Saturday, July 16, 2016

THE BETH CHATTO GARDEN

This year, in planning our visit back home, I made sure The Beth Chatto Gardens were on our itinerary. Our first 4 nights we would be in Cambridge for the Bumps rowing races which take place every evening. The days were free for me to plan some garden visits. Day number one was a 64 mile drive to The Beth Chatto Garden near Colchester, Essex. There are five gardens, the Gravel Garden, the Scree Garden, the Reservoir Garden, the Woodland Garden and the Water Gardens. I think most people associate Beht Chatto's garden with her gravel garden but you can see on the plan that it covers only a small part of the total garden.


BETH CHATTO GRAVEL GARDEN
When Beth Chatto and her husband built their house in 1960 much of the surrounding area was  overgrown with poor gravelly soil, along with some boggy areas in the lower levels of the land. The two gardens which support dry plants are the Gravel Garden and the Scree garden which were more recent additions beginning in 1991. As this part of the country has one of the lowest levels of rainfall, with an average of 20" a year,  it made sense to use plants adapted to such drier conditions.

The Gravel Garden



Just inside the entrance and through a gap in a high hedge is the former parking lot. It had been grass -covered but the grass burnt to brown every summer and the underlying soil compacted by cars. Surely something better could be done with the land? It was ripe for a horticultural experiment in the form of a gravel garden.  But it is not to say that they didn't amend the existing soil. Home-made compost, mushroom compost  and bonfire waste were added and tilled in to a depth of 4' to help establish the plants. Which plants would survive without addition irrigation and with the soil conditions of the area? There were failures but judging by what we saw, over time the plants grown are happy with both climate and soil conditions. Plants in generous beds spill over onto the wide gravel walkways which snake through the area. All the plants here demand really good drainage which they get from the naturally occurring 15' of gravel and sand which lie beneath the surface.





The house sits high in the garden and we were sure we caught a glimpse of Beth Chatto, who is now 94,  in the window. I am sure she was enjoying the visitors as they made their way through the lower gardens as much as we were enjoying the garden. Although the main steps up to the house were barred to visitors there were other steps which led up to the side of the house to the Scree Garden.

The Scree Garden 



Side pathway up to the Scree Garden


The scree beds are surrounded by low stone walls. The plantings are the smaller succulents and alpine plants which would quickly become overshadowed in the lower Gravel Garden.



You can see David walking away from the garden. David has always preferred the woodland gardens and he was heading to the more lush areas like the Water Garden and The Long Shady Walk. But these dry gardens are my favorite.



The greenhouses separate the gardens from the nursery.



Beth Chatto's private collection of succulents.



What a wonderful view she has from the windows of her house looking down into the Water Garden.


Even with such low rainfall plants stay lush and green. As this place clearly catches any rainfall the ground is naturally more moist.




The Long Shady Walk
But even in a garden that looks complete work has started on the remaking of the Reservoir Garden. The three original beds are being merged into one. It will have meandering pathways and will be planted with mainly herbaceous perennials and grasses set among selected trees and evergreen shrubs for winter interest. In Beth Chatto's words 'A garden is not like a picture hanging on the wall; it is never static and will constantly change over time'

Soil amendment in the Reservoir Garden
 No visit to a garden is ever complete without a visit to the nursery and the Chatto gardens have one of the best I have ever visited. Their organization of plants is without fault making it very easy to find not only plants suitable for your growing conditions but the actual plants.


Plants organized according to soil and sun/shade and in alphabetical order.






It would have been nice to visit the cafe but it was time to move on. We still had to visit Flatford and Sutton Hoo before returning to Cambridge.

18 comments:

  1. The low stone walls in the Scree Garden and plants in gravel with no edging look very much like your garden. I enjoyed your tour. Beth Chatto's garden is on my must-see list if I do make a trip to see English gardens some day. There are so many but this one stands out to me because the techniques are so familiar and beautifully done at the same time.

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    1. And yet the ground is quite different Shirley. She has this sand and gravel and prepared the ground to quite depth. Less rainfall than we get but a much milder climate. If only we could dig down 8' but it is out of the question.

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  2. Beth Chatto's book on her gravel garden has a treasured place in my garden book collection. I've long admired her but never realized that there was so much more to her garden. I'm also impressed by how pristine everything looks. I can only hope to see it in person one day - and what I wouldn't give to be able to shop in her on-site nursery. Thanks so much for sharing your visit, Jenny! Your photos are wonderful.

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    1. We were surprised to at the extent of the garden and its different soils. I have the book too but it certainly has more meaning now that I have seen the garden in person. I often find that.

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  3. I knew the garden was one of many parts. I however had no idea there was a huge, full-fledged nursery included. How difficult it must have been to not take home any plants.

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    1. I would have loved to have shopped there but you know the rules about bringing plants into the country. Still I was really impressed with the organization.

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  4. Lovely photos. I live 3 miles from Beth Chatto's delightful garden and visit it regularly throughout the year, through all seasons. It provides wonderful sights and moods nearly all year round. The nursery is great, but has rather a lot of my money now, irresistible. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit to one of the many jewels of my neighborhood.

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    1. Oh Jade-I am beginning to wonder why I ever left England. Of course I wasn't thinking gardening at the time. You certainly live in an interesting gardening area. DO you have a bog? I would love to see what you grow.

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  5. I love the gardens. And I like the phrase overshadowed. I will be using this phrase alot in my planning as I always plant too close.

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    1. Me too. Overshadowing accounts for a great number of losses in my garden.

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing your garden travels. I have Beth Chatto's book on her gravel garden and would love to see it in person some day.

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    1. I have the book too and am reading it again now that it has so much more meaning. Alas,although I have gravel I have rock and caliche down there too and I don't have one of those machines to break it up!

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  7. Jenny, thanks so much for this tour of an iconic garden/nursery. Your own keen interest and practical knowledge of such plantings really shines through and informs the excellent photos. What a treat!

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    1. Thanks Denise. Now, 'back to the gardening' with some fresh ideas in my head!

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  8. Beautiful!
    I love "traveling" with you.

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    1. Well, I am glad you like coming along. Lots more to come.

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  9. What an incredible garden--love the different looks of the different gardens. Amazing.
    Do you have any idea how many people it takes to look after a garden like that? I'd be curious to know. Thanks for sharing this . It was amazing!

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  10. What a marvelous garden - and shopping, too! The gravel garden and water garden are particularly beautiful. I hope Ms. Chatto has a good plan for the gardens in the distant future. I like the garden quote - so true.

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