The Dry Garden – Beth Chatto

I’ve been looking into planting a dry garden at the front of the house, where currently there’s left over rubble and weeds from building work on the house.

The whole front looks neglected (because it has been), so I’ve been hatching grand plans for spring 2019.

Whilst researching plants I kept coming across images of the dry garden at Beth Chatto’s, and seeing as it’s just down the road it seemed silly not to pay a visit.  I already had a list of plants in mind, but what with the extreme dry weather this summer it seemed a good opportunity to observe first hand exactly how drought tolerant this type of planting can be.


The seed heads of Phlomis fruticosa


An attractive underplanting of Stachys byzantina


Drifts of plants flow through the gravel beds


Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ (S. ‘Autumn Joy’)


Sedum ‘Karfunkelstein’


Stipa tenuissima and Bergenia ‘Morgenrote’ 


Gaura lindheimeri 


Diverse planting adds interest through colour and form 


Layering the planting to creates movement


Eschscholzia californica ‘Alba’


The addition of bulbs to the dry garden such as Iris ‘Deep Black’ brings a different leaf shape to the palette


An edging of Bergenia ‘Morgenrote’


Bergenia ‘Morgenrote’, with its elephant ear shaped leaves and the contrasting colour of its flowers 



With so many plants to choose from, and such rich inspiration, it will be difficult to make decisions about what to include and what will fit the space I have to fill.  I decided to bring home a small selection of drought tolerant plants to live with over the winter, before buying anything in bulk.

I want to use a palette of purples, pinks and whites, with tones of green, possibly yellow, and the browns found in grasses to add contrast between the plants.

I already have a Feijoa sellowiana tree which I want to include in the scheme, so I will build the content of the beds around that as my key anchoring plant.  With it’s penny sized leaves in silver green it will sit nicely with Stachys byzantina (something else I already have), and contrast beautifully with Bergenia ‘Morgenrote’.

The Feijoa can be pruned to grow like an olive tree, and will add the structural interest I want, while softer drifts of planting along the fencing and into the gravel will blur the boundaries.

I came home from Beth Chatto’s with a box of trial plants and a host of ideas.  I can’t wait for next spring when the hard landscaping can be done and I can transform a neglected area into something unique and beautiful.

A box of trial plants from Beth Chatto’s.  Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ (Autumn Joy), Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’, Stipa gigantea and Bergenia ‘Bressingham Salmon’.

Trial plants for my drought tolerant front garden.  Achillea, Rudbeckia, Sedum, Stipa and Bergenia



The Savill Garden

Gardens in the winter months can be hit and miss, and many are closed, but one of the most beautiful is the Savill Garden at Windsor Great Park.

Entrance is free throughout December, which makes it accessible, and with the arrival of an Edwardian carousel there’s an air of wonder and light.


Hitching a ride on Nick

The Savill Building is impressive, undulating across the entrance to the gardens, with a fluid, organic shape that echoes the landscape.  Inside, the exposed struts of the beams allow you to see the geometry that forms the rise and fall of the roof.


The Savill Building


We enjoyed the seasonal Gingerbread trail, which propelled us through the garden, with stamps to be collected positioned by the winter stars of the garden.  We saw the twin oaks, one growing from the base of another, the wildlife that gathers around the pond, the masses of Bergenia’s with their elephant- ear shaped leaves and the tulip tree planted by the Queen Mother.

Once the leaves have deserted the trees for the winter months, negative space becomes the dominant theme throughout the garden.  The shifting colours of the sky laced through bare branches affording glimpses of light and shade.




Colour is found in the swathes of Dogwood, bright reds and yellows, melting into orange along the length of the bare branches.  While the Rhododendrons and ferns colour large areas with green.





The Temperate House also retains interest all year round, with its elevated iron walkway offering views of the lush greenery and a large vortex of water from above.

Decay can be beautiful too, and the eye is caught by the fading Hydrangea blooms and the tall dry grasses.  The mass of Gunnera leaves cut down for the winter shelter the core of the plant, making a village of little houses.




Winter is a magical time of year, bringing the garden indoors and decorating trees to sustain us through the bitter months.  But if you wrap up warm, and put on enough pairs of socks, there’s nothing better than a walk through a beautiful garden.  And the warmth of a hot drink at the end of the day is all the more satisfying when it follows the chill that has touched cheeks and noses while you’ve been braving the outdoors.


Beth Chatto #40Gardens

My friend Ellie, from Wellies On, gave me a years pass to The Beth Chatto Gardens, and it was always going to be the place I visited first.  Not only is the planting an inspiration, but the nursery will afford me the great opportunity to pick up a few birthday treats!

This is an inspiring garden developed by the plantswoman Beth Chatto on the outskirts of Colchester.  Working with a difficult site prompted Beth to develop her motto, ‘Right plant, right place.’



View across the water garden

She worked with the land, forming the structure of the garden around the conditions it offered, from the dry, nutrient poor soil in the upper section, down to the water logged, boggy terrain where the rain collected.

The result is a wonderful environment, offering a great range of planting.  In the new year I’ll be looking at our scrappy front yard, and on this visit to Beth Chatto’s I’m particularly interested in finding inspiring planting for a gravel garden.   For the last 9 years our front garden has looked like a dump, which has evolved into a builders yard, but will hopefully be transformed in 2018.


The purple of this Achillea’s umbel seed heads add interest and colour to the Gravel Garden


Melianthus major


Agapanthus seed heads

I’ve been reading my way through Beth Chatto’s ‘The Damp Garden’, looking for inspiration to pad out my own little water garden too.  It was because of a previous visit that I brought Gunnera maniculata and Petisites japonica, two impressively big plants that will eventually take over the damp ground around the modest wildlife pond.


The small wildlife pond I planted earlier this year, with Gunnera manipulate, Petasites japonica, Lynchnis flos-cuculi, Juncus effuses spiralis, Cyperus longus and Baldellia ranunculoides

How do you begin a blog?

All the essays I’ve written have been structured to state their aims in the intro, so maybe that would be a good place to start.

The aim of this blog is to give me somewhere to waffle on about gardens, plants, wildlife, and most likely other things too.  Things that are totally left field and completely unrelated to horticulture.


I’ve set myself a project to visit 40 gardens during my 40th year, from November 2017 to November 2018, when my 40th birthday will arrive and depart unmarked (apart from the personal achievement of having been to some amazing gardens).

I’ll write a little about them, but will mainly be posting photos, sketches, videos and anything else creative that results from my visits.

Libraries rule

I’ll also be referencing some incredible books, most of which I’ll have loaned from Essex Libraries, and I’ll share their links so you can check them out too.

The Mudlark

I’ve always been a Mudlark, happy in the dirt digging for worms, planting seeds and hoping some will grow. And now that I’m a grown up, I want to play in the mud even more. Time away from work is so precious, it should be filled with the things you love the most.