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Cranleigh DFAS visits
Great Dixter House and Gardens

A visit to Christopher Lloyd’s garden had been on my “wish list” for a long time, and so the opportunity of letting a coach take the strain with CDFAS was irresistible.  We made the trip on 17th May, and were fortunate to experience good weather – unlike much of the rest of the south east of England.

Great Dixter was bought by Nathaniel Lloyd in 1910, for the princely sum of 6,000.  Edwin Lutyens was responsible for the redesign of the house and subsequently the gardens.  A head gardener was appointed, and planting commenced, devised primarily by Nathaniel’s wife, Daisy.  Their youngest son Christopher, who had qualified in ornamental horticulture in 1946, assumed responsibility for the Great Dixter planting from his mother, and his is the name associated with the gardens.

Christopher’s planting style was based primarily on contrasts rather than harmonies, although with attention to foliage and structure, in the manner of Gertrude Jekyll, to whom he had been introduced as a child.  There is a history of experimentation with the planting, not always successful, but chances were taken and new ideas introduced.  Great Dixter is a garden of depth and layers, not formalised, but with swathes of colours.

We had a wonderful guide to accompany us around the gardens; a young man who had come for 2 weeks, but stayed for 2 years and is still in residence.  He explained the rationale behind the various gardens, and the logic behind not mowing the wild meadows.  The famous Long Border, the High and Orchard Gardens, the Walled and Sunken Gardens, the Blue Garden; all were exceptional to me.

Whilst the House was interesting, the gardens will remain as the source of greatest pleasure for me.  The colours, the mix of plants which one would not necessarily expect, the cascades of colours and foliage, all were of the highest quality.  Mention must be made of the current head gardener, Fergus Garrett, who was appointed by Christopher Lloyd 20 years before his death, and who is still in charge of the management of the gardens.

It is not easy to describe the effect of the gardens, and a visit is recommended; I will certainly return.

En route for home, we visited All Saints’ Church in Tudeley, famous for the stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall.  Exactly why he became involved in these designs, in a small church in a somewhat remote location, is a mystery to me, but they were certainly of great interest – some vividly coloured windows, others of more subtle tones.

All in all a most successful day, and thanks, as ever, to Gwen for her organisation.

Text by Philip Akroyd

Photos by John Wright

More photos ...

of Great Dixter

and All Saints’ Church, Tudeley