Last week I went to Great Dixter. It is a garden built around a fourteenth century manor house in Sussex. The house was restored in the early 1900s by a businessman, Nathaniel Lloyd, with the help of the renowned architect Edwin Lutyens. Lloyd and his wife began the creation of the gardens but they were developed over fifty years or more by their son, Christopher, gardener and writer. For the last fifteen years of his life Christopher worked with Fergus Garrett who remains as head gardener following Christopher's death four years ago. It is one of the great gardens of the world.

Sometimes it is a mistake to do something you have looked forward to for a very long time and I have been wanting to go to Great Dixter for almost twenty years. How can a place bear the level of expectation laid upon it? Surely I would be setting myself up for at best an anti-climax, at worst a major disappointment. I was taken aback to find myself so moved by being there that I could not stop the camera shaking (I am not an excitable type) so the photos here are Ian's and doubtless better than mine would have been even had my hands been still.

It was not a disappointment. It was a grey, damp day, not raining but mild and still. We were almost the first people there and the garden was quiet and empty. It was too early in the season for a great and glamourous display of flower but in many ways all the better for that. In winter you can famously see the bones of a garden, here the mighty yew hedges and stone flagged paths. In spring you can see how the planting works: how many tulips, interplanted with what, where are the anchor plants, how many lupins are in this border, what grows under shrubs which will later be covered in flower and leaf. We wandered, Ian took photographs, we wandered again. There was a nursery filled with fascinating plants at sensible prices and knowledgeable, entirely unpushy staff. I spent some money, restraining myself with difficulty, hanging on to the need to remember that my thin stony soil and Dixter's clay could not be more different. If I didn't focus on the real toughies anything soft and delicate would quickly turn up its toes here on the hill.

We finished by going round the house, still furnished and full of Christo's books. It is used by students who come to work in garden and still feels like a living place. I would go every month if I could but it is five hours' drive away so I will content myself with seeing the place in my head as I read and plan and plant. A perfect day.


And yesterday another iconic place: I went with Exmoorjane, writer and blogger, to Blackden, home of the writer, Alan Garner and his wife Griselda. This is an extraordinary place, the site occupied for some ten thousand years. They live in a medieval hall house alongside a timber framed apothecary's house known as The Old Medicine House. The houses are full of ancient things, found on the site and full of their books. A day there is a day out of time, passing swiftly, fizzing with ideas and excitement.

Yesterday I had the luxury of walking slowly as Alan showed Jane around, pointing out the protective marks carved into the wood of the Medicine House at points of weaknesses, entrances and exits and structural weak points too. Most take the form of a double V, virgo virginem, virgin of virgins, for the Virgin Mary. They protect against the entrance of evil in any form, witchcraft or the devil I imagine. From the serenity of the place, they have succeeded for over five hundred years.


In May my daughter and I are going on a day course here on Tudor herbs and spices, learning about their use and finishing by helping to create a herb garden in front of the Medicine House. Blackden is in Cheshire where Alan has lived and worked all his life. If it is within reach for you, go if you can. It is another very special place. You touch another world here.

Comments

  1. What a perfect weekend. There was great article in one of the weekend papers on Fergus's work carrying at Great Dixter which reminded me that I have never seen it! The medicine house sounds fascinating too. I love the idea of the Tudor Herb course - Still Room for Beginners sort of thing...

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  2. How lovely to meet fellow bloggers!
    Sounds like you've had some enjoyable days.I too like the idea of the Tudor Herb course. I've read several of Phillipa Gregory's books based in that era and they used herbs a great deal.

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  3. Both of those homes and gardens look to be very worth visiting. How fortunate you are to have been there ... and in such grand company!

    It will be fun to see which garden ideas you get to translate to your own garden. Please keep us posted.

    xo

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  4. That all sounds wonderful. I have come to gardening rather late in life. I am only now beginning to appreciate the possibilities and how things work. Books rather go over my head; pictures are better; friendly blogs even better still. I've never heard of great Dixter and perhaps I shall never go there but then there are so many wonderful places. And I have been there in your blog.

