On a very lovely Saturday last weekend – sunny but not sweltering, I found myself in the gardens of Great Dixter, in East Sussex.I didn’t know anything about this place or the famous gardener and writer who lived there – Christopher Lloyd. In fact, I don’t know much about gardening at all. I don’t even have a houseplant. I only know how to buy cut flowers along with my groceries.
But, if you are going to design a garden, this is the way to go about it. Masses of different coloured flowers, not too clipped about. Lots of big statement blooms. Lily-strewn pond. Big Dragonflies. A Mulberry tree. Not much grass. Crafted sets of steps leading off. Meandering, seemingly unplanned and blissfully peaceful.
The original garden design (and parts of the house, which remain private) was by Edwin Lutyens. The gardens wrap around a medieval house and outbuildings, which are really well preserved. Inside, the rooms have been left in a moment in time.
The long barn, with its red tiled expanse of roof dipping low, probably looks just as it did when Lutyens set about sketching. It contains drying bunches of flowers and thistles. These were used throughout the house in vases. Like blowsy, crackly, fragile sculptures.
The wooden shelves I photographed were in this dusty low barn. On them, a lovely line of cotton-wool-like seed heads lay drying in a picturesque fashion. I like to think the shelves were built just for that very purpose.
Not only but also:
Great Dixter nursery tells me these seed heads are from a plant with the impressive name of Cynara cardunculus, or cardoon, or ornamental thistle. Related to Globe artichokes. Parts of it can be eaten and it’s being investigated for its biodiesel potential. Well I never.