Great Dixter-Finale

Once the decision had been made that yes, it was possible that we, Gail and I were actually going to England to the Garden Blogger Meet during the Malvern Garden Show the first week in May 2010, we began discussing what gardens we might get to see. Internet sites were scanned, magazine articles checked, then maps of the UK were studied to see how close any of them were to the places we would be traveling. As the time to travel drew near, the offer of garden visiting was extended by Helen for the Saturday during the Malvern portion of our tour. After the show we were to be taken to London by Victoria and would find a way to see gardens close by. We felt it best to just go with whatever places these fine women decided they wanted to take us. What did we know about which gardens were best anyway? They all would be wonderful, the people and the gardens, and they were.

But when Monday rolled around, our last day in England for visits, Victoria called first to make sure the gardens selected, Sissinghurst and Great Dixter would be open, as she knew that certain days are off limits for the public so maintenance chores could be completed and such things as student days. Sissinghurst was open, but Great Dixter was not. I had mentioned to her that Great Dixter was the one English garden that I had really hoped to see. I have a couple of books about it by Christopher Lloyd and much admire his way with colors and design. It was his book, Christopher Lloyd’s Flower Garden, that was actually READ, every word, rather than just looking at the photos and captions, many years ago. What he had to say struck a nerve with me on so many levels. (Photo of The Hovel.)

Using foliage and form, mixing colors all together, the brighter the better, not being afraid to make drastic changes, ripping out long standing gardens to start anew, these were tenets he believed in and the words and images in the pages showed the charming results. It changed me and my gardening outlook forever, for the better. Sadly, seeing the master himself in his creation was no longer a possibility since his passing in 2006, but seeing that garden has remained a dream for many years. Victoria sensed this and explained to the person on the phone that she was a journalist and had two Americans on their last day here who had traveled a great distance to see Great Dixter and could they pretty please let us come? The answer was yes.

We were the only visitors to Great Dixter that day. After the crowd at Sissinghurst where it was nearly impossible to get a photo without strangers milling about in it, this garden was deserted, eerily quiet. There were ghosts about, I could sense it.

It was not a dark and stormy night, it was anything but that, sunny and quite bright with a brisk and chill wind blowing. But there was a presence in the garden that could be felt. The hairs on my arm stood on end at the sighting of a disappearing black clad figure by the iconic yew topiaries.

Even in the handbook we purchased at the gate, with the gardens section written by Christo himself, it says about the yews,

“The yew topiary lends a particular atmosphere to several parts of the garden. … It has a presence, especially when shadows are long and it appears to inhabit, rather than grow.”

The gardens were closed and few people were in evidence. It was the time that the yews could animate…

But wait, maybe that black raincoated figure was Gail.

And we weren’t the only ones in the garden that day.

When voices were heard, whisperings imagined that a spectre was chatting with the shrubbery and flowers, it was actually Victoria and Gail chatting with this fellow who was hard pruning the golden elm to help fight off the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease.

They also chatted between themselves and the hedges.

Along with the stolid yews were froths of flowers and cornucopias of colors swirling together like an ice cream sundae. It was a happy and light hearted setting.

But still the hand of The Gardener was everywhere, as in his beloved color purple of the Lunaria biennis. In every photo I have seen of him, he is wearing a purple shirt. My raincoat felt right at home.

We came upon the famous Wall Garden where the mixture of tulips and wallflowers in outrageous, to some, color combinations is notorious. Here is what Christo has to say about his use of color:

“I have no segregated colour schemes. In fact, I take it as a challenge to combine every sort of colour effectively. I have a constant awareness of colour and of what I am doing, but if I think a yellow candelabrum of mullein will look good rising from the middle of a quilt of pink phlox, I’ll put it there-or let it put itself there.”

This philosophy perfectly reflects my own views about color, or colour, formed at the feet words of the master himself. It was not always so. I began serious gardening with an all white color scheme in my first planned on paper garden and added a few pastels, grudgingly. Even the beginnings of the current Fairegarden were pastels, blues, pinks, whites and lavenders with few yellows or warm colors. We have seen the light now, and that light emanates from Great Dixter.

In life, as in tulips…

…follow your dreams and your heart. Don’t be held back by what others might think or say, but choose your own path and be bold about it.

This ends the trip to England. The experiences can never be duplicated, it was the true once in a lifetime journey. We arrived home with minds and memory cards full of the wonders that had been seen, smelled, tasted, heard and felt in our every fiber. It still seems like make believe, a fantastic fantasy story book tale, too good to be true.


To view the posts about the trip to England, click on the links below. (There is a permanent page on the sidebar containing the links to the England posts as well. Click England Trip-Two Innocents Abroad to view it.)

Living A Dream-Meeting In Malvern

Touring With Friends-Ledbury And Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

An English Country Garden-Stockton Bury

Batsford Arboretum With Victoria

Victoria’s Leap Of Faith

Sissinghurst Part One

Sissinghurst Part Two


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35 Responses to Great Dixter-Finale

  1. Edith Hope says:

    Dear Frances, I am delighted that you found so much to be enjoyed at Dixter and that the atmosphere, the structures, the planting combinations all lived up to everything which you had previously imagined. CL was, indeed, one of the great gardeners of our time and I for one sorely miss his weekly column in the magazine ‘Country Life’.

    Hi Edith, thanks. It was a very different experience than all the other gardens we visited, not least because it was so devoid of other tourists. I love Lloyd’s writing and take on things and his purple shirts. It is gratifying that we were able to see this garden above all the others.

  2. Thanks for these great posts. His books influenced me a lot too.

    Thanks Phillip. We found this to be the perfect ending to our England trip.

  3. Shirley says:

    I went to Great Dixter with a group several years ago. While we were relishing the joy of the colours, the age of the garden and house, a gentleman wearing a vivid green shirt quietly weeded a portion of the garden. It was Mr. Lloyd himself. When you spoke of ghosts, I could think of him listening to you all as well, and happy you enjoyed it! Thank goodness for books.

    Hi Shirley, thanks and welcome. We know people who were lucky enough to visit Great Dixter while he was there and got to chat with him, even have a photo of themselves with him. Whilst we were unable to do so, his presence was felt keenly there. That is his wheelbarrow in the second shot, near the entrance and filled with material for the compost, just like he would have used it.

  4. Sylvia (England) says:

    Frances, it is great to hear your description of this lovely garden, one I also long to see. One day I will get to visit. I am so glad it lived up to expectations – some gardens don’t. I noticed a lot of tulips in gardens this year, I am not sure if it is because they are later or more where planted.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    Hi Sylvia, thanks very much. Every garden was magnificent, but Great Dixter was the one I actually knew a little about, so held the most potential for disappointment. It did not disappoint at all. Sometimes being there is such a hurry up thing, it is the photos that help me enjoy it the most and remembering the time there. I hope you get to visit for yourself some day. πŸ™‚

  5. patientgardener says:

    I’m not jealous about your trip to Great Dixter honest, really I’m not. Must get myself organised and arranged a trip there with an overnight stay

    I am glad, Helen, although there is plenty to be jealous about! Your own visit to Chelsea and The Wiz might have inspired some envy over here across the pond, even with all we have to be thankful about. I hope your trip becomes a reality. πŸ™‚

  6. Wow, Frances. What a wonderful dream come true in a remarkable twist of circumstances. All alone (well almost) in a garden of your dreams opened to you by special permission. It is beautiful and I do like Dixter’s ‘color philosophy’. It’s only been a few years that I have allowed yellows to dot my garden. I’m so happy you and Gail had this experience of a lifetime together in some dreamy places that meant so much to you both.

    Now on to Buffalo? I so look forward to meeting you there. Meems

    Hi Meems, thanks. It was a dream come true and things fell into place, so many things! for it to happen. We are two lucky gals and know it. We weren’t sure if Buffalo could happen, with the expense of the England trip and all, but yes, we will be there and look forward to meeting you and all the others attending. It will be great! πŸ™‚

  7. Valerie says:

    Thanks Frances for taking us on this magical journey. Oh, I hope I see it for myself one day. Valerie

    Thanks Valerie. Magic was at every turn on this amazing trip. I hope you and everyone that wishes to do so can see these gardens. It is worth the effort and treasure, very much so.

  8. Barbara H. says:

    What a wonderful tour, even better knowing that you were able to feed your senses without hordes of others around and about. Thank you, Frances, for once again taking me to a beautiful garden, full of grace, elegance, and thought.