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  5. Thanks for the lovely tours - I particularly appreciate the links so that I can visit at leisure!
    Five hours doesn't seem such a long drive if something is really good - really helpful. Great Dixter sounds like a place that you'd want to visit in each season, to see the bones, the colour, the change of colour......

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  6. How fab to go to Dixter! I plan to go this summer, if our holiday ideas come off. I think I would be the same as you, worried about anti-climax. I am quite often worried about anti-climax actually - perhaps I need to become a less worried person... Now you have got me thinking! Again. x

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  7. I wonder was the emotion you felt at Great Dixter to do with the spirit of Christopher Lloyd still being there, memories of him as seen on television in his garden? I know it's a different scale altogether, but I went to Barnsdale, a couple of years after Geoff Hamilton died, and I found that very emotional, one spot in particular where he was fond of just sitting. It was strange, on some level, walking amongst the gardens one had seen on the television screen, and a quick glimpse of his brother caught me unawares, from certain angles they are/were quite alike. But I have always thought GreT Dixter such a beautiful place altogether. Shan't ever get to see it, so it was lovely to read your first-hand impressions.

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  8. "Last week I went to Great Dixter..." It sounds like the opening sentence of a novel... or a lovely blog. I'm a big fan of Christo's books and his writing, but have not yet been lucky enough to see the garden. I'm so glad to hear that it didn't disappoint, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing your pictures and reading your words about it. I want to go even more now!

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  9. Oh now I am pea green, Great Dixter and Jane in one weekend!

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  10. I love Great Dixter - it has always been one of my favourite gardens - although it is a few years since I visited. Sad that Christopher Lloyd died - I still have his books - they are so readable.

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  11. Both of those places sound delightful and I'm quite jealous!

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  12. Alan Garner!!!! I am sooo jealous. How amazing. The course you are going on there sounds completely up my street. Wonderful. Great Dixter is my Father's favourite place - I have never managed to get there, but have read lots of his books. It sounds magical.

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  13. Wow, it all sounds wonderful, and I know exactly what you mean about going somewhere or doing something you have wanted to do for years and years. I'm glad it lived up to your expectations.

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  14. It was your mention of Great Dixter and the gardens last year that encouraged me to leave a comment - and now I feel you are a good friend! Weird this blogging.
    I would love to see Blackden and would love even more to do a herb and spice learning day...maybe I will.

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  15. Glad you had such a good time.

    I have been an admirer of Alan Garner for forty years but had no idea about Blackden. I'm now seeing if I can work out how to visit - either on an Open Day or perhaps even a course. It looks fascinating. Thank you for letting us all know about it.

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  16. Glad you had a wonderful time. The places you saw appear truly amazing.

    Nice to catch up with a friend and fellow blogger, too.

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  17. I would love to go to Great Dixter - Sue introduced me to his books, and its a place that looks so wonderful.

    And Blackden too - again Sue introduced me to it via the internet. Maybe one day......

    What would I do without my daughter?

    You certainly had a glorious weekend. Lovely photos, too.

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  18. oooh, how lovely - all of it! I'm so glad Dixter didn't disappoint. I, too, have been longing to go there for ages, but it's something I've just never got round to doing. Am deeply envious of the Tudor Herb course, which sounds fascinating.

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  19. Ah, I had promised myself I wouldn't read your blog until I had written my own - but couldn't resist. What a perfect perfect day that was - and a thank-you from the very depths of my heart for arranging it. I am still fizzing and will for some time to come. Anyone reading this, you MUST MUST go to Blackden. Beg, steal or borrow the money - £45 - for that herb and spice workshop. You wouldn't regret it for a second.
    Dixter sounds wonderful too but, ah, to have met my childhood hero, there is simply no pleasure greater.

