What better than a walk through crisp, cold woodlands, your breath coming out in clouds and the tip of your nose tingling, with the added delight of a carpet of pure white flowers shivering in the breeze for as far as the eye can see… come and join the Galanthophiles and learn the joys of snowdrops!
For six years I lived on the doorstep of Great Dixter and like a lot of gardens in the area it has a theme of high hedges and garden rooms so synonymous of Lutyans arts & crafts style work. Great Dixter though has an added twist of having had Christopher Lloyd own it and put his stamp on it.
Many finer writers than myself though have beaten this subject to death so I don’t need to gush and enthuse on the subject of Dixter and its design, suffice to say its worth a visit and has changed subtly since the death of Christopher. Which isn’t a negative thing rather a natural thing as gardens are living creations and to try to keep them static is an odd concept.
One thing that always strikes me though when I visit Dixter is its size, I’m always shocked by how small it feels. When you think of famous gardens you often think of rolling acres, at least I do, but Dixter is an oddity in so many ways. The gardens never seem to take long to see in their entirety, although there are areas where you can linger quite happily. The house itself, despite its appearance of having stood on that spot forever was actually only placed there last century. I say placed, not built as Lutyens and Nathaniel Lloyd (Christopher’s father) actually took the main part of the house from a village called Benenden nearby and reconstructed it. Melding it into the original structure that was already there known simply as Dixter. As a visitor you would never know this though as it was done so successfully it has the appearance of a house that has grown organically for centuries.
The gardens are being added to continually in the way Christopher did when he was alive. Fergus’s commitment to Dixter and its ethos of teaching being something special to witness.
The plant fairs though, especially the Spring one are a great opportunity to get out and see small independent nurseries offering beautiful plants at very reasonable prices. I admit its become something of a spring time pilgrimage for me. Even if it now takes me a couple of hours to get to it instead of a couple of minutes! They also do a great thing throughout the weekend where Nurseries give talks throughout the day. Often entertaining, enthusiastic speakers with a wealth of knowledge on their chosen subjects, which if you’re a plant nut like me is well worthwhile!
For me there were 2 that particularly stood out the first being Barnhaven, a fabulous nursery dedicated to one of my greatest loves Primulas.
I wrote quite extensively about auriculas on my old blog so if you’re interested have a quick look here…
Barnhaven has recently supplied Sissinghursts garden with a large amount of old variety primulas in their efforts to repopulate the garden with varieties which were there in Vita’s time. Gardens often lose specific plants, sometimes even their own bred varieties. This I’ll mention again in a moment.
Sometimes a gardener will endeavour to reverse the changes time makes to a garden and small independent nurseries are critical to retaining the genetic stock. Barnhaven is not only responsible for maintaining collections of amazing old varieties and making them available to the public, such as “jack in the green” a very old variety with a charming corolla of leaves which cup the flowers to breeding new introductions and bringing back styles such as the stripey and double Auriculas.
The second was a talk from Steven Edney, Head Gardener at Salutations, another gorgeous Lutyens garden. The gardens are a tribute to his hardworking team and unceasing enthusiasm. Having suffered a massive flood in 2013, only 5 years after the gardens were officially reopened after years of neglect, they are once more in beautiful condition and this year is their 10th Anniversary!
Steven touched on the subject of “lost plants” having fortuitously been offered a cutting after the floods of Hebe “Salutation” originally bred at the garden in the 1970’s. His nursery on site has propagated it and it is now available to the general public, another example of how important some plants can be in context!
He is full of little gems of information too, he told us about plectranthus fruticosus an important plant to Edwardian gardeners as it would be used as a reliable indicator plant for frost. When nighttime temperatures drop below 5 degrees it develops a bronzy colour to the leaves and this would be a sign to the gardeners to lift their tender plants like Dahlias into the glasshouses.
I had to take a second look at this amazing Asphodeline liburnica and was tempted by some of the seeds he had for sale, grown & collected in the gardens!
Another fabulous nursery is Pineview plants run by the lovely Colin and Cindy Moat who always have time to help you out choosing the right plant for the right place. I fell totally in love with his Epimediums and after going away and coming back THREE times finally settled for this gorgeous one called aptly “Ruby beauty”
Whilst there I mentioned my mystery Epimedium I’d been given which hadn’t as yet flowered… which of course by the time I got home that evening had… So here it is and I’ll be asking Colin if he can help me identify it!
There of course are many fine other independent nurseries at the plant fair which are well worth your time and if you’re not aware of one’s in your local area here’s a list that although not comprehensive is getting close and is constantly updated