once generously (jokingly) calling our little garden ‘Little Dixter’, a hard act to follow with our own small space and limited resources.

I love plants that flop over onto the path as if to say ‘Welcome, thank you for visiting, relax and make yourself at home’.

This is early Pulsatilla vulgaris here.

Purple flowered Pulsatilla in a garden
A study in green at April blossom time.

The Joy of a Garden

“After all, what is a garden for? It is for ‘delight’, for ‘sweet solace’, for ‘the purest of all human pleasures, the greatest refreshment for the spirits of men’. It is to promote ‘jocundite of minde’, it is to ‘call home over-wearied spirits’. So say the oldest writers, and we cannot amend their words, which will stand as long as there are gardens on earth and people to love them.”

Words of Gertrude Jekyll in her ‘A Gardener’s Testament’
Our front cottage garden coming into flower – mid May

What better than to call a place ‘my’ garden, somewhere I can dream and use my imagination to create my own paradise, a casual beauty always with a sense that there’s more to come. In such a place there is plenty of ‘delight’, ‘sweet solace’ and ‘refreshment to welcome home over- wearied spirits’. We need plenty of this at the present time.

Evening light catches the garden trees
Evening sunlight catches the trees in the garden next door.

Thank you for visiting, especially to friends from far countries. I wonder, did Monty’s superb BBC Series ‘Around the world in 80 gardens’ feature gardens in your country? You can watch the series again on Youtube.

Front cottage garden
As you leave down the garden path, pause to smell the ‘Golden Showers’ rose on the right.

Top featured photo by Peter Whitcombe – Geograph

9 thoughts on “A Very English Garden

  1. A sumptuous display of colour and careful planning from the Writer’s lovely, cottage garden which I have the privilege to visit fairly frequently and to have an occasional one to one Gardeners’ Question Time!! Thank you. Great Dixter is just stunning and filled with surprises at every turn. Oh to be able to return – God willing.

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    1. Thank you Sue. Even though I’ve been gardening for most of my life I’m not quite at the GQT level yet! I’m sure your bees are loving your own garden now. Let’s hope that Dixter will soon be open again.

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    1. Sadly, Great Dixter’s closed at present. The May beauty there will be missed this year. Hopefully the garden will re-open soon. In the meantime we must enjoy our own instead and ‘dream’ as we meander through the Dixter website.

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  2. I have always wanted to visit Great Dixter; maybe one day! You do have a most beautiful garden, Richard! I also love to have plants spilling off the beds onto the paths and lawn but my husband isn’t keen. He much prefers plants behaving themselves in the flowerbed! I used to have a Golden Showers climbing rose by my front door in one of my gardens. Such a glorious yellow and beautifully scented. I was most upset to find the next owners had got rid of it as soon as they moved in!

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    1. I can understand your frustration Clare. With two gardeners compromise is sometimes needed! I friend who used to visited here used to point out the weeds. His own garden was very tidy and controlled! Not my style for sure. Sad about your former ‘Golden Showers’. Although a climber ours has never wanted to climb. But it gives out a wonderful scent as we pass by..

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      1. Thank you, Richard. Richard and I agree to differ in our approaches to gardening, though I do have to be careful when he is mowing! We have our own flower beds to care for which makes it easier to do our own thing!

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  3. Wow, Richard, what gorgeous photos and what a lovely post. I am very late in discovering your blog – apologies! Philippa

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