U.S.A., Washington State. USDA zone 8b. Sunset climate zone 5

Revisiting Great Dixter After the Garden Design's Webinar with Fergus Garrett

'Succession Planting for a Long Season' was a great webinar with Great Dixter's Head Gardener! 
Inspirational, full of information, tips and ideas, it made me want to go through my own pictures of the Garden. I do love these large format pictures. I tried to catch every nook, corner, bed, border, long views of the place, even its barns and gigantic compost piles.
It was raining. Rainy May day. The same as when I visited  Sissinghurst.
In Sissinghurst, rain would stop for a moment, the sun would show up briefly and then, the rain would start again, but at least I had some breaks. In Great Dixter, there were no breaks, and only several pictures were not taken from under my umbrella.

Most of the pictures are not altered in any way. Brightness, sharp contrast - it is exactly how the garden looked that morning. (We are lucky to see these vibrant, crystal clear colors in our own gardens here in the U.S. Pacific Northwest due to high humidity).

I am an amateur gardener. And my approach to visiting famous gardens is also very amateur. I don't prepare my visits properly by studying garden maps, looking at garden pictures, etc. I refresh my memory about the history of a garden, and that's it.
I do this to avoid any influence of other people's opinion on me. Egoistically, I want my first feelings about the garden to be purely mine. I want to be as naive as naive could be.
I even don't look at the garden leaflet received at the gate until I finish my initial self-tour.
After I take the pictures and make a first round, I usually sit on a bench and study a map.

Here is a dry one!

After that, the second walk-around is done.
 I followed this strategy in Sissinghurst,  Hidcote Manor Garden, Giverny and others (they all are listed in this blog's page 'Gardens of the World That I Visited').

Sissinghurst Garden was my first from the famous English gardens. It shocked me in a good sense of this word. Hidcote Manor Garden which I visited  the following year, was beautiful, but I couldn't stop catching myself thinking 'I saw something similar at Sissinghurst', 'they used the same concept', and so on.
Great Dixter Garden, of course, also has something in common with these other two great gardens, but somehow, it didn't make me think about common features which it shares with them.
It grasped me from the first second I entered it and held my heart tight until the second I stepped beyond its gate.

The first view of the Christopher Lloyd's house

What other words other than beautiful and gorgeous can I use to describe Great Dixter Garden? Remember, I am not a garden designer...
Unexpected, lush, bold and brilliant, sometimes surrealistic, flamboyant and playful with its gargantuan feathery ferula (giant fennel) towering above other plants; in some places seemingly unruled, beautifully disheveled, proclaiming freedom and even revolt.

Ferula communis

 I loved the Garden's paths.  More than once, I read a critique toward narrow paths in gardens.
Some people insist that a proper garden path should be wide enough to allow two people to walk side by side and share a conversation.
Well, this Garden's paths certainly are not that type! But, isn't it easy - to stop, turn toward a friend and to admire together and discuss a plant or other garden feature?

Walking along Great Dixter Garden's narrow, sometimes very narrow paths, allowed me to feel myself as a child in a fairy-tale garden. I found this experience very intimate, very personal.
I could almost touch the plants trimming the walkways and  looked at the garden not from aside but being among the plants, surrounded by them.
In other words, I was within the garden as a part versus as a side observer.

What struck me in this Garden, as well as in Sissinghurst and Hidcote Manor Garden, was that such a great effect is reached partially by using commonly found, well known, ordinary plants. Of course, there are some unusual and less known plants, but the majority of them are just it - tulips, forget- me- not, daffodils, bluebells, eutrochium, wallflower, achillea, columbine, penstemon, brunnera, primula, peony, crocosmia, poppy, fritillaria, etc.

What did I feel walking through  the Garden?
Excitement, as I've already said,  from the first step into the Garden to the last one;

The sense of expectation of something magical behind each corner that never let me down;

Joy of seeing mature knotty trees;

Childish feeling of satisfaction when I saw something similar, if I dare to say so, to my own garden. For example, using tall plants in front of the borders or having a huge head of grass sticking out in the middle of a plant bed;

Growing appreciation of the usual, traditional I-see-you-every-day plants.

And this is the place where I started to cry. Well, not cry-cry, but where I shed a couple of tears.

Here, when I saw this magnolia tree. The fact that I was actually alone in this intimate, special place dawned on me.

 Simultaneously, there were two opposite feelings - of cozy confinement due to the wall on the left and the presence of a close openness due to the view ahead and behind the arch in the wall.

What I love in this picture, above, is a play of the layers, the view of all these steps, vertical and horizontal lines and, with that geometrical background, soft rounded magnolia's petals, touching and romantic.

