The Beth Chatto Gardens

239 Reviews

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Things to do


Date of travel

March, 2017

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A garden has the capacity to raise anybody’s spirit. The most dedicated misanthropist would have trouble resisting Beth Chatto’s, even on a day that began foggy and cold.

The temperature was 5C as we left home, with visibility just stretching out beyond the end of our garden. With luck, we thought, there might be a view across just one of Beth Chatto’s ponds. Still no sun as we reached Elmstead Market and saw the welcome brown sign, but at least visibility had extended along the not inconsiderable length of the drive into the gardens. Another plus was space to park, in summer a problem.

Warming coffee and a comforting scone set up the right mood. We also had time to look at some leaflets and discuss garden visits elsewhere and the prospect of “Invitation to View”. It seemed unlikely to be a day warm enough for Beth Chatto to be outside, although she had been taken out on a fine day last year. At least we knew she could have a good view of the gardens from her house.

Obviously the plants would also be of the brave variety, emerging just after the spring equinox, but none the less welcome for that. Our plan was to buy for our own garden so whatever was in season would be appropriate. Unlike a run-of-the-mill nursery it is a priority to see the plants in context, and this garden (or these, for there are several made for different conditions) means context is all. If you have water, look by or near the ponds with their feeder streams; if dry, there is the bed made decades ago and never watered, just to show how plants can withstand drought and still be beautiful.
Shade or sunlight or a mixture of both can be explored. Only the landed might be tempted by the trees, however: one huge oak, pollarded centuries ago and regrown from its massive double stool, can only be described as monumental.

Just over an hour took us around most areas: even in her nineties, Beth Chatto has allowed a new development on beds her late husband had once used as a market garden. Her friendship with Christopher Lloyd is commemorated by vivid yellow plants in the the dry garden. There was a chiff chaff calling from high in a tree. I tried to see it, and photographed a small bird but have no confidence in identifying it. Much the same problem followed the song thrush. It was clearly heard but not seen until some time after lunch, when I returned to the garden to review a particular plant and it dropped from a tree and crossed a green path.

In all we were threre for three and a half hours: with warmer weather – and, to be fair, the afternoon was both cloudless and warm, reaching 15C as we started the well-loaded car – we could have stayed another two hours. Traffic on the A12 can be a problem, though, so we decided to take our booty home and have tea before giving thought to planting. The tea room is tempting, though, and we have a substantial and tasty lunch to remember. As we left, two people were walking along the drive, which made us wonder if, with membership at a very reasonable annual rate of £22, there is a case for locals to use it as their neighbourhood meeting place. There are sofas to offer comfort, magazines to read and a view of the dry garden from where we sat.


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