    Thanks Barbara. It was nice, if a bit eery to have the garden to ourselves. The garden shop was closed and there were many many desirable plants for sale there. I believe Victoria would have enriched her garden some. Gail and I would have loved to make purchases as well, but knew it was not to be even if it was open. Many many many….

  9. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Dixter did not disappoint for sure. Those yews are amazing. All of that color makes my gardening heart sing.

    It was an amazing and wonderful experience, Lisa, the perfect ending to our trip abroad. Thank goodness there are so many photos to gaze upon to help us remember what was seen. They will be cherished forever.

  10. Les says:

    What a fabulous opportunity to see one of the world’s great gardens. How lucky was that? I have sort of subscribed to his color or rather “colour” theory. In the front it must be saturated color, I have little patience for pastels and white. Thank you for sharing your pictures and thoughts from England. Where will you be taking us next

    Thanks Les. Our luck was monumental on every step of this trip, it is true. Colors and lots of ’em has been adopted here. While whites and pastels are oh so appealing and give calm to a chaotic human existence, the colors always make me smile. There is room for both. This is the last England post, but we have travels on the agenda including Buffa10 that will be featured after it occurs. I am sure there will be plenty of photo ops there. πŸ™‚

  11. What a wonderful thing to visit your dream garden without hordes of camera-carrying tourists. Camera-carrying gardeners “get it” and understand not to mar the view or obscure the flower when another gardener is in frozen trance with dropped jaw.

    So glad that you and Gail had such a memorable experience and you’ve met friends you’ll keep and cherish forever.

    A toast to you Two Innocents Abroad!

    Thanks for the toast and kind words, Cameron. We were lucky with everything about this trip and know it! πŸ™‚

  12. Rose says:

    Another fantastic tour! It’s no wonder your imagination was working overtime in this garden, Frances–by this time you must have felt rather intoxicated by all the amazing gardens you saw–sensory overload!

    This garden really inspires me–I’m glad to see that it is “okay” to mix up colors like this. And I’ve gotten some ideas about the overgrown yews I have that Husband refuses to pull out. Wonder how long it would take to train them into topiaries…

    One question–is that your lavender raincoat I spy on top of one of the yews in the 8th picture??

    Thanks Rose. Lucky you to have some mature yews! I would already by hacking away at them. The instructions: cut everything that doesn’t look like the vision. That is not my raincoat, but that of a worker. I loved the way it was so nonchalantly draped on the precious topiary. πŸ™‚

  13. Magical photos Frances! How wonderful to have the gardens to yourselves… what luck! I love the vibrant colors and yes your raincoat does fit right in with those imaginative hues. It is so great that you had this amazing opportunity. ;>)

    Thanks Carol. We were so fortunate to be able to even make this trip, things fell into place for us and kept doing so throughout. A once in a lifetime experience. πŸ™‚

  14. debsgarden says:

    Your private tour of Great Dixter was amazing. Thanks for sharing. Those yews do have a presence. I think vibrant colors are needed there, to balance the intensity of the hedges. Everything is gorgeous and does not disappoint expectations.

    Thanks Deb. Color was needed, the tall yews were quite dark, but oh so incredible. It was the yews that made this garden unforgettable.

  15. Phillip says:

    How wonderful that you got to see this great garden when it was closed. That had to be a very special experience.

    It was all special, Phillip, but having Great Dixter to ourselves was a dream come true. But to be honest, everything was just that as well. πŸ™‚

  16. Jenny B says:

    I LOVED this post! I felt the presence of ghostly spirits in your wonderful photos. I am sure the good fortune of being able to tour this wonderful garden alone helped you to feel it. I wonder if it was Christopher himself? The yews were so impressive, and I loved the big bold splotches of color–especially that orange. I love your (and CL’s)philosophy of color. Now I feel I have approval for my crazy quilt design.

    Thanks Jenny. It was a lightly spooky, deserted and full of magic! I love orange as well and loved seeing the way it was used to liberally there. True approval for your lovely garden, and mine. πŸ™‚

  17. goodtogrow says:

    Wow, those are plantastic photos. I’m super jealous right now. Haha, not really – but I am impressed that you got the whole garden to yourself. What a score!

    Thanks Good to grow. We were most fortunate in the way things worked out for the whole trip. Like winning the lottery only better. πŸ™‚

  18. steve says:

    I’ve been “otherwise engaged”, Frances, but I did see your original post about your fabulous trip. I was delighted to see all those great bloggers whom I have encountered over time at all sitting together, smiling away. Sure, I was jealous, lol. Hey – this post is also wonderful. I love the talk of color – this man was a saint for color, random and deep. Love it. Now I’ll go and catch up!!

