Beth Chatto – an inspiration


The final assignment for my ‘Plants and planting design‘ course is to design the planting for a dry garden and so, in preparation, on Saturday morning the class converged at Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex.

The area relevant for our assignment is the Gravel Garden, created in 1992 on the site of the original car park, from 0.75 acre of sand and gravel.  Here Beth has created a garden where plants are only watered when they are first planted, after that they’re on their own and, bearing in mind the rainfall here is the lowest in the country at less than 20 inches per annum, they have to be tough.

And what an inspiration!  Not only were there wonderful long views of contrasting form and texture (something I still struggle to achieve)IMG_0302





but endless clever combinations to admire at much closer quarters.  These included many Anemone pavonina – here with spiky yukka and grasses,IMG_0307

here with NepetaIMG_0327

and here, with Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ picking up the colour of the central bosses perfectly.IMG_0310

As well as the Anemones, colour was also provided by dainty bulbs – species tulipsIMG_0306


and Fritillaria pontica (look how the purple sage echoes the colour of the stripe).IMG_0309

I was so taken by this beautiful oxalis, O. obtusa I treated myself to one in the nursery.IMG_0344

Away from the Gravel Garden, the mood is calmer and cooler.

The Water Garden was created by damming a spring fed ditch, and the resulting ponds create the correct environment for numerous water loving plants includingIMG_0361

wonderful Gunnera tinctoria, just emerging,IMG_0355

Lysichiton americanus, right by the water’s edgeIMG_0368

and wonderful ferns.IMG_0378

There were dozens of just emerging Hostas in the shady areas, but this clump was well advanced (and immaculate!)


As in the Gravel Garden, there were yet more close quarters combinations to admire. Here a patchwork of Pulmonaria, Forget me nots, Drumstick Primulas punctuated by emerging Digitalis foliageIMG_0366

Erythronium with (um!) shrub,IMG_0367

Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ picking up on the lovely dark blooms of the TrilliumIMG_0375

Euphorbia wulfenii with Fritillaria imperialis ‘Maxima Lutea.’  (Why have I never seen that combination together before?  And why, when I usually find Crown Imperials rather stiff and waxy, do they look so good here?)IMG_0371

and the identically coloured yet completely contrasting forms of Heuchera and Uncina rubraIMG_0352

And to finish, what’s so special about this?  It’s Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy,’ not yet in flower and now surrounded by an area under redevelopment.  However, it’s special to me as it’s the plant I remember most vividly from my one previous visit to this garden with my lovely mum in the early 1990s.

The memory stuck with me and I planted my own Cercis, chez Duver Diary, 20 years later.IMG_0376

With thanks to Beth Chatto for endless inspiration (I think I’ll remember rather more than just the one plant this time!) but also John, for being our patient and knowledgeable tutor, Helen for the lifts and last but not least, Rosy for bringing cake!

11 thoughts on “Beth Chatto – an inspiration

  1. Sam

    I’ve only been here once, about 12 years ago. I’d love to go again. There are some clever combinations and she’s definitely an inspiring plantswoman. I’m intrigued by your course 😊 sounds fab.

    1. jenhumm116 Post author

      Hi Sam, I’d definitely recommend a return visit – I’d forgotten so much!
      And yes, the course has been really great – particularly such a lovely group of people.

  2. Chloris

    If you come again, remember I am only about 35 minutes away and would love to meet you! I was there a couple of weeks ago and although the dry garden looks wonderful all year round, the anemones really brought it alive. I am intrigued to see what she is going to do with that huge empty bed.

  3. Christina

    Beth Chatto is my greatest inspiration too. Much of my planting in this garden takes her gravel garden as a starting point. Have you tried turning your images into monochrome to help you with form and texture. There are a few examples in some of my previous posts. It is an excellent way of checking if a scheme is good.

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  5. Cathy

    We visited last JUne so it is really intersting to see your photos from a spring visit – the hostas and pulmonaria and erythronium are especially gorgeous!

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