On our recent trip to Kent, my Mum and I managed to squeeze in one last garden visit before we left.
First, though, with an hour or two to fill in the morning before our chosen gardens opened, we followed local signposts to Biddenden Vineyards on a whim. We wandered happily for quarter of an hour following a marked path through the vines, admiring the plants of varying maturity of a surprisingly wide range of grape varieties, growing with an open sunny aspect on the hillside, before making our way to the Winery itself.
A short while later, a few bottles of rather good Kentish wine and cider were stashed in the car, and the hour was suitably advanced to continue on our way. Our target, as Anna correctly guessed, was the magnificent Great Dixter.
I first visited these gardens late last October, finally colouring in the images carried in my head from Christopher Lloyd’s writings. The gardens more than lived up to my expectations then, and I was looking forward to returning.
The planting in late August was resplendent, a rich tapestry of colours, irresistibly woven with a seemingly free hand. The annual Persicaria orientalis which I was so taken with the previous day at Gravetye strolled through the borders of the high garden with similarly impressive proportions; golden rudbeckias basked in the warm sun, the early asters smiled up in cool mauves, and the dahlias were suitably sumptuous in rich jewel shades.
It was thrilling to be back in these gardens, with so many delicious planting combinations to overwhelm the senses. Interesting, as well: slightly less star-struck than on my first visit, I found myself less enamoured with the tight paths through the abundant planting in the high gardens, sometimes the effect of the planting was lost as we fought our way through, and it left me contemplating how the spaces in a garden are as important to me as the borders. It is these space that give the opportunity to step back and view the whole, and while I enjoy interactive planting that flows across paths, blurring the boundaries, I felt a little too restricted here, the paths not quite as open as I prefer. Perhaps this effect is exacerbated in a public garden, when there are other people to navigate around as well as the plants.
Despite those observations, I find the planting in those top gardens the most inspirational, rather contradictorily! Of course, Great Dixter is not just about that effervescent planting bursting out of the high gardens amidst the topiary; there are soothing expanses of green in the orchard and prairie meadow, and the long border was looking stunning in high summer with its more formal proportions. We explored and delighted in the gardens, before finding our way to the nursery. Ahhh, once again, the breadth of well-tended plants available here was staggering, and I felt virtuous coming away with just three new acquisitions.
The sultry purple Salvia Amistad, with its inky black calyces, sweetly scented Clematis triternata rubromarginata and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Undine’ accompanied me home to our garden, while my Mum easily found a handful of ‘essential’ purchases too. We made our way back cross-country with a car full of plants (and wine!), and heads full of colour and inspiration; the perfect way to end our roadtrip.