We were inspired to visit Great Dixter again by the programme about it in the BBC’s Gardens in Time series. The episode is on i-player until 27 April.
Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006), who made the garden, was a radical among gardeners. He emphasisied form and introduced unfashionable colour clashes. Would anyone before Lloyd have put pinks and oranges together? I don’t know, but because of him it’s now OK. He enraged readers of Country Life by telling them that he’d dug up the rose garden and replaced it with a garden of exotics. April isn’t the time for exotics and we’ll have to go back in high summer, but even this early in the year there are powerful colours, like the bed with lilac coloured tulips, sky blue forget-me-nots and acid green euphorbias, or the trade mark collection of pots by the house door with all the bright things in season put boldly together.
The Lloyds bought the medieval house before the First World War and got Edwin Lutyens to make an extension. He made the old house look more Arts and Crafts by adding tall chimneys. Through the influence of Gertrude Jekyll, there’s a link to the Arts and Crafts Movement in the garden as well – though Lloyd’s planting has superseded her style.
Like all good gardens, Great Dixter is made against a good structure, much of it created by the topiary yews, which stand big and black against the sky. The house is also a foil and also makes good shapes. The garden is now under the direction of Fergus Garrett, who worked closely with Lloyd for many years.
There are things for a ceramist here as well as shapes and colours. Dixter sells superb flowerpots from the Whichford Pottery, where Jim and Dominique Keeling have made a study of historic garden pots. And Lloyd was also a collector of Alan Caiger-Smith’s pottery, some of which is on display in the house.