Great Dixter: The right garden at just the right time

Tonight I'd like to share a few photos from Great Dixter, which I visited two days ago on a quick trip to East Sussex. I didn't have my big camera and lenses with me, so these photos are more like sketches, quickly snapped with my iphone as I let the garden wash over me. Right now I don't feel the need to analyze what I saw--goodness knows that's been done to death with a garden as influential and famous as Dixter. So instead just enjoy what caught my eye free from Latin names or any plant names at all, in the spirit of Christopher Lloyd.*

This was exactly the garden I needed at exactly this time. It's been a challenging summer with more than a fair share of major life transitions to navigate, and I'd be lying if I said my faith in gardening and what I love about it hasn't been put to the test. Lately all the work and risk-taking required to earn a science degree and pull off a mid-life career change in a foreign country have seemed like questionably sane decisions and left me wondering if I wouldn't have been better off staying in America and sticking with an uninspiring but profitable line of work I didn't love. 

But walking around Great Dixter on Saturday I felt a tiny bit of joy tiptoeing back into my broken heart. Just a bit, as here and there and then everywhere I looked were planting combinations and colors and arrangements that went right to my artist's eye, reminding me of how much I love this living/looking and don't want to do anything else. When I visited Great Dixter in July a year ago, the garden registered as clashing and in some ways garish. But this year the bright and happy late-summer flowers, all tumbled together in a shouty riot, were just what I needed when I'm having a hard time registering anything more subtle. The garden reached out beyond the confines of paths and planting beds, embracing me and forcing me to feel its September exultation. Great Dixter cut right through my darkness, letting light spill in.

This weekend was an important lesson in both garden making and garden appreciation. Like any art, we look at gardens through a scrim of our own moods, judgements, and preconceived notions. There is no way to control these elements in our viewers when we make a garden, just like it's impossible to look at any garden objectively. Our personal histories, memories, proclivities and dislikes are always standing next to us, staring out at the garden through our eyes.

Some gardeners take a widest-net approach, creating gardens to appeal to the most middle-of-the-road tastes and expectations. Other gardeners follow their own stars, not caring how off-putting or ungardenlike their visions are to an untold number of people. It's into this later group that Great Dixter falls. I am so glad I got to see it when I was feeling sad and doubting, when it reminded me of how much beauty and never-ending inspiration is to be found in my new vocation, and how vital it is that I keep the faith just a little longer. 

*Posted in the Great Dixter nursery shed: 

This post is dedicated to R.B., who stands with me in the garden, bright and dark.