 The tree's branches and flowers seemed to be suspended  and floating in the air.
I allowed myself to shed a tear and said several words of gratefulness for the happiness to have had such a special moment.
Garden's beautiful arches allowed us to see alluring clouds of color pulling you toward them like a magnet.

Poppies. Oh, those poppies! Thrown seemingly here and there in a random fashion, they add excitement and joy to a scene. They are like little fairies hiding their lovely faces from the rain and ready to giggle the moment it stops.

Below - What is it if not magic? It makes my heart squeeze. There is an expectation here. 
There is romance in the air, don't you feel it?

It wouldn't be the same garden without a background of the buildings, window arches, weathered grey wood, brick and stone. This contrast of soft ephemeral blooms, tender foliage and permanent, seemingly immortal hard structures, was almost poignant.

"The borders are mixed, not herbaceous. I see no point in segregating plants of differing habit or habits. They can all help one another. 
So, you'll see shrubs, climbers, hardy and tender perennials, annuals and biennials, all growing together and contributing to the overall tapestry." Christopher Lloyd

In the Garden's nursery, I spotted several types of Camassia: C. cuisickii, C. leichtnilii, C. quamash

"I have no segregated colour schemes. In fact, I take it as a challenge to combine every sort of colour effectively. I have a constant awareness of colour and of what I am doing, but if I think a yellow candelabrum of mullein will look good rising from the middle of a quilt of pink phlox, I'll put it there - or let it put itself there. Many plants in this garden are self-sown and they often provide me with excellent ideas. But I do also have some of my own!" Christopher Lloyd

 What's green and succulent today will be brown and dry tomorrow. This is the way of life and death, and this is one of the things our gardens teach us.

Attention! Gunnera in a pot!

"The garden is managed in the same way as in Christopher Lloyd's time.
We go for high-impact visual displays but also intimacy in our combinations.
All of this is within a strong infrastructure of buildings, garden hedges and landscaped trees.
Wildflower meadows continue to flow into the garden and are cut twice a year after the seeds are set."  Head Gardener, Fergus Garrett

 Above - Do you see that single light red tulip? Would the scene be the same without it? I don't think so.

 The Nursery
It was a pleasure to walk among the greenhouses and plant beds, reading the plant labels
 and, well, envying the people who were buying the plants.
If I could take a train, not a plane, over the pond, I would happily join them.

'The Nursery was started by Christopher Lloyd in 1954 after teaching at Wye College. 
Specialising in clematis and plants that he liked and deemed garden-worthy, 
he started with a couple of cold frames and a glasshouse. 
We still raise plants using the same methods to this day, 
and we remain a small, personal and professional nursery'.
 (Great Dixter House and Garden website)

 The whole time I was in the Garden, there were people (gardeners, students, volunteers)
working - doing maintenance, cleaning, preparing plants for sale, etc. 

I appreciated all of the information on the plant labels

This is the link, if you are interested in the information about Great Dixter's potting compost

 I took this picture while having tea at the Garden's  Refreshments Loggia.
Already a bit tired, I nevertheless, felt good being close to the nursery plants, rustic structures and
being emerged in the serene atmosphere of English countryside.
You can take a girl out of the village, but you sure can't take the village out of the girl.

I like these green pea supports

 Gigantic piles of compost impressed me! In fall, pumpkins are planted on them.
After returning home, I lovingly turned over two compost piles in my own garden.

'The gardening style is intensive but plants are allowed to look comfortable. 
Our main method of feeding is with organic waste which is dug into the borders on a regular basis. 
Plants are not cut down in the autumn and winter period until the spring tidy up begins, 
providing us with valuable skeletons for a winter effect and a good food source for animals. 
We are not organic but use minimal chemicals, always preferring the softer option. 
We grow the majority of plants ourselves and constantly experiment. 
The water used is from our own borehole and we compost almost everything we can. 
The number of gardeners varies but usually there are five full-time gardeners, 
supported by part-timers, students and volunteers'.
(Head Gardener Fergus Garrett. Great Dixter House and Garden website)

The Exotic Garden was just awakening after the winter and was not yet in its prime.

'You can walk through the ‘hovel’, an old cow shed, on to the site of a one-time cattle yard 
(with their drinking tank in the centre), where Lutyens designed a formal rose garden. 
Thanks to replant disease, newly planted rose replacements ceased to thrive here, 
so on Fergus’s arrival at Dixter, we made a grand alteration, got rid of the roses and created 
a late summer to autumn garden for tropical effect, though many of the best foliage plants are quite hardy.
 This has been a lot of fun. For colour, we are mainly using dahlias and cannas. 
There is a haze of purple from self-sowing Verbena bonariensis
A white, August–September flowering shrub, Escallonia bifida, is usually besieged by butterflies. 
The banana, Musa basjoo, is a hardy Japanese species.'  (Christopher Lloyd. 
Great Dixter House and Garden website)

