BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour was broadcast from Beth Chatto’s garden today. You can find the Podcast at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/01/2008_34_mon.shtml. Beth Chatto was introduced as ‘one of England’s best-loved and most influential gardeners’. She explained that the two main influences on her garden had been her husband, who studied how plants grow in their natural habitats, and Sir Cederic Morris, an artist and gardener who lived at Benton End. Beth Chatto said she did not give much thought to colour harmonies and that her interest in plant groupings derived from an earlier love of flower arranging. She then made friends with, and was influenced by, Christopher Lloyd and Graham Stuart Thomas. Her correspondence with Christopher Lloyd, who became her friend, began when he told her off for being ‘cruel’ to her Dry Garden – by not watering the plants. I guess history will judge Christo wrong on this issue. Beth Chatto also remarked that ‘I didn’t read Gertrude Jekyll for, oh, years. But when I did, I felt a real warmth for her’.
She came over as a plain-speaking gardener. On the layout of her garden, the most telling remark was that ‘A path needs to go somewhere’. While full of admiration for her plants, I find the design of Beth Chatto’s Garden disappointing. It is flower arranging on the scale of a garden. There is little imagination and the spatial composition is weak. Indeed, one has to wonder if Christopher Lloyd’s approach to garden design was similar. It could well be that it was the work of his father, and of Lutyens, which give Great Dixter its charm. A dress can be made out of the most beautiful fabric without being well-cut or stylish.