Christoper Lloyd – the legendary garden writer who lived and gardened at Great Dixter in Northiam, East Sussex, and made it famous by writing about it for more than 40 years. Christo, as he was affectionately known, was the youngest of the six children of Daisy and Nathaniel Lloyd. Nathaniel made his money in colour printing and spent it wisely on restoring and extending the Wealden hall house at Great Dixter with the help of the architect Edwin Lutyens. Christo learnt his love of gardening from his mother, whom he gardened alongside for decades until her death, when he struck out on his own with the help of his head gardener Fergus Garrett, using Dixter as his test-bed for an experimental form of gardening which has come to define the English country garden in the 20th and into the 21st Century.
Fergus Garrett – head gardener at Great Dixter for more than 20 years, Garrett has ensured that Lloyd’s spirit lives on in the garden since his death in 2006. Thanks to Garrett this is no garden preserved in aspic, but one that continues to push boundaries and set trends.
The Long Border – the ultimate herbaceous border, this is intended to be at its best between mid-June and mid-August, but actually lasts from April to October and was already looking lovely when we visited in mid-Spring. Lloyd designed it so that no bare earth should be visible from late May. He wanted it to look in his words “exuberant and uncontrived”, with naturalistic planting such as Verbena bonariensis.
The Wealden hall house – restored and extended by Edwin Lutyens, the house manages to pull off the trick of being both atmospherically historic and warm and comfortable, populated by models and images of Christo’s favourite ‘sausage dogs’. We visited with our three young children including a noisy two-year-old and were ready to retreat outside at any minute, but the staff kindly reassured us they were glad to have youngsters visiting.
Yew hedges – with perfectly pruned topiary, which help to create the ‘garden rooms’ for which Dixter is famous and provide structure for exciting planting. On our Spring visit I was particularly struck by pale lemon primroses growing under zingy lime Euphorbia.
Pots – the gardeners at Great Dixter have turned pots into an art form. Clustered around the timber-framed entrance porch to the house and in the walled-garden, when we visited in late April the tasteful terracottas were brimming with bulbs, to be replaced in the summer with new delights. It takes a good eye to decide the exact combinations of which plants sit where.
The orchard – a wildflower meadow dotted with apples, pears, plums, crabapples and hawthorn stretches away from the house, connecting the garden with the beautiful landscape surrounding Northiam. As well as crocuses and daffodils, the meadow is home to four native orchids and purple and white snakeshead fritillaries.
The nursery – this is where you can buy your own little bit of Great Dixter to take home with you!