Thoughts of gardens have been preoccupying me this week. I have been thinking about literal and metaphorical planting of seeds in imagined gardens.
I have been reading about the gardens at Great Dixter, Northiam, East Sussex. My story starts there in 1910 with the purchase of the house by Nathaniel Lloyd and and the delightfully named Daisy Field.
The gardens flourished from that time, first under Daisy’s vision and thereafter through her son Christopher Lloyd (Christo).
Great Dixter House was restored under the supervision of Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Influences: planting seeds
What fascinates me about the garden design and annual cycles at Great Dixter is the openness of Daisy and Christo to others’ ideas.
Daisy was interested in William Robinson‘s thought and practice of gardening. In 1870, William wrote in The Wild Garden:
My object is… to show how we may, without losing the better features of the mixed bedding or any other system, follow one infinitely superior to any now practised, yet supplementing both, and exhibiting more of the varied beauty of hardy flowers than the most ardent admirer of the old style of garden ever dreams of. We may do this by naturalizing or making wild innumerable beautiