Great Dixter

by Don Hyatt

The Gardens at Great Dixter

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 foliage textures. 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.

Vistas of the Garden

The Manor House

Topiary of Squirrels

Accent on Top of Wall

Wall Garden


Oriental Poppies

Giant Cow Parsley

Pink Columbine and
Variegated Foliage Plants