A Tale of Three Gardens (Part 3 – with a detour)

On our recent trip to Kent, my Mum and I managed to squeeze in one last garden visit before we left.

Vines at Biddenden, Kent

Grapes growing at Biddenden vineyards

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.

Biddenden winery

Vat of wine at Biddenden vineyards

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.

Front aspect of house at 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.

Glimpse of the house at Great Dixter from the high garden

Martagon lilies and Persicaria orientalis at Great DixterMartagon lilies and Persicaria orientalis at Great Dixter

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.

Glimpse of house at Great Dixter from the topiary garden

Planting in the high garden at Great Dixter

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.

The wall garden at Great Dixter

Itea ilicifolia near the Lutyens steps at Great Dixter

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.

Salvia Amistad; clematis triternata rubromarginata;Miscanthus sinensis Undine

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.


10 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Gardens (Part 3 – with a detour)

  1. Clematis triternata rubromarginata is a great plant, Sara. I bought it after it was recommnended by Fergus Garret at a course I attended at Great Dixter. What I hadn’t realised is that the almond scent is fantastic too. I think next time I go, I shall try and get there first thing – before the crowds! Dave

    • Good choice then! I fell for it scrambling madly over the borders in a haze of purple. We could smell the sweet almond scent as we stood in the ranks of clematis on sale, but hadn’t realised it came from this one until I got it home.
      Even as the gates open, the first coaches roll up, but I think these gardens could get much more crowded later in the day, so earlier is definitely better.

  2. Oh you kept me guessing there Sara with the photo at the top of your post 🙂 Sounds like a most worthwhile deviation. How great to return to Great Dixter and at a slightly different time. I understand what you mean about the shut in feeling but I quite liked it. Intrigued to know whether the salvia ‘Amistad’ is as beautiful in the flesh as it seems to be on the web site images I’ve seen of it? It’s high up on the wish list. I’ve recently sown some persicaria orientalis but whether it will grow so well here remains to be seen. What a wonderful trio of garden visits for your respective birthdays – you both must have returned home on a high.

    • Heh. 🙂 It was lovely to return, and to see it at its high summer peak. I loved being in the midst of the glorious planting, but would love slightly wider paths to give the chance to stand and drink in the shapes and colours around me.
      I’ve had my eye on ‘Amistad’ for a while, and it is just as beautiful in the flesh as in pictures – a few plants in the past have been more washed out than I imagined them from pictures, but this is not one of them thankfully!
      I’ve just ordered seeds of the persicaria, so should be sowing some myself too – hope it grows well for both of us! Yes we were brimming with inspiration when we returned…

  3. Really glad you did this post! We were also in Great Dixter, and had some of the same reactions. Riotous and glorious, but they could have cut the greenery back a bit to make more room for people. This could have just been an issue of available time from personnel/volunteers, though.

    • I think it is intentionally part of the design, to throw visitors right into the planting, similarly in the exotic garden, but I find it a touch too much at times…Look forward to reading about your visit too.

  4. As with other recent posts from yourself and others it is nice to see glimpses of gardens one has visited but at different times. You put the point about the narrow paths across really well, as we don’t alwayas appreciate how sometimes you need space to stand back and take things in. I shall need to look out for that annual persicaria – lovely colour – AND I must try C triternata rubromarginata again! What lovely visits you have been able to share with your Mum and the rest of us too 😉

    • I’ve just bought those persicaria seeds, to sow in a week or two and overwinter in a cold frame or the unheated greenhouse. My Mum and I had a lovely couple of days indeed.

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