Go Wild and overgrown with Christopher Lloyd
Our new book Wild describes how the creator of Great Dixter’s gardens always loved a little grass
Our new book, Wild: The Naturalistic Garden surveys the growing trend for unruliness in contemporary horticulture, by profiling some of the finest wild and naturalistic gardens currently flourishing across the world.
Many of these places, such as the grounds around Hauser & Wirth’s gallery in Somerset, and the plantings beside The High Line in Manhattan, are 21st century creations. However, a few of these forty plus gardens are of a slightly older vintage.
“The garden at Great Dixter is one of the most legendary on the famously garden-mad island of Great Britain,” writes author Noel Kingsbury in this new book. Great Dixter, the house, dates from the early 20th century, while the garden is widely regarded as the work of a fellow writer and gardener, Christopher Lloyd, “whose writing introduced a great many people to a deeper understanding of gardening as a craft and an art.”
Great Dixter does have artful and well-crafted beds of flowers, as well as detailed topiary and areas divided into room-like spaces. Yet Kingsbury draws our attention to a less clearly ordered, though no less wonderful aspect of this house: its meadows.
“An integral part of the Dixter landscape are the areas of rough grass around the gardens,” he explains. "One large area (about 0.4 hectare / 1 acre) to the southeast of the house is historically meadow (cut every summer for hay), while others, such as the Front Meadow, have in the past been cut as lawn but are now also managed as wildflower meadows.
“In contrast to the many plantings in gardens that now get labelled as ‘meadow’, this is the real thing – and given the status of Great Dixter among the world’s gardens, they should perhaps be treated as the ‘ur-meadow’ of the naturalistic planting movement.”
Kingsbury goes on to note that Dixter’s meadows are cut in the same manner as agriculture meadows are mown: twice a year, once in high summer, and once in late autumn. This mowing actually drives the meadows’s feritilty down, which you might assume would be bad for the plants that thrive here. However, as Kingsbury points out, Great Dixter’s meadows now “support an incredible range of plant species that are freed from the competition of stronger-growing ones, which tend to monopolize more productive environments."
The cutting of these thriving, wild grasslands also present an additional advantage: “the fact that there are empty expanses of short grass during the traditionally holiday period of August allows them to be used for events, games, or just sitting about and relaxing,” Kingsbury writes. “No other garden or landscape feature is able to combine visual appeal, wildlife value and human functionality so elegantly.” For more on Great Dixter’s wild side, as well as many more wild gardens, order a copy of Wild here..