The spirit of Great Dixter
I’m not a keen gardener (as I’m sure my wife would tell you). But as she is about to go back to college and follow her passion for horticulture, her enthusiasm and love affair with gardening has become infectious.
And I think it’s starting to rub off on me.
After a weekend in Rye, on the drive back to London we stopped off at Great Dixter gardens. A historic house of gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd, Great Dixter is cited as being one of the most innovative, spectacular and experimental gardens of the 20th century. A place of pilgrimage for horticulturists, I was painfully unaware of it’s significance as I walked through the entrance.
It’s great wandering around gardens with this naive attitude. I have no idea what the plant names are. Or what makes a good or a bad plant combination. I just knew I liked what I saw.
Every time I turned a corner, a new picture emerged in front of me. Instead of formal boring borders filled with row after row of the same flowers of different shades, these borders were vibrant. Unpredictable. Free flowing. Filled with wild meadow flowers and spontaneous shapes and colour combinations
The whole experience had an air of chaotic order to it.
A few weeks later, we were visiting contemporary garden fair Grow London. We stumbled upon a series of talks, one of them from Fergus Garrett — Head gardener at Great Dixter. He talked at length about his teams approach to gardening at Dixter. I love hearing people talk passionately about their craft.
He paints with flowers. Colour, shapes, textures are all part of his palette. Playful and contrasting combinations that embodies a spirit of experimentation. You can feel it when you walk around the place — it’s an artist at work. Blobs of colours and shapes that repeat to draw your eye right the way through a view. These kinds of borders don’t spring up over night. They are meticulously planned and clearly bare the mark of an experienced gardener.
To hone this eye for unexpected combinations, Fergus and his team use pot displays to easily shift things around and experiment. In essence they are prototyping their borders — testing out new ideas to see if they work before planting them up.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, so get out from behind your screen and take your eye for a walk around some beautiful green spaces. If you can’t make it over to Rye, the gardens at the Olympic Park have a similar kind of vibe to them (co-designed by the awesome Sarah Price).