Claire Takacs’ World Tour of Wild Gardens

Words by
Claire Takacs
Images by
Claire Takacs
| November 8, 2017

Photographer Claire Takacs has my dream job. Often found perched at the top of a ladder at sunrise, Claire has spent the last decade exploring the world’s best gardens. Originally from Melbourne, she’s made her name as one of the worlds leading garden photographers with regular commissions from Gardens Illustrated, Garden Design Magazine and others. Her first book, Dreamscapes, is a visual feast – chronicling 70 of her favourite gardens. For our Wild issue Claire has selected 10 of the wildest gardens from Dreamscapes to share with us. Grab a cuppa and come on an armchair journey with us!

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Berchigranges, France

Renowned garden writer, researcher and teacher, Noel Kingsbury has named Berchigranges as ‘the most beautiful garden he has been to’. This certainly spiked my interest. The garden is the work of Monique and Thierry Dronet, who are two of the most dedicated and creative souls you can hope to meet in the garden world. Each year, they work on creating a new addition to their garden. When I visited, I particularly loved the wildness and scale of the Bohemian Meadow, filled with Asters and grasses.

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Dyffryn Fernant, Pembrokeshire, Wales

This is one of my favourite gardens in the UK and many consider it to be one of the best and most exciting gardens in Wales. Passionate owner and creator of the garden, Christina Shand has created a highly sensitive and skilled garden, where plants thrive and there is such a great energy, which you feel as soon as you enter this special place. There’s a definite wild feeling, which is enhanced as you move further away from the house.

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Federal Twist, New Jersey, USA

James Golden, known for his excellent gardening blog, View from Federal Twist, discovered gardening later in life, and has since immersed himself so deeply with his own garden and the worldwide gardening community. Inspired by the work of Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf, James cleared much of his garden to let in light and experiment with re-creating a prairie using both native and non-native species. James groups plants together which are equal in competitiveness, allowing nature to take it’s course, using a more intervention style of gardening. I love the wildness of this garden and the towering height of the plants, which at the end of the season almost completely obscure the view of the house.

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Great Dixter, East Sussex, England

This is one of the most famous and influential gardens in England, if not the world. Originally owned by prolific writer and gardener Christopher Lloyd, it’s now in the hands of Fergus Garrett who continues on and grows Christo’s legacy. It’s a high maintenance garden, although it can feel very wild, especially as you push your way through the extremely narrow paths, brushing past often towering plants. It’s a garden I love very much; for it’s history, what is it continues to be today for so many and how it is continually evolving with new planting experimentation. Ever corner I turn, every time I visit, is a complete surprise. There is so much beauty and skill here; it’s a lot to take in.

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Windcliff, Washington, USA

This is the home garden of famous plantsman, author, plant collector and lecturer Dan Hinkley. It’s one of the most beautiful settings I have ever seen for a garden, in one of my favourite gardening regions of the world, the Pacific Northwest. It’s open site, exposed to full sun, on the edge of a cliff, with incredible views towards Mount Rainier, an enormous active volcano which towers over Seattle. The garden is a botanical wonderland, containing plants which Dan has collected on his more than sixty-five plant hunting trips around the world. It’s a beautifully curated garden with a sense of the wild, with amazing and usual species planted so that they form a rich tapestry of colour and texture.

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Gravetye Manor, Sussex, England 

This was the home of influential Irish gardener William Robinson, who wrote The Wild Garden in 1881 and was one of the first to experiment with naturalistic gardening ideas. Now in the very capable hands of talented head gardener Tom Coward, who spent several years with Fergus at Great Dixter, the garden continues to flourish and be exciting and experimental. I visited in August when the perennial borders were peaking and there was an abundance of colour and texture. The planting has a very wild feel to it, but it’s obviously highly curated to get this incredible and beautiful effect. I love particularly the feeling of this garden and how it sits within it’s landscape, which is quite intimate, even though it’s now the garden of a boutique hotel.

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Hermannshof, Germany

Noel Kingsbury also introduced this outstanding public garden to me as one of the most exciting gardens in Europe. After visiting, I can see why. Director, Cassian Schmidt’s aim is to produce highly aesthetic combinations that show harmony of form and colour, as well as being sustainable and low maintenance. Management is precise and they know how many gardeners per square metre it takes to maintain a particular combination on planting each year. It’s a remarkably beautiful garden, with amazing planting combinations which can help give a sense of the wild in an urban setting, which is just across the other side of the fence.

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Le Jardin Plume, Normandy, France

This is the innovative and highly regarded garden of Patrick and Sylvie Quibel in Normandy. I love the contrast between the distinct lines of the whimsically clipped hedges in particular areas, with the wilder more naturalistic planting or perennials and grasses. It’s name translates to ‘The Feather Garden’ and when I visited in October, the grasses were at their peak and an amazing site to behold on a ladder at sunrise.

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Hillandale, Yetholme, NSW

Sarah Ryan’s inspiring garden and nursery in one of our coldest regions in Australia was such a joy to visit. I loved that Sarah, who has been inspired by the more naturalistic planting style pioneered by the Dutch and the spectacular herbaceous borders in the British Isles, is boldly and so successfully experimenting here in a similar style. It’s a dreamy garden designed in Sarah’s words, ‘so as to immerse oneself in the planting, hopefully awakening and delighting the senses’. The naturalistic planting feels slightly wilder than the planting we often use in gardens in Australia. I hope we will see more of this in future.

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Wavehill, Bronx, New York, USA

Wavehill is such an escape, especially considering it’s a public park in the Bronx, the northern most of New Yorks five boroughs. I particularly loved The Wild Garden, which was inspired by William’s Robinson Gravetye and writings. Here the garden is a collaboration between an artist and onsite horticulturalists. The autumn sunset I experienced here was the most stunning sight, especially with the giant sumac tree golden, and the undulating layers of detailed planting below.

All these gardens (and 60 more!) feature in Claire’s new book, Dreamscapes, published by Hardie Grant. If you’re looking for some serious garden escapism, this is your book. It’s beautiful.

Check out Claire’s WEBSITE / INSTAGRAM for more about her and her work.

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