Beth Chatto's Garden: Part 3, the Reservoir and Water Gardens

The reservoir garden is the newest area of Beth Chatto's garden. This area of the garden has been under redvelopment since 2014, and was just planted last year. It has a similar feel to the gravel garden, with crushed stone paths. Where it differed is in the soil substrate of the beds. The plantings also felt lusher and looked more full-bodied, in the manner of traditional herbaceous borders, and used plants such as roses, iris, salvia, nepeta, and geraniums. 

I especially enjoyed some of the color combinations in this garden, such as the dusky purple and terracotta, above, with the silver-leaved stachys. This will be a garden to watch as its plants gain stature and mature. 

From the reservoir garden we wandered toward the house, where dozens of pots containing all sorts of interesting plants clustered around Beth's house. It was lovely to see these specimens displayed museum-style, and I imagine it would be even nicer to sit amongst them every morning with a cup of tea. 

The water garden tumbles downhill from Beth's house along a series of small ponds. It strongly reminded me of the pond sequence at Chanticleer Garden, in Pennsylvania. In fact I see a lot of parallels between Beth Chatto's and Chanticleer in terms of unique plant selections, detailed combinations of foliage and form, and color use. 

I've heard some criticism of this garden that it's dated, most likely because of its island bed layout and some plant selections (such as rhododendrons). I liked the water garden area the least, and I think it's because the contrast of blue, yellow, red, and bright green foliage just felt too hodge-podge and yes, dated, to me. Of all Beth's creations, this is the one that's aged the least well. 

Despite being visually incongruent, there was a calm and peaceful energy that, although present everywhere, was especially strong in this part of Beth's garden. It felt very feminine to me, and soft. 

Just a few days after our visit I saw this picture of Beth's funeral on Twitter, posted by the Beth Chatto Gardens, and it really struck me as the most beautiful funeral image I have ever seen. I like how so much of Beth's presence is there in the potted plants displayed by the church, just as they were on her patio, and in the stunning flowers that surely came from her garden atop her beautiful and natural basket. 

Photo courtesy of Beth Chatto Gardens.

Our pilgrimage to Beth Chatto's garden certainly lived up to both our dreams and expectations. As anticipated it is a plantsperson's paradise with inspiration around every bend. The nursery, which I walked around in circles for hours, is one of the most educational places I've ever been, and we couldn't leave without filling the car with treasures. Back home we dug up a corner of our garden and planted our Beth Chatto Memorial Garden, which will remind of us this influential person and our trip to her home. 

As I walked the garden I couldn't help but wonder how it will change now that Beth is no longer living in the small white house at its center. I am encouraged by the direction of new plantings such as the reservoir garden, and am sure Beth's family and her many acolytes have similarly ambitious plans for the rest of the space. I am sure Beth's spirit will live on in the landscape she designed and planted, the wonderful and unusual plants she brought into public awareness through her nursery, and in her wise and elegant garden writing. 

The beauty of antique plant catalogues

I just finished a late-Victorian garden design for a class. Part of my research included reading primary sources, such as William Robinson's The English Flower Garden, and digging up antique nursery catalogues to determine which plants and their varieties were available and popular in the late 1800s. 

In the RBGE library, one of my happy places on Earth, I found a catalog from the Veitch nursery. According to the Vietch Family History site, in 1771 a 19-year old Scot named John Veitch traveled to England and by 1808 had begun a nursery. John's son, James, and his son grew the nursery and purchased its Chelsea location in 1853. The dynasty carried on through the height of the Victorian plant collecting craze, with the nursery sending 23 collectors around the globe. These plant hunters returned with many of the specimens you'd recognize in a British garden today. One such treasure is the beautiful Davidia involucrata, located in China by Ernest Wilson. Despite being shipwrecked on the way home to England, Wilson managed to save the Davidia seeds. The Veitches were eventually responsible for introducing 1281 plants which were either previously unknown or newly bred varieties. Horticulture would not be the same without this impressive family. 

What impresses me just as much as their story is the beauty of their nursery catalogues, which are illustrated with detailed engravings and, in the late 1800s, very few colour images. In today's era of almost-instant digital photography and computer-aided layouts, the idea of engraving a catalogue is mind-boggling.

I am particularly drawn to these images of gardening tools, which are so beautifully composed that I'd happily hang them on my wall as art. 

I also enjoy this ad for the brand-new 'Frogmore Selected' tomato, though as I am used to growing 7-foot tall tomatoes outdoors with barely any attention at all, their meticulous indoor cultivation in Britain still strikes me as odd. The testimonials below the images are from the leading horticultural publications of the day, including Joseph Paxton and friend's 'Gardeners' Chronicle' and William Robinson's 'The Garden,' two magazines I've spent countless hours investigating during my studies at RBGE. 

This ad reminds me of one of my favorite watercolours by Eric Ravilious, 'The Greenhouse: Cyclamen and Tomatoes' (1935), which is now in the care of the Tate gallery. Clearly Ravilious too was moved by the beauty of full-to-bursting glasshouse.

Rethinking red: Single color herbaceous borders at Floors Castle

Until recently, I had little interest in color-themed borders or even gardens (though I admit I've yet to visit perhaps the most famous example of this style, the White Garden at Sissinghurst). As a lover of unique color combinations, the idea of working within such a narrow palette held little appeal. However, a recent trip to Floors Castle, in the Scottish Borders, made me reconsider single-color gardens and opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie within manipulating tint, tone and shade in a narrow slice of the spectrum.

Floors Castle has a lovely nursery and retail plant center, and just adjacent are a series of gardens that begin with single-color borders in blue, red and pink/purple. When viewing each color, the other colors are hidden, and the effect of so many plants in one hue is dramatic. That in itself would be interesting, but upon closer inspection all sorts of individually compelling blooms reveal themselves, which make the borders work both in long view and close-up.

As with most creative pursuits, a little constraint can force greater ingenuity. The definition of "red" is pushed through its range of blue-red to yellow-red and everything in between, including my favorite terracotta, as in these gorgeous dahlias.

It was a typically overcast Scottish day, and I wonder if my response to this garden was so strong because I'm craving spice and heat in this summer that's felt like a winter to me--as I write this it's 35 degrees Fahrenheit warmer at my farm in Virginia than here in Edinburgh.

I do know that the cloudy sky really made the colors pop. I suspect the effect would have been more washed out in full-sun and less dramatic.

Until visiting Floors Castle, I wouldn't have been too excited about a "red border." But this is a single-color border done right, with enough variety to keep it intriguing, and it's fabulous. I only wish the plants would have been labeled in some inconspicuous way, as there were many I didn't know but would love to have in my own garden.