Sunday, 4 November 2012

Grrreeeeeeeat Dixter!!

I’ve always been a bit of a studious chap… bit of a life-long-learner. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t studying something or other. Everything from car maintenance at the local adult education centre to English Literature at Birkbeck College. Over the years there’s been courses in geology, Information Technology and art history…. To say nothing of my recent acquisitions: qualifying as a teacher, a Humanistic counsellor, and of course numerous horticultural qualifications. Of course, my current just-for-fun ‘thing’ is beginners French. J'aime apprendre!

Now that I’m self-employed, and somewhat out of that loop which provides a certain level of enforced discipline (a ‘proper’ job that is!) I feel very fortunate to being doing something everyday that I really enjoy. As my Blogger profile states, I really do ‘enjoy getting my hands dirty everyday’, positively influencing and enhancing the gardens I work in. That is why, outside the hours of my day-to-day horticultural labours, I remain pretty immersed in all things horticultural.

For example, I currently have delivered four monthly gardening magazines. At this moment in time, I also have three gardening books on the go… my current bedside companions are Neil Lucas’ Designing with Grasses, Robin Lane Fox’s Thoughtful Gardening and a book of letters between Beth Chatto & Christopher Lloyd. I’m a regular garden visitor too, visiting various gardens at least 3 times a month. I always recommend visiting the same gardens a few times throughout the year, so that you can see changes in the borders, and how the gardeners there go about the routine tasks of each season. Seeing such things as the first stakes around perennials, or fresh pruning cuts on roses constantly nudge and remind me to do these jobs when I get back! 

I also make sure I go to various study days, exhibitions, shows and lectures. This month it was The British Museum’s exhibition on the prairies of North America… tres bon! As a kind of strict self-imposed C.P.D, I always make sure I have at least 2 or 3 horticultural events happening each month. Which leads me nicely to the recent study day I attended at Great Dixter: an amazing day spent listening and learning from the great plantsman and gardener Fergus Garrett. I’ve heard Fergus talk on a few occasions: he’s lectured at Hadlow College, the Garden History Museum… he even came and spoke at my local village hall. Each time I sit there transfixed and somewhat starry-eyed at his immense plant knowledge.
Bergenia purpurascens var. delavayi (a fantastic plant!)

The theme of this particular study day was Garden Worthy Plants. Needless to say, it was a very good day indeed -  in every way!
Fergus kept very close to the nature of the theme, always bringing the subject matter back to what constitutes a good plant: elements of plants and planting I had never even thought of! Using excellent photographic examples, he seamlessly worked his way through over 300 slides, showing how good plants could be somewhat shamed when compared to great plants! Of course, it can only be down to the man’s passion for all things horticultural, that helps keep his talks so full of energy and freshness. 

He would show a picture of, say, a bog-standard Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears), and I would think ‘yep, that’s an okay Bergenia’…. and then, he would show another example,.... audible gasps could be heard from the group.... and I nearly fell off my chair! This happened with almost every slide he showed us. I was absolutely gobsmacked at how there were good plants - plants we would all know and recognise - and then there were fantastic ones!
For me personally, there were two big learning curves I took away with me that day. Firstly, there’s really no need to ever accept a sub-standard plant when there’s a much better alternative to be had.

Secondly I felt I had finally been given permission to develop a critical eye when looking at and judging plants for myself. I don’t quite know why, but I’ve simply never felt I had the right to do that… maybe believing that plant breeders were masters of the black arts, way up there somewhere, doing magical things with anthers and stigmas. Now however, I feel if they can’t breed a Dahlia with a strong enough stem to hold its flower up, then it doesn’t deserve to go in the ground! And believe me, there are many examples of breeders almost insisting on an A.G.M (Award of Garden Merit) for plants with such inherent fundemental 'design' flaws. Plants that come up small, weak... fail to flower... or even grow!

 I intend to go to Dixter's Successional Planting study day next year. It's certainly one of the secret skills of a successful border such as this.

Apart from the obvious design elements of height and colour, using only garden worthy plants is another way of ensuring success. Look for those A.G.M's.

Verbena hastata. Something a little different from the popular (and very garden worthy!) bonariensis

Fergus compares and contrasts size, shape & texture of leaves.


Go on.... have a guess..?? Over 2 metres tall!! Give up?
Impatiens tinctoria... not your usual Busy Lizzie!

I don't know what fergus thought about this strange man taking random shots of him whilst he was talking.... and just how tall is that man in the top right of the picture? Is he on stilts? Still, just look at that Miscanthus with the cactus (or semi-cactus?) Dahlias. 
Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' providing a great foil to the Aster lateriflorus 'Horizontalis'.

Maureen Lipman, in a scene from Educating Rita, states 'wouldn't you just die without Marlowe?'
I often find myself repeating much the same, except I say ... Wouldn't you just die without grasses?
Fergus pointing out the Delphinium... upright & still sturdy in late October. I'm gonna get me one of those blue gardening smocks! They look the business don't they?! Kinda leaves Monty Don's blue jacket in the shade!
Oh well, I think that's probably enough for this month's post. I have plenty more pictures from that day at Dixter, but what's left to say except Dixter remains a fantastic garden.... a real plant-lover's garden: a place of wonder and learning.... pleasant... and vibrant... and exciting..... etc etc...!!
If you do find yourself with some spare cash and you fancy a little horticultural therapy, I do thoroughly recommend one of Dixter's Study days. The spirit of the place will lift you up, and the planting is beyond words... eye candy for the horticulturalists. And what's more, with Fergus' lectures, and a lovely lunch thrown in, what more could you possibly want from a day?
My pots out the back. Oh how I LOVE summer! Those grasses, Heleniums & Rudbeckias....
1.2 Sq metres of North American Prairie!

'Till next time!

* Last but not least, a couple of website links you might be interested in:   (ordered some plants from them recently. They came very quickly, and extremely well-packaged!)


No comments:

Post a Comment