The great in Great Dixter

The great in Great Dixter

The great was added by the Lloyds when they bought the house and land to distinguish it from Little Dixter down the road, but it was Christopher Lloyd, who in my mind, made Dixter a great garden.

Admittedly he had a great backbone, a literal structure to work from and to be inspired by. He also had great teachers in his parents, particularly his mother Daisy. But it was he I think who changed it, made it into the garden it is today.

Great Dixter was bought by the Lloyds in 1910, the house originally built in the 15th and 16th Centuries (a farmhouse-esate- manor) was extensively renovated and remodelled along with the gardens by Edwin Luytens. They worked and created the gardens, turned old cow sheds and yards into formal gardens, created meadows, planted orchards, and built the sunken garden. But it was Christopher Lloyd ,who was born in the house, on his return from college and national service who created what we know as Dixter.

Christopher Lloyd is a highly influential gardener of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, he died in 2006. He was a writer – a garden writer, a prolific one at that but also a great writer; for magazines like Country Life and with regular gardening columns in the newspapers and numerous books (his first published in 1957, and during his lifetime a total of 25). Using Great Dixter as his base, his inspiration he brought his innovative style to countless gardeners.

His seminal book is said to be the The Well-Tempered Garden, but for me it is the book of letters, a copy of the correspondence between him and Beth ChattoDear Gardener and Friend that stands out. Letters over a period of time detailing their gardens, swapping notes and gossip, enquiries of health, new finds and new trials, successes and failures between these two distinctive but passionate gardening greats that has me captivated. The attention to detail and their love of plants, gardening and life holds me.

Dixter is a garden founded on wealth, not something I’m normally attracted to. You probably know what I’m referring to – the great estates, the piles where rich landowners retire to and develop their passion, maybe they employ a famous architect or landscape artist to create a garden for them, in formal settings, the emphasis on structures and views and vistas, maybe some exotics. Gardens of a former time – of armies of gardeners and workers on an estate, of fortunes spent and lost in creating a paradise, of collections, of statements. I understand their appeal, I appreciate them but I don’t feel them. I see the clever landscaping, the use of views, of paths to lead you and yet they remain sterile to me. Somehow they are ghostly, reminders of a different time and life.

These great houses and estates are to me piece of history, part of a tapestry of English history that charts the development from the rural to the industrial to today. They are historic both in their design and influence. A part of history showcasing the development of ideas and methods. I consign them to the history books – rightly or wrongly, I acknowledge their influence but there is nothing living there, nothing for me to take away, apart from a sense of grandness and history. Dixter, is the opposite of this, it is very much alive  living in the now. Maybe because it is a garden I have grown to know, a garden that has developed, in part, in my own lifetime, that makes it more accessible to me, which means , at least on some levels, I can associate with it.

Dixter was as I’ve said founded on wealth, and no doubt it takes a huge sum to maintain it to this day, but unlike other “great” gardens, there is something so very different. There is no stifling of planting here. No prissy planting. No formulaic planting, Dixter is a garden of superlatives. Great planting. Planting on a great and large scale. Planting that challenges – in terms of colour combinations, types, mixing of classics with the new. A garden that is bold in design yet subtle in detail. A garden that plays on the senses. Planting and care that is thorough and thought through. But not prissy or primped. Very much alive and kicking in the 21st century.

Christopher Lloyd was an innovator, a challenger to standard perceptions and perceived ideas about gardening – the do’s and the don’ts. He had his passions, such as Clematis and his views, often humorous but always informed, linger with you. The gardens are proponents of intensive gardening, a classic rich man’s dream but he gave and he shared. He created the nursery, to stock the gardens and to sell to the public, opened the gardens to visitors, he wanted to stimulate the mind and the senses, not afraid to shock or challenge. Think of the Rose Garden laid out by Edwin Luytens that he ripped out and replaced with the Exotic Garden, considering “roses to be miserable and unsatisfactory shrubs”  and you may begin to understand why this garden is what it is, a great garden by a great gardener who has left a great legacy.

I’ve included a slideshow of snaps from the gardens, I have edited down the photos, but will take you around the gardens properly next time.

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102 thoughts on “The great in Great Dixter

    • Hi Karen, it certainly is a lovely garden to visit, I’ve been a few times and at different times during the year, I think early Spring and early Autumn are my favourites. And thank you for your kind compliments

  1. I am surprised at the depth of your article. It is like a good book review of a book written by a famous author. Very studied and thorough. The UK gardens are really the best of the best, money to create them or designed on a shoestring. I have always admired Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto. I could go on and on to the gardens I have loved to visit, but only virtually through the web or books. Maybe someday. I will say like all your other readers too, that your images are superb.

    • Thank you, it’s strange but I literally sat down to write it last night and the words flowed, (I stopped to check a couple of details like dates) sometimes its like that, no need for major re-editing. I wanted to give everyone a bit of a back story to the garden as I have some more photos to share, and I wasn’t really sure how many people would know Christopher Lloyd. As usual I’m proved wrong, so many of us do know him !

  2. Claire, this is just wonderful! The photos are breath-takingly beautiful, and I love the history and the “back story” of these gardens. That shot of – is it dill? – almost skeletal in profile against the backdrop of soft grasses…just perfect. I can – with these photos – understand why this would appeal to you over the formal “historic” gardens. There are formal elements here, in the pruned hedges and walkways, but there is whimsy in the combinations…and common flowers mixing with the more staid elements…and life. Thanks, Claire!