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  20. A wonderful weekend. Great Dixter has long been on my list of 'must do's' and to read your words of your weekend visits have truly lifted my spirits. Thank you so much for them. CH xx

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  21. I'd love to go to Dixter - maybe next time you could scoop me up en route? I felt the same trepidation visiting Barnsley House when Rosemary Verey was hanging around in the background with a broom.

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  22. What a wonderful way to spend a day! So glad it lived up to your expectations.

    The Tudor herbs and spices course sounds really interesting... will we get a post and pics on that? (do say yes!)

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  23. I have read books by Christopher Lloyd. You certainly had a lovely visit to Great Dixter and the photos are magnificent.
    The course on herbs sounds great. Nothing like a meal with fresh herbs from your own garden!

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  24. Sounds great Elizabeth. I have never been to Great Dixter, but have read of it often. How lovely to have met Jane too. All really sounds rather lovely x

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  25. Along with Zoe I am pea green with envy. And like you I was shaking with excitement reading about these wonderful gardens. You do write beautifully so it is an extra pleasure. When I went to Sissinghurst I felt awestruck in the same way and that Vita would come strolling through the garden at any minute. The dream of going again to the UK for a garden tour is getting bigger and will someday be possible I'm sure. So I will see you then.

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  26. You've made me want to visit Dixter!

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  27. Lucky you - I've been wanting to visit both of those gardens for ages and have never yet made it! At least I managed it vicariously through your lovely post!

    Congratulations on having the strength to finish work. Once you get used to not working you'll wonder how you ever fitted it in around everythng else - or is that just me?!

    For your Offas Dyke walk, get some '1000 mile' socks from Yeomans. They're silk lined, very comfortable, allow your feet to slide smoothly and wick away moisture so you don't get blisters. They're brilliant! (my forthcoming walk is only 13 miles for the local hospice, but it's a start!)

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  28. Great Dixter! Oooooh that's on my must see list. Christopher Lloyd's writing was what made me see gardening with fresh eyes.

    Alan Garner was one of my favourite authors as a child. I've just introduced my niece to his work and she's thrilled by it.

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  29. PS I thoroughly recommend 1000 mile socks too :)

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  30. What a lot of great comments - it is marvellous to see how many people out there love Great Dixter and would be fascinated by Blackden. To anyone who is contemplating going to either place, I say, go, go, go! Life is short but can be sweet if you make it so.

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  31. I love Great Dixter so I'm gald that it wasn't a disappointment to you. Also I haven't been there since Christopher Lloyd died so it's good to hear that the place remains special.

    And talking of special places, the trip to Blackden sounded magical, a day to treasure in many ways.

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  32. Hi I just noticed your blog on Green tapestry site.

    Great Dixter is a lovely place to visit and I keep meaning to return I wish it opened earlier though I don't think it opens until 2.
    Blackden sounds interesting I must look it up for when i am staying nearbye in lanscashire in May.

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  33. How lovely - gorgeous tulips. Glad it didn't disappoint. Bet you're looking forward to that weekend in May, both of you.

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  34. Lovely to catch up with your blog.. I have been too busy to do any reading / writing but I have thought about you as you started your new way of life.
    All the best with the walk!

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  35. I think that I would have the same feelings of apprehension should I ever get to Great Dixter or Sissinghurst. I have read and watched television programmes about both for many years and so have a firm picture in my mind of both gardens :) It certainly sounds as if it lived up to all your expectations. Thanks for the information about Blackden. I live in Cheshire so must visit.

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  36. How I envy your visits. Thank you for your tour, both photos and words. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this post.

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  37. I have many childhood memories of going to Great Dixter, raised as I was in Sussex. I believe you must have been there while I was down there too - I was at my parents near Haywards Heath from 7th-12th. If only I'd known you were so close...

    Blackden sounds fascinating too. Being Cheshire, it is of course close to my home here. The herb course sounds fab. Will have to look into that myself as have long been promising myself such things. I am currently developing a herb garden in my own garden and have many books on the subject (largely unread, to date!). Still, bit tetchy that you and Jane were there and didn't invite me!!!

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