    Thanks Steve. Hope you enjoy playing catch up with these trips. It was such a whirlwind of garden visiting and blogger meetings. Thank goodness for the photos to help us remember it all more vividly. πŸ™‚

  19. Tatyana says:

    English gardens always will be an inspiration to me! Thank you Frances for bringing them so close! Thanks for your time putting together these posts, it’s greatly appreciated!

    Me too, Tatyana. Thank you for following along with these posts. It did seem like a lot of material to cover, with a few breaks for other types of stories. Now they are all up, and on a page of their own for easy perusal. I will be looking at them again and again, along with the photos not used and there were alot! πŸ™‚

  20. Catherine says:

    What a beautiful garden! I love his philosophy on color. I’m going to look for the book you mentioned. It sounds like such a fun and inspiring trip.

    Hi Catherine, thanks for visiting. It was a wonderful place, the perfect ending to a perfect trip. πŸ™‚

  21. gail says:

    Frances, GD was my favorite garden and spoke the most to me~the exuberant plantings, the color, the sweet Forget-Me-Nots that blanketed the garden floor….Those wallflowers! I can’t believe we had the garden to ourselves~We will never be able to duplicate that experience unless we sign up to work! What a wonderful time we had~ Who knew blogging would lead to dear friendships, traveling across the country and the pond! We are sure to have even more adventure. xxgail

    Dear Gail, enjoying this trip with you, the best travel partner ever! was a dream come true. Imagining that we would have this special garden to ourselves was beyond the wildest of dreams, let alone even getting to see it at all. Yes, more adventures are ahead for us. Yippeee! πŸ™‚

  22. Town Mouse says:

    Amazing! I so agree about the colors, who can argue with Mother Nature?

    Thanks Town Mouse. No argument here, we throw those colors together with nary a thought, and love the results. πŸ™‚

  23. Frances you had a private viewing of Great Dixter, WOW!!!

    I’ve not been, unfortunately as when I got into gardening I left the country:) doh.

    I would love to visit Dixter in say September time one of these years, the exotic garden would be in full swing then.

    Chrisopher Lloyd is just so readable. Like you, I read his every word rather than flick through the picks as he was completely free and anti garden snob. I remember he said something like this, ‘the colour wheel, I’m aware of such a thing, not that I ever use it’ or words to that effect.

    Beautiful buildings too. He didn’t do too bad gardening around that ‘pile’ in the home counties.

    Very jealously yours


    Doh is right, Rob! lol The fact that we even got in to see this garden was miraculous enough, but with no one else about it was too good to be true. The Exotic garden was still under wraps, although we did go there and take a couple of photos. Victoria is very into those types of plants and made sure we saw it, but really it was too early for that wow factor. The tulips were wonderful though, the famous orange Ballerina and those amazing wallflowers were a favorite spot. Seeing the yew topiaries was almost like being on a distant planet of some sort, otherworldly. Reading CL’s writing is such a joy still, even the little bits in the handbook we bought there have that same down to earth flavor that makes him so loved the world over.

  24. Nancy says:

    Great images! I love the poppy. And the hedges.

    Thanks Nancy and welcome. I had to search for a poppy, but if you mean the last shot, it is looking inside a purple tulip. The tulips were in full splendor in England while we were there. Ours back home were long since over, it was nice to step back into time like that. πŸ™‚

  25. Wow, you got them to open Great Dixter for you! Too amazing to have it all to yourselves. What a fantastic opportunity. I’m not surprised you could feel the spirit of the great man himself. What strikes me again about his use of color is the balance of the intensity of hue – all cranked up to 11.

    Oh it wasn’t me, MMD, it was Victoria! Whatever she said to them, about who she was etc., it worked. We were lucky to be there, lucky to meet those wonderful folks, lucky to see the gardens, just plain old pure D lucky all around. You would have loved Great Dixter, it was sheer genius. πŸ™‚

  26. Pam/Digging says:

    I love the story of how you guys got in, and the colors ARE marvelous. I’ll add this garden to the places I hope to see one day.