    • Hi Cindy and thank you! Absolutely agree about the formal elements, lots of structure but th eplanting within the sturcture is free, or freer (sp?), looser but that’s a very clever trick, because as you can imagine, there’s a lot of work that dgoe sinto making it look relaxed and beautiful at the same time

  3. I feel I must get to the library and look up Lloyd’s books! This is my favorite type of garden. Unmanicured perfection! There is a relaxing quality to the naturalness I can never find in a more formal garden, even if I completely admire the beauty. The reference to the Arts and Crafts design is probably why I gravitate to this style. There is a heavy influence of that design where I live, and I even have a few elements in my own home. I’m very fond of the California bungalows that populate our area which heavily draw from Arts and Crafts. Anyway, I’ve heard his name for years but didn’t realize he was so contemporary. I really do thank you for the background information and look forward to learning more. :-) Debra

    • There is definitely a relaxing quality to the garden Debra, but that takes a lot of very good gardening to achieve that !
      I love thos eclassic Californian bungalows, such a distinct style, but of course I also love the gardens :)
      It was apleasur esharing the garden with you, and the brief history, I knew I should give you some contects otherwise it wouldn’t make much sense. I’ve been flicking through a couple of his books, and I realise how much I miss his articles and his voice on gardening.

  4. This is so beautiful. I love your photos — they give such an intimate look at certain plants, with a glimpse of the greater garden as well. I always dream of visiting gardens like these, so I appreciate being able to come along in your pocket.

    • It’s a pleasure to have you along! I’m pretty useless at visiting places, never seem to get round to it, or it’s the wrong time of year….. but this place is literally 10 miles from me so I should stop with the excuses :)

  5. I am trying to think if I have ever seen photos of Great Dixter before and I am pretty sure I havent which is pretty surprising with all the gardening books and books of gardens that were floating around when I was growing up! And aah pampas grass reninds of the big clump in the front garden of my grandparents’ house: happy memories!
    The detail of the garden in these photos looks stunning. I always considered dahlias to be old fashioned flowers but maybe in the right spot and planted in a particular way they aren’t! I look forward to seeing more shots of the garden itself as a whole (or parts of it) as I am very curious about how it looks from a wider angle. Especially in combination with your comments about the grand confined regimented gardens of old with their vistas and views. With the bits I have seen in these photos there seems to also be an element of control here – with the topiary. Which are also being used to create views and to draw your eye to a certain place. Maybe this is just one part of the garden and the rest isn’t like this. Open mind needed until I can see the garden from a wider perspective and see if I can see what you are saying about it being freer.

    • We’ll have to go next year – late spring/eary summe ris lovely there !
      As to the dahlias, he loved them and yes they did have a bit of an old-styled garden to them, but in previous years I’ve had them in my garden, and so many great ones to choose from, mind you I neve rlift them and store them over winter……

      • Oh goody another place to visit with C&B!:-) Are you supposed to lift dahlias then? Never saw my grandad doing that. Or then I have either forgotten it or I just couldn’t see them for all the apples he stored in the tool shed, the potting shed, the other shed, the second spare bedroom……(you get the idea!)

  6. Oh, I love this post – the topic and the photos! I have always had a “crush” on cute, little Christopher Lloyd. I had the fortune to go to one of his lectures when I was living in Portland, Oregon. He was so humorous and I fell in love with his style of “breaking the rules” long ago. Every garden I create, I try to replicate some of his plantings. Of course, my climate is different etc.. but I am always thinking of his style. I would LOVE to visit the Great Dixter someday. Thank you for sharing!

    • How wonderful is that, you went to one of his lectures !! I’d read about him doing lecture tours and his liking for an dpopularity in the States, so that’s fabulous that you can share the story !
      I hope someday you do get to visit, I know I’m biaised, but it is special and beautiful ! Hope you have a super week

  7. Such a great place to visit, Claire, and you’re very fortunate to have been able to do so over the years. Your prose and photos make this a great post, leaving us all wanting more. Thank you so much for taking the time to photograph, organize, and upload these photos so we could share in the experience. Brava!

  8. When I visit the Rockefeller gardens here in Maine I have much the Sam feeling as you visiting Dixter and I am so grateful for what wealth can provide for the rest of us.

  9. A very inspiring post Claire! To see and enjoy another person’s creative genius through your eyes was a splendid read with enchanting photos. A stellar post!

  10. Great post and photos….in the states some of the issues are different, but we shre the same view of “old” and “fussy” gardens… they seem sterile at times. But this looked great to us…

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  12. Wonderful photos – love that pink dahlia! My email account had the notification of your blog post marked as spam, so it took me a while to realise it was here – glad I did find it though!

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  15. Gardening foresight is amazing. I don’t have the skill but last week, celebrated the 75th anniversary of our botanical garden. I’m so impressed with the legacy that’s been left for us.

  16. Pingback: Trippin’ through the Tulips | Promenade Plantings

  17. Your photos make me feel like I was right there, that’s gorgeous :)

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    P.S. To prepare for my exams now I won’t be commenting for around 4 weeks – See you in a month my friend :)

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