Iconic British gardens - Beth Chatto Gardens, Essex

Beth Chatto Gardens in springtime
It's always a pleasure to visit the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex - a green oasis near Colchester, created from a once-neglected hollow between two farms, where owner and creator, Beth Chatto worked wonders in her lifetime. This garden is unique and has inspired visitors since it first opened in 1973, largely because of the late owner's expertise in placing plants in the right place. Sadly, she died in 2018, at the age of 94, but both gardens and nursery continue to thrive and many of us have at least one of her books on our shelves. 
Beth Chatto, plantswoman extraordinaire, started creating this garden in 1960 with her husband Andrew. There was nothing here when they arrived more than 50 years ago, but they set to work to turn the seven-acre paradise that survives today from a boggy hollow and a plot that was arid 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 throughout the year
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 planting schemes work, marvelling at the textures, shapes and arrangements of plants throughout the garden. Take a photograph anywhere and you will be amazed by the variety of plants in that small patch.
The Gravel Garden, created in 1991, has never been watered
The garden 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. 
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 ideas - because I have learned to plant them in the places where they will flourish. 
For full details of opening times, admission prices and events at the garden, click here.

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