Great Dixter: An Arts & Crafts Garden

Words by
Milena Dambelli
Images by
Georgina Reid
| June 26, 2015

In the midst of summer it’s bursting with shades of bright green, coppery orange and lavender purple, until autumn falls and shades of cappuccino and honey take over. Mother nature has her hues perfectly on point at Great Dixter… with a little help from some very crafty gardeners.

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Great Dixter is located in the countryside of East Sussex, south of London. The residence comprises of three different buildings – a 15th century house, with additions in 1910-1912 by renowned arts and crafts architect Edwin Lutyens. With a rich history of marriages, inheritances and ultimately, a loving couple and their six children it is undoubtedly a remarkable home.

Christopher Lloyd was not only the head gardener, but lived at Great Dixter from the moment he was born in the north bedroom of the Lutyens wing, until 2006, when he died at 85 years old. It was the only home he ever knew.

Lloyd’s love of gardening and all things botanical was nurtured from a young age by his fittingly-named mother, Daisy who had a lust for wildflower meadows. Before the Lloyds, in 1910, and Daisy in particular, there were no gardens at Great Dixter.

Lloyd was a flamboyant and experimental gardener. At a time of herbaceous borders and rose gardens in England, Lloyd was always open to trying something new. Apparently when he tired of his rose garden in 1996, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and established for more than 70 years, he just pulled it up and replaced it with a bunch of exuberant sub-tropical plants. The gardening establishment was in shock.

“We do not all want to float endlessly among silvers, greys and tender pinks in the gentle nicotiana-laden ambient of a summer’s gloaming,” he said. “Some prefer a bright, brash midday glare with plenty of stuffing.”

And on herbaceous borders, he remarked, “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.”

Inspired by his home and his garden, Christopher Lloyd published his first book ‘The Mixed Border’ in 1957, setting the grounds for the next 25 that followed. He wrote weekly for Country Life magazine, and had other long-standing journalistic commitments to Popular Gardening, The Guardian, and The Observer magazine. As the topic of his words, Great Dixter became one of the most celebrated gardens in the UK, and the world.

As the Great Dixter website reads: “[Christopher Lloyd was] A charismatic and sometimes controversial gardener, capable of inspiring a popular audience through both the written and the spoken word, and with a wonderfully atmospheric and picturesque garden at the heart of it all, Lloyd put Great Dixter on the international map.”

Christopher Lloyd passed away in 2006, aged 84. Lloyd’s friend and former gardening partner, Fergus Garrett, is now head gardener of Great Dixter, carefully tending to his legacy. The Great Dixter Charitable Trust runs the estate and allows people to roam its glorious gardens throughout the warmer months. The nursery is open all year round.

Fergus says, “the gardening style is intensive but plants are allowed to look comfortable.” I say, the Great Dixter garden is epitome of organised (and magical) chaos.

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