Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Iconic British gardens - Beth Chatto Gardens, Essex

Beth Chatto Gardens in springtime (April 2012) - the garden is already in bloom
A bitterly-cold and showery April day is not the best day to visit gardens, but even this early in the season, when spring is running a little late, the Beth Chatto Gardens are looking stunning - filled with promise for the new season! Seven acres of joy, created out of a once-neglected hollow between two farms, where Beth Chatto has worked wonders. This is a unique place, created by the woman who has given the garden its name (it was originally called White Barn House when it first opened in 1973) and she has now become internationally renowned because of her plant philosophy and best-selling books.
April is a good month to see the structure of the garden
Beth Chatto, plantswoman extraordinaire, started creating this garden in 1960 with her husband. There was nothing here at all when she arrived here more than 50 years ago, but Beth and her husband Andrew set to work to turn this into the paradise that survives today - seven acres of joy, created out of a neglected hollow that was boggy in parts and arid as a desert elsewhere. Together they pioneered the idea of using plants adapted by nature to problem places, using shade-loving plants in areas with little direct light and  drought-tolerant plants in dry places.
Water-loving plants thrive by the ponds, even in April
Beth Chatto has become famous the world over for her planting philosophy. Her seminal books on dry, damp and shade gardening adorn shelves the world over and garden lovers who make the pilgrimage to her garden in Essex, can see for themselves how her triumphant planting schemes work, marvelling at the textures, shapes and arrangements of plants throughout the garden. Take a photograph of any part of this garden and you will be amazed by the variety of plants in that small patch.
Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden (pictured here in June) has provided inspiration for gardeners the world over
The garden here is divided into three main areas - the water garden with its five interlinking ponds, which is a profusion of damp-loving plants, already making progress early in the season; the celebrated Gravel Garden (above), started in 1991 as an experiment to see just how drought-loving plants would respond to one of the driest corners of Britain, and the woodland garden, which was as good as flattened during the 1987 hurricane, but now looks as though it's always been there. Each features plants that thrive naturally in damp, dry or shady conditions  and the results inspire visitors from the world over. 
All plants in the pond areas flourish throughout the summer are still thriving in October
Beth Chatto is to gardening and plants what Jane Austen is to romance in novels. She is already one of the great names in British horticulture and her garden is one to put on your wish list, along with Denmans (John Brookes), Great Dixter (Christopher Lloyd) and Barnsley House (Rosemary Verey) if you want to see how much influence a single gardener can have on planting and garden styles. This is worth travelling a long way to see!
The woodland garden looks good throughout the season and you will find many interesting shade plants here
This garden is all about texture and foliage - you cannot possibly leave without inspiration! The nursery here is also excellent. I never leave without a car load of plants and all have thrived in my garden, thanks to Beth Chatto's plantsmanship and ideas - because I too plant them in the places where they will flourish. The gardens and nursery are open seven days a week throughout the year, opening at 9.00 Monday-Saturday and 10.00 on Sundays. Another Essex garden that will fill you with inspiration is Green Island at nearby Ardleigh.   


  1. I visited Beth Chatto's garden last year and it was as amazing as I thought it would be. The nursery looked amazing too and it pained me that I couldn't bring plants back to California with me.

  2. It's definitely on my must-visit-one-day list.

  3. Wow what a wonderful place to visit and leave with a fabulous plant

  4. Beth Chattos garden has been on our list to visit for an embarassingly long time, we really must get there this year!

  5. This garden has been on my list for a long time. I had no idea, though, that she had more than a gravel garden. What an amazing place. I have been reading all about the drought in the UK. They were talking about it last year when we visited and I thought then it was still looking very lush everywhere. I wonder what the gardens will look like this year. So far so good.

  6. Amazing as always! is beauty everywhere you go.


  7. Its on my list. Just need to get to that side of the UK

  8. I doubt i will ever get to see this garden in person but your photographs bring it to life - look forward to updates.

  9. Ohhhh..
    Look so such like a fairy tale garden.
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. It's certainly on my short list to visit.

  11. As I scrolled through your photographs, I thought how well you've captured Beth's fabulous way of using form and texture, especially that 4th photo. She may be the consummate plantsperson, but your photography really tells the story for those of us too far away to visit in person. Thank you!

  12. I have learnt a lot from reading Beth Chatto's books and her gardening style is just up my street!

  13. Charlotte,
    There is a studied exuberance here that few of us have mastered. Your photos do the place justice for sure! I can't quite get my mind around how to not duplicate the plantings but the feel of this place. Perhaps if we started with a weeping willow... Anyway, thanks as always!