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Garden Visit: Beth Chatto’s Courtyard Scree Garden

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Garden Visit: Beth Chatto’s Courtyard Scree Garden

August 29, 2023

Beth Chatto created her famous gardens on the site of a former fruit farm, theming each area around its unique climactic conditions—a wet garden, a woodland garden, and, perhaps most famously, an innovative gravel garden in which a south-facing carpark was converted into an arid garden with sinuous beds and highly textural plantings that provide ever-changing vistas in one of the driest areas of England.

Close to the late plantswoman’s former home, which sits in the middle of her eponymous nursery and gardens, a scree garden is similarly inspirational. Shallow beds are filled with alpine plants in free-draining soil and close to the house, Chatto’s collection of succulents takes center stage.

A collection of pots are displayed in front of the mid-century farmhouse that was built for Beth and her husband Andrew Chatto, alongside one of his orchards. Built in 1960 from natural materials, the design of the house played entirely to the couples interests, with a minimalist open-plan kitchen and living space and a light-filled study where Andrew, a lifelong plant ecologist, could research and write. Outside, the building’s understated mid-century features create the perfect foil for plants. Let’s take a closer look.

Photography by Clare Coulson.

Above: Succulents in all shapes and sizes create a dazzling plant theater in myriad terracotta pots. Tiers are created with old wooden railroad tracks, while chunky logs create individual pedestals.
Above: Perennials and grasses, including eryngiums and Stipa tenuissima, edge the steps into the garden.
Above: On the shadier west-facing side of the house, a collection of ferns, herbs, and pelargoniums circle a shaded seating area.
Above: The lilac, daisy-like flowers of Berkheya purpurea, one of the unusual perennials that edge the path to the scree garden. The clump-forming African thistle has dense foliage that rises from a silvery evergreen rosette. This hardy plant thrives in full sun.
Above: A variety of pots and planters is matched by the many forms of succulents in all colors and shapes.
Above: The two sides of the pot display are punctuated with Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’, adding strong vertical accents and drama with their lustrous deep burgundy flowers. This branching shrub, with its architectural silhouette, hails from the Canary Islands and has black purple rosette flowers with a lime green center. It will happily sit in a sunny or slightly shady spot over summer but will need protection from frost over winter.
Above: Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’ has beautiful silver grey rosettes edged with pink.
Above: Buddleia crispa is trained against a sunny wall of the farmhouse. With silvery stems and foliage and stunning lilac blooms that flower all summer long, it will often return with an autumn flush. This hardy shrub will grow to three meters tall in free-draining soil.
Above: Circular alpine beds include Stipa gigantea for late summer interest.

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Frequently asked questions

What is Beth Chatto's Courtyard Scree Garden?

Beth Chatto's Courtyard Scree Garden is a unique garden located in Essex, England. It is a stunning display of drought-tolerant plants and gravel, creating a beautiful and textured landscape.

Where is the garden located?

The garden is located in Elmstead Market, Essex, England.

What kind of plants can be found in the garden?

The garden is known for its extensive collection of drought-tolerant plants, such as lavender, thyme, sedum, and various grasses.

What is special about the Courtyard Scree Garden?

The Courtyard Scree Garden is unique because it showcases plants that are well adapted to dry conditions, making it a great source of inspiration for water-wise gardening.

Can visitors explore the garden?

Yes, visitors are welcome to explore Beth Chatto's Courtyard Scree Garden. There are designated paths and trails that allow you to fully experience the beauty of the garden.

Are there guided tours available?

Yes, guided tours are available for visitors who want a more in-depth understanding of the garden's design and plants. These tours are led by knowledgeable garden experts.

Is there an entry fee for the garden?

Yes, there is an entry fee for visiting Beth Chatto's Courtyard Scree Garden. The fee helps support the maintenance and preservation of the garden.

Are there facilities available for visitors?

Yes, there are facilities available for visitors, including parking, restrooms, and a gift shop where you can purchase plants and gardening accessories.

Can I bring my own food and have a picnic in the garden?

Unfortunately, picnics are not allowed in the garden. However, there is a café on-site where you can enjoy a meal or refreshments.

Is the garden accessible for individuals with disabilities?

Yes, the garden is wheelchair accessible, with designated paths and ramps to ensure everyone can enjoy the beauty of Beth Chatto's Courtyard Scree Garden.

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