Style is al­ways in fash­ion

A time­less gar­den for­goes cut­ting-edge sur­prise in favour of bal­ance and sim­plic­ity

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Gardening -

The last time I vis­ited Beth Chatto’s gar­den and nurs­ery, the gravel gar­den was still a car park and the tea room was just a hot­drinks ma­chine in the pot­ting shed. Of course, I’ve kept in touch through count­less ar­ti­cles and im­ages, and Chatto’s dic­tum “the right plant in the right place” comes to mind ev­ery time I buy some­thing I know won’t grow in my clay gar­den, how­ever much I love it. Wan­der­ing around the gar­den with nurs­ery man­ager Dave Ward, I was none the less sur­prised to see how fa­mil­iar the lay­out and plant­ing felt. Maybe this is be­cause Chatto’s once-un­usual plants have be­come the bedrock of many suc­cess­ful gar­dens and are now ab­sorbed into the gar­den­ing lex­i­con. Her gar­den lay­out com­bines asym­me­try with bal­ance, us­ing prin­ci­ples from her days teach­ing flower ar­rang­ing. Ev­ery­thing is tidy and right. Noth­ing shocks, but why should it – do we need to be end­lessly sur­prised in our gar­dens? The de­sign may not be cut­ting edge, but it’s stylish and classic – like a Jean Muir out­fit that lasts a life­time, while the trendy will seem out of date next sea­son. The gravel gar­den is all it promised to be and looks ex­cit­ing, even on a wet Fe­bru­ary af­ter­noon, with bur­gundy berge­nia and yel­low Lib­er­tia for­mosa; the damp gar­den is at­mo­spheric and calm­ing; and the wood­land gar­den is full of prom­ise. The reser­voir gar­den, built on de­bris from the neigh­bour­ing farmer’s lake and now look­ing rather Eight­ies, is due for a facelift and will be­come a liv­ing cat­a­logue for many of the new plants grown in the nurs­ery. Only the scree gar­den, near the house and packed full of favourite se­dums, sem­per­vivums and alpines, is a dis­ap­point­ment. I re­mem­bered a ta­pes­try of fat suc­cu­lents, now housed in the orig­i­nal wooden green­house where Chatto worked on her plants. Guardian oaks The whole gar­den was built from scratch from fal­low fields along a back­bone of 350-year-old oaks, still the most fab­u­lous oc­cu­pants in this mag­i­cal place. Chatto, though frail, still gar­dens from her bed­room over­look­ing her cre­ation, and her af­fec­tion for her own plot has in­flu­enced gar­den­ers world­wide. But how does a classic gar­den con­tinue to draw vis­i­tors in a field of all-singing all-danc­ing at­trac­tions? There is plenty here to see, en­joy and learn from. It all makes eco­log­i­cal good sense: gar­den­ing with your soil con­di­tions, cli­mate, rain­fall and lo­cal wildlife; the muted colours, pat­terns and, above all, tex­tures. The nurs­ery list is packed with qual­ity plants, as op­posed to gar­den cen­tre va­ri­eties that are just the lat­est hy­brids, re­gard­less of their use­ful­ness. This year The Beth Chatto Hand­book, a cat­a­logue of un­usual plants that also of­fers an in­sight into her plant­ing ideas, will be re­pub­lished. Chatto’s ar­chives have been do­nated to the Gar­den Mu­seum and are be­ing col­lated by Dr Cather­ine Hor­wood. Tea for two Who am I to judge such a gar­den? Sit­ting at the next table in the tea room over­look­ing the gravel gar­den, I asked Fer­nando Gon­za­lez his opin­ion. Gon­za­lez is an in­stal­la­tion artist and creator of a Fresh gar­den at Chelsea this year. “Sim­ply in­spi­ra­tional,” he replied. His com­pan­ion, Fern Alder, plantswoman and founder of Full Frontal, a com­mu­nity project ad­vo­cat­ing the green­ing of streets, said: “Breath­tak­ing, even in win­ter. Ev­ery visit recharges my bat­ter­ies.” Beth Chatto Gar­dens and Nurs­ery, Elm­stead Mar­ket, Es­sex (01206 822007; bethchatto.co.uk).

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