Beth Chatto Gardens. 06.09.12 .

The Beth Chatto gardens have consolidated and matured since I last visited a decade or more ago. The garden is built in a gently rolling clay landscape that has guided both the form of the garden and the ethos behind it. The clay has potential to be very fertile, but can become waterlogged in winter and dry out and crack in summer. The garden was developed to exploit the full potential of these characteristics.

Much of the garden's reputation was built on Beth Chatto's inspirational use of herbaceous perennials, bringing a new twist to the herbaceous border. Maturity has softened the radical edge on some of these plantings but the quality of material and management still raise the garden to the highest level.

This bed of Phlox were magnificent, catching the low afternoon sunlight of late summer. I spend the summer in the dank west of the country and had forgotton the the visceral thrill of bright clear light shining through plants.

There is a dry gravel garden on the south side of the house, built to take advantage of a slight rise that drains water into the ponds and damp garden below. The addition of raised beds and gravel allow a wide range of mediterranean plants to grow to perfection. The light and the bright gravel surface electrify plants and explode them from the clutch of the commonplace.
Gloria is particularly fond of this garden, especially the gravel. She says it has been crushed.

Eryngium giganteum is an easily grown biennial that turns up in gardens throughout the country, always serviceable but quite astonishing here in shining sculptural perfection. Seeing it at its best would convince anyone that it is an exceptional garden plant but it requires bright clean light (and a cleverly planted evergreen backdrop) to raise it to the level of stupefying wonder.

The dry garden on the other side of the house was developed on the site of the original car park. It is not watered (beyond that needed to establish new plantings) and shows what can be done in a low rainfall corner of the country. The gently rounded beds merge informally into the gravel paths and generous plantings give weight to the forms.

The pure white trunk of this Eucalyptus dalrympleana shone out against the blue sky and deep green hedge. A handful more planted through the car park demonstrated that it wasn't a happy chance, they were all beautiful enough for me to want one. Eucalyptus are notorious for shedding limbs, so I'm not sure I would want one in a car park (I'm not sure I would want a car park either) but I am sure I want one somewhere.

I am not generally a lover of grasses. They need bright dry autumn weather to develop into things of beauty, and even then they need great care in positioning. This is Stipa gigantea planted with theatrical precision to demonstrate a beauty that is easily photographed but difficult to reproduce in the garden.
I came away determined to take more account of the decorative use of light in my plantings and filled with new ideas.

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