    Thanks Pam. It was one of those interesting twists that life is full of, Victoria pulling out her journalist creds to get us in. It was worth it to get to see a garden we had learned to love through books and magazine articles. May you get to England some day and get to see these places for yourself. It goes without saying, bring your camera. πŸ™‚

  27. Clementine Moonflower says:


    I love the English gardens, the hedgework, the thatched roofs, the contrast of purple and red!

    I have one picture book about English gardens sitting on my shelf that I haven’t fully read yet. I think I’m going to pull it down and give it another look.

    What a great trip!

    –Debbie (I’m coming out a bit, lol. I’ve been blogging for 3 years and nobody has stalked me!)

    Hi Debbie, so nice to know a little more about you! I am so glad you enjoyed seeing the gardens in England. When I returned home, I looked at those books again myself. πŸ™‚

  28. I am starting at the end of your trip to the UK so must go back and read all about your other garden visits. I’m so glad that they let you tour the garden, even though closed. One time when we were in England we planned to go to Hidcote only to find the gardens closed that day. Good job Kiftsgate was just around the corner and open. Now I always check to find the dates. My favorite gardens are the ones with garden rooms. We finally got to Hidcote last year and Snowshill, which has to be one of my favorites. You talk about the crowds. Yes- good idea to get there early, in fact as soon as the gates open. Christopher Lloyd was a real hands on gardener. We went in the house and saw his private rooms- very old, steeped in history, low ceilings and his chair; very worn with needlepoint cushion and yet some very modern furniture. Just like his philosophy on gardening. Sounds like you had a fabulous trip with some great friends.

    Hi LR. Thanks for visiting. Hidcote is one I would love to see, but have heard that Kiftsgate is also a must see. England is so full of delightful and historic garden places, what a treasure trove. Like you, I will always find out about the open days if we ever return. I would like to see CL’s house too, there were some photos and info in the handbook that I bought there. But usually I am more interested in the gardens for some reason. I would like to see his chair, I believe he inhabits there still. πŸ™‚

  29. Titania says:

    A wonderful post about Great Dixter. For years I enjoyed the late Christopher Lloyd’s words about his garden in Country Life. He was unique and did not succumb to fashion gardening. His garden taught me how to garden! He was never afraid of mixing colours and plants and also using very strong colours.

    Thanks Titania, glad you enjoyed it. I agree with everything you mention, it was what made CL so influential to so many gardeners all over the world, no plant or color snob he! πŸ™‚

  30. Ooh, I think I missed a few of the England posts. Will have to go back. I had no idea that Dixter had so many yew hedges. I like the way you made me wait for the famous border garden. πŸ™‚ It was stunning of course. I expected a spring garden would not be quite as saturated with color but I know now that I should have expected that! Thanks for the great tour.

    Hi Jean, thanks for catching up. The photos of all the gardens were shown in the order that we took the pictures, walking through them just like we did in real life. We were lucky to be in the height of tulip season in England, that made the colors spectacular. πŸ™‚

  31. teresa says:

    Wow, what a wonderful place. It’s nice to hear you had a great trip. That garden looks phenomenal.

    Hi Teresa, thanks for that. Great Dixter did not disappoint. Nothing about the England trip was anything less than phenomenal.

  32. Layanee says:

    Frances your pictures are glorious. I just went to a fundraiser for Great Dixter and hope to see it one day myself. Fergus Garrett is speaking locally on June 27th Must go make friends.

    Thanks Layanee. How wonderful to hear Fergus Garrett. I believe he was there working in the garden when we were there, but we didn’t speak to him. Do go see it, I would love to be with you to hear your impressions, but will read about it on your blog, someday! πŸ™‚

  33. Denise says:

    Thank goodness for tufa, because due to that circuitous route I found your wonderful posts on your recent visit to England. The best gardens/art leaves one emboldened and brave, and Great Dixter surely accomplishes that. Wonderful post, thanks.

    What a sweet comment, thanks Denise and welcome. And because of tufa, I found your blog, wonderful indeed. πŸ™‚

  34. Billie Zimmermann says:

    I just looked through your photos and ended with tears in my eyes. My daughter gets on me, because I love all colors in my garden too. We just finished up replacing a wood deck with a raised concrete patio covered by a pergola and steps to a lower patio. I’ve been researchng and researching. Next will be trees, bushes and a vegtable garden………and of course, perennials!

    Billie in Murfreesboro, TN

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