Great Dixter is the family home and garden of the consummate plantsman,
Christopher Lloyd. Located near Northiam in East Sussex, this
magnificent garden is noted for its wealth of perennials and
extensive topiary. As we stared our private tour
of the home, our guide apologized that Mr. Lloyd could not
be there to greet us personally. As she began telling
us the story of Great Dixter, I started thinking about
some of the similarities between this great garden and my own home.
Yes, there were some similarities between this garden and
my own retreat, but they were skewed by orders of magnitude.
I thought to myself, here was "Great Dixter!" My home and garden
should be called "Little Dumpster." There were obvious
similarities: Christopher Lloyd is
unmarried and living in the family home where he is surrounded
by his lifelong interest, the garden. I too am unmarried living in my
family home where I am surrounded by my lifelong interest, my
garden. Then there were the differences: Great Dixter
is nearly 500 years old, and seems to be in remarkable condition.
My house is nearly 50 years old and is in drastic need of repair.
Christopher Lloyd's garden is neat and clipped with an array
of choice perennials. My garden is an unwieldy tangle of
overgrown shrubs interspersed with an array of robust weeds. Mr.
Lloyd's rare perennials were the epitome of health, no signs of insect
or animal damage. My garden is mother nature's buffet, overrun
with bunny rabbits, herds of deer, crows and squirrels.
I counted 12 squirrels in my front yard before I left, but Christopher
Lloyd's squirrels were only clipped topiary.
As we strolled through the geometric paths and garden rooms at
Great Dixter, I could admire the complex topiary but knew that
I would never want such a garden myself. I really prefer
the wild look, but I just wished it were a little less wild at
home. If I put the same amount of time into my own garden as it
takes to prune just one of those massive topiary structures,
my garden could be attractive. I thought back to comments
made at Butterstream, what would Rosemary Verey say if she
ever visited my home. With the wet weather we had been having,
my hosta must look like lace from the slug damage.
There were so many spectacular perennials at Great Dixter, it
was like thumbing through a rare plant catalog only in three dimensions.
There were massive plants such as a solitary Giant Cow Parsley
plant making a bold statement in one area.
Of course, I have poke and jewel weed at
home that make bold statements all the time in my garden, but
this was effective. Then there were the little details too,
such as rare rock garden plants adorning a stone wall.
I admired Christopher Lloyd's use of
harmonious color schemes such as pink columbine with
variegated foliage plants in cream, gray, and burgandy,
a lovely color harmony rather than the monochromatic
approach seen at Hadspen or Sissinghurst. Clearly planned by an
artist who knew his medium well, every direction was a
small vignette, subtle hues of massed perennials blended with
In addition, there is often some visual center of interest to draw
the eye, such as a
bold white splash of a variegated foliage plant or brilliant
red oriental poppies.
At Great Dixter, Christopher Lloyd has created a
pleasing informalness with his perennial borders that
provided a balance to the formal topiary structure of the
garden. Helen Dillon had remaaaarked to us that she thought
his garden was one of the finest in the UK, and I think
we all agreed.