How to garden the Great Dixter way


The exuberant container displays in Great Dixter’s Mosaic Garden offer a design course in themselves. Garrett considers a notebook an essential tool for studying gardens—others or your own. Christopher Lloyd always had a notebook stuffed in a pocket of his bedraggled sport coat, and he would not divulge a plant’s name unless he saw you prepared to write it down in your own. photo courtesy of Great Dixter House & Gardens.

Great Dixter offers a mixture of courses for gardeners of all levels who want to learn the concepts of Dixter-style gardening, and how to put them into action in their own gardens. Dominique Browning, ex-editor of House and Garden magazine, wrote of her 2011 symposium at Great Dixter, “To spend a week gardening there is to enter a magical dimension in a nurturing place, grounded in rich legacy, enthralling beauty, and the bright companionability of growing flowers and sharing them with the world. Dixter is a place that shows you how a garden can be the work of a lifetime, and how a lifetime can be immeasurably enhanced by coursing along with the rhythms of the seasons.”

Symposiums, Study Days, & Lectures

Dixter presents four week-long symposia every year. Groups of 8 -12 attendees attend classes in the historic Great Dixter house with Garrett and other experts; work in the garden on seasonally-focused subjects—pruning, planting, potting up seedlings, weeding—and take field trips to nearby gardens such as Sissinghurst and the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley.

Fergus Garrett, head of the Great Dixter garderns, also teaches a series of Study Days—a full day of lectures and in-the-garden demonstrations on subjects such as techniques for expanding the length of your season, meadow gardening, and integrating bulbs into the garden.

Garrett and other Great Dixter staff members present online lectures (via zoom), covering topics such as layering in the garden, growing vegetables in pots, and self-sowers and bedding plants. Past talks are available on Vimeo:  (For full-length lectures, check the on-demand link.) Upcoming lectures are announced via email.

Books by Christopher Lloyd

  • “The Well-Tempered Garden,” published in 1970, offers a blend of ideas and instruction on a host of gardening topics. Short, pithy essays cover everything from plant spacing to feeding to pruning to the management of ornamental pots. Timeless and essential.
  • “Succession Planting for Year-round Pleasure” (1994), a lavishly illustrated volume that looks at the plants and design techniques to create a garden with four-season interest.
  • “Color in the Garden” (2001) explores the spectrum, from red (“nothing to fear”) to black (“sophisticated”). The book includes extensive photography showing the range of shades within a color and illustrating how different colors can be used together.
  • “Exotic Planting for Adventurous Gardeners” (2007) is based on the Exotic Garden that Lloyd and Garrett planted after happily ripping out a rose garden. It looks at the plants and combinations that can produce “hot and steamy” effects in any climate.
  • “Meadows” (2016), a revision of Lloyd’s 2004 volume. This expanded edition (with a long introduction by Garrett) offers an in-depth look at the intricate ecology of wild meadows and how to apply them in the home landscape.

The epitome of a mixed border, Dixter’s Long Border (200’ X 15’), shown in April with a bulb display of blue camassias and red Jan Reus tulips, is a perfect classroom for learning this gardening style. Christopher Lloyd studied the border daily, and loved critiquing the plantings with visitors, as does his protege, Fergus Garrett. photo courtesy of Great Dixter House & Gardens.

© 2020 Thomas C. Cooper, all rights reserved. Under exclusive license to Craftsmanship, LLC. Unauthorized copying or republication of this article is prohibited by law.

Published: May 12, 2020