ISSUE 35  |  The Last Gasp of Summer

England’s Most Influential Gardener? A Visit with Beth Chatto

August 30, 2012 5:00 PM

BY Kendra Wilson

“I don’t think we’re going to have one, do you?” Beth Chatto replies when I mention the words “Indian summer.” The needs of plants and humans being different, her famously beautiful gardens (admission: £6) are powering away despite England’s intensely odd weather. And they are a picture of glorious late summer.

“Gardening is a science and an art,” Beth Chatto, born in 1923, begins to explain. A German admirer approaches and says, “Excuse me, do you like music?” “Yes I do!” she responds politely. “This garden is full of music,” continues our friend. “It has minor keys, major keys, shadows…” “Yes, and low notes and high notes,” adds Beth. “It is a symphony!” he pronounces, before asking to take her picture. Here then, from a corner of Essex, southwest England, we bring you music, art and science:

Photographs by Kendra Wilson for Gardenista.


Above: Beth Chatto has horticulture covered. She has created a garden with every condition–whether damp, shady or impossibly dry–and the plants growing therein are perfectly suited to those conditions. Problems become advantages in her wonderfully written books: The Dry Garden ($11.66 from Amazon); The Shade Garden ($14.96 from Amazon); Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden (£17.50 from Amazon UK); Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden ($from $13.90, used, from Amazon); Beth Chatto’s Damp Garden ($44.61, used, through Amazon), to name but a few.


Above: “I aim to make pictures with form, structure, and color,” says Beth Chatto. Tall and wide eupatorium maculatum forms a backdrop for aster and Helenium Zimbelstern. With its easy-going color, it provides this service for several groupings around the garden in late summer. Most of the plants shown here are available mail order from Beth Chatto. For US gardeners, a packet of Eupatorium Maculatem Joe Pye Weed seeds is $10 from Prairie Nursery. A bare root Helenium Zimbelstern is $6.95 from Bulbs Direct.


Above: A wave of fragrant phlox paniculata. The next wave along is persicaria amplexicaulis Rosea. For US gardeners, Phlox Paniculata Laura is $13.95 per plant from White Flower Farm.


Above: Anemone tomentosa; cheerful outlook with pink petals of assorted shades. For US gardeners, Anemone Tomentosa Robustissima is $9.95 from Bluestone Perennials.


Above: Aster divaraticus grows in low mounds. For US gardeners, a one-quart pot of Aster Divaraticus is $10 from Sunlight Gardens.



Above: Rudbeckia fulgida, trying to run amok but not succeeding. For US gardeners, Rudbedkia Fulgida Sullivanti Little Goldstar is $17.95 per plant from White Flower Farm.


Above: The smoke bush (cotinus) is indispensable as a foil for every late summer color, including green grass. For US gardeners, a one-gallon pot of Smokebush Golden Spirit, with white flowers, is $23.96 from Nature Hills.

beth-chatto-garden-kirengeshom- palmata-gardenista

Above: Kirengeshoma palmata in the Woodland Garden. It waits for summer’s end to bring some pale yellow cheer to a shady spot. For US gardeners, Kirengeshoma Palmata Yellow Lanterns is $7.95 from Forest Farm.


Above: Gaura lindheimeri mingling with nepeta sibirica in the Gravel Garden.


Above: Toad lily or tricyrtis formosana, enjoying dappled shade.


Above: Echinacea Rubinstern. Having flopped over, it is allowed to grow sideways, not being in anybody’s way. For US gardeners, Echinacea Rubinstern is $7.95 from Bluestone Perennials.