Now, some pictures from different parts of the Garden:

'A yew archway, leading to a garden containing 18 topiary birds. 
Originally intended as pheasants, fighting cocks, blackbirds and suchlike, 
we nowadays refer to them all as peacocks. 
There is a central platform around which the topiary is thickest; 
my mother referred to it as a parliament of birds or as a conversation piece'. (Christopher Lloyd.
 Great Dixter House and Garden website)

'Dixter’s is a high maintenance garden; I make no bones about that. 
It is effort that brings reward. 
There are many borders and much work goes into them. 
Labour saving ground cover is not for me. 
If you see ground cover, it’s there because, first and foremost, I like it. 
If it does also save labour, that is an incidental benefit'.
 (Christopher Lloyd. Great Dixter House and Garden website)

Above, is part of the Cat Garden. 
I've been told that it was thus called because of the cat shed which used to be here.
 Farm cats were helpful in controlling the mice and rat population.

There are several barns and other buildings on the property.
One of them, the Great Barn, is 500 years old.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Great Barn had been adapted for a variety purposes.
Parts were being used for housing livestock, while other sections were given over to general storage of such things as feed, grain and implements, and one end was being used as the drying and pressing floor for the adjacent oast house.
When Nathaniel Lloyd purchased Great Dixter in 1910, he was not directly involved in farming and the land was let to a tenant. For aesthetic purposes and to allow for the creation and development of the gardens, it was necessary to relocate the centre of the farming operation further away from the house to a new set of buildings that were constructed 200 metres down the track on the other side of the road. This left the barn only with a few low priority storage functions, particularly once the oast ceased operating in the late 1930s.
(Great Dixter House and Garden website)

It looks like I'm obsessed with fences...

'The yew topiary lends a particular atmosphere to several parts of the garden. 
There was more of it in my father’s time. It has a presence, 
especially when shadows are long and it appears to inhabit, rather than grow. 
It needs clipping only once a year. If done in August, 
it will retain its sharp outlines right through to the end of the following May. 
However, although we mechanised the operation soon after the last war, 
we seldom achieve this objective and are pleased if this prolonged task is completed by November. 
Yew grows much faster than people imagine, if the ground is well prepared and the plants are fed.' (Christopher Lloyd.

After returning from my European trip, I looked again through 'The Cottage Garden' by Christopher Lloyd and Richard Bird.
Parts of the Great Dixter Garden  are live illustrations for the book; for example, its 'Flower Garden' chapter:
'The quintessence of the cottage garden is an abundance of color and a jumble of scents.
The cottage flower garden is crowded with flowering plants, jostling one on top of another.
There are practical reasons for such dense planting.
Firstly, the leaves form a protective screen so that weeds have little chance of germinating and, if weeds do emerge, the dense canopy cuts out the light they need to survive.
In other words, the plants act as a ground cover.
Secondly, the packed-in plants support each other, rather like drunks after a party.
This reduces the amount of staking and tying that is necessary.
In fact, in some cases you may want to let plantsflop: for example, after cutting back a plant,
you might want to allow the one behind it to floop into the space and fill the gap;
alternatively, where the paths are wideenough, edging plants, such as pinks, always look pretty if allowed to sprawl out on to them.
The third advantage of dense planting is that it forms a microclimate (as in the steaming jungle).
A layer of humid air stays around the stems, helping to prevent them from flagging on hot days.'

Here is the link to the Dixter Vegetable Garden blog by Aaron Bertelsen

Walking along the outskirts of the property was as pleasurable as walking through the main Garden.

Gunnera tinctoria at the Horse Pond

Gunnera manicata at the Lower Moat

Good Bye, Great Dixter! I hope to see you again one day...
Thank you for walking with me in the Garden!
Thank you, GARDEN DESIGN , for arranging the webinar with Fergus Garrett!
Learn from the best!

***Copyright 2023 TatyanaS


  1. Beautiful vistas/landscapes, and I'm glad you enjoyed the webinar and the gardens. I hope you'll have a chance to visit again. Thanks for sharing the highlights!

    1. Thank you, Beth! I'm glad I took so many pictures and used a big camera, not iPhone!

  2. Oh, wow! I have been to Great Dixter, later in the year than this, late June, early July, some years ago now. Seeing it in early spring, wet with rain, was a real treat. Thank you.

    1. Linda, thank you! I bet it was bright and beautiful in summer! Lucky us, it's a lifetime experience to see such a place!

  3. Wow thank you for this informative experience. I enjoyed looking at your photos of Great Dixter. I felt I was floating along with you in the garden.

    1. Thank you, Mike! I am glad you enjoyed the pictures! 'Floating in the garden' - I love it!

    2. My goodness, what an amazing garden! I feel like I just took a tour through it.


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