In a recent issue of Gardens Illustrated, I noticed the above photo of gardening doyenne Beth Chatto, posing for photographer Rachel Warne. Hoping that this meant a new book was in the works I dug deeper! ‘A Year In The Life of Beth Chatto’s Gardens,’ is a new coffee table sized book that documents exactly as the title suggests, the four seasons as viewed within the extensive framework of the legendary Beth Chatto Gardens of Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex.
My first introduction to Beth Chatto [in the figurative sense, sadly I have yet to visit the gardens] came, when searching out rare and unusual plants, I stumbled across her book, ‘Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden.’ Difficult to locate, I ended up ordering it from England. Very early in her gardening career, Beth surmised that plants grew better when afforded the same conditions to which they had adapted from nature. While she was not the first to advocate such garden practices, she remains one of its most recognizable advocates!
In the book’s forward, written by Beth herself, she begins by stating that, ‘.., I often say a garden is not a picture confined to a frame left hanging on a wall; it is something that changes constantly with the movement of light and the passing of time!’ How resonant these words are to fellow gardeners, yet how many of us spend our lives toiling to capture the ‘absolute perfect moment?’
Fergus Garrett, head gardener at Great Dixter, the estate gardens of the late Christopher Lloyd offers a moving, honest introduction to the book, beginning with the simple line, ‘Beth Chatto is one of life’s great givers,’ and finishing with, ‘Greatness is not a word to use lightly, but in the presence of Beth Chatto, we are in the company of greatness!’
The remainder of the book is broken down into the four seasons, each beginning with a wonderful précis of the sumptuous photographs of Rachel Warne that follow. My personal favourite is Spring, which focuses almost exclusively on the Woodland Garden. Brief captions by Sarah Mitchell help to identify not only the setting, but also the names of the majority of plant material that they contain. How utterly refreshing to see the use of botanical Latin generously scattered throughout the pages.
Interspersed throughout are double page spreads of intimate photographs of individual plants which helps readers to better identify a singular genus and species from within the panoramic views that make up most of the photographs. I would have liked to have seen a book twice the size, but having many of her other publications, it might have risked repetition. I am grateful that Beth has afforded her many acolytes this rare and personal glimpse into not only her own personal life, but that of her gardens which recently celebrated their fiftieth anniversary! Garrett was dead on with the statement, ‘…. Beth Chatto is one of life’s great givers!’ Many thanks Beth Chatto!