On Monday, during coffee break at Wimpole, it was noticeable that three people couldn’t stop talking. The conversation was fast and tumbling, with one person after another jump-starting from the last point. The topic under discussion was the talk given by Fergus Garrett at Girton College, Cambridge, for the Plant Heritage 4th annual Max Walters Memorial Lecture. And what a brilliant and inspiring talk is was. The reason for the subsequent energetic coffee conversation was because three people’s brains were still full to overflowing with new ideas and questions about the high maintainance garden that is Great Dixter and, of course, Christopher Lloyd’s legacy.
I’ve never been to Great Dixter in East Sussex, but I have promoted it to top slot for a visit next year. So I have no photos of my own of Great Dixter or even from the talk (it seemed rude to use a phone camera). There were several slides from the presentation that I’d really like to get my hands, like the hand-drawn diagrams Fergus used to illustrate border maintenance plans, sowing schedules and samples of real plants in a photo demonstrating the importance of plant canopy in successional planning. I spent Sunday googling images to see if I could find them anywhere, since I am sure that they are regularly used, but I draw a blank. I am fairly certain that Fergus spoke faster as the talk progressed, as his enthusiasm lead the way. His laser pointer moved so quickly that we only managed to catch up with it for brief periods. So Monday was also an opportunity to fill in the gaps for each other.
I’ve been wondering what to write about the talk, because I am sure that many keen gardeners out there have already read the books, visited the garden and know more about Great Dixter than me. But if you are lucky enough to have heard Fergus Garret speak, then I am sure that you will understand my current desire to discuss ‘intensive but comfortable gardening’ and to evangelise about colour combinations, bold forms, strong bones. In fact, the Dixter website is pretty extensive in its descriptions of the house, history, garden development and philosophy. There are also good online articles covering similar territory by Noel Kingsbury and Phil Clayton in The Garden. Plus there are some interesting blogs by some of the students who have trained there over the years, including Maggie Tran and Ben Pick.
Perhaps the best thing to do it to reproduce my scant jottings from the talk, which practically amounts to a plant list of some Dixter classics.
- Dahlia ‘Moonfire’ – As seen in the Exotic garden against melianthus, cannas and banana (orange form of ‘Happy Wink’)
- Photo of Christo’s brothers and sister – such long legs (except for Christopher).
- Verbascum olympicum – mullein (which I love) with bells on … multiple branching candelabrums of yellow blossom. Allowed to seed around.
- Ferula glauca – Exciting plant! Giant fennel (3m), a glaucous-leaved version of F. communis. Distinctive yellow umbels. Great drama.
- Slide of a stack Christo’s brightly coloured shirts contrasted against same colours laid out in plants about the border.
- Erigeron annuus – Froth of white daisies … great slide of this with Amarathus ‘Autumn Palette’ (where it definitely enhances the look of the amaranthus)
- Brilliant Yew ‘rooms’ – slide making them look like Great Wall of China lumbering up hills and round corners. (50 (8hr) man days of clipping – apparently still on-going)
- Ladybird poppies – classic zingy poppy (Papaver commutatum)/Gladiolus communis byzantinus combination in the Barn garden
- Bedding changed in Solar garden up to 3 times a year!
- Geranium ‘Russell Pritchard’ – recommended for edge of border … seen flowering for >4 months on edge of Long border photos. Always looks good, if not the most interesting geranium.
- Fergus chose not to live in the wonderful house at Great Dixter, but lets the students stay there instead.
- Artemisia lactiflora – Tall froths of small white flowers seen with red orach, also with kniphofia and various other things … looks useful plant
- Pot Display – constantly changing to allow different combos to be tested.
- Dahlia Ann Breckenfelder – simple orange red with inner yellow collar (looks similar to D. Chimbarazo) again seen in the Exotic garden.
In conclusion, if you get a chance to hear Fergus Garrett speak, then grab it. You won’t regret it.
The Great Dixter plant catalogue provides great reading material. It is available online and as a paper copy.
Everyone I’ve spoken to since the talk says that they would fight for an apprenticeship at Dixter, no matter the hours and work, or even current commitments. That is some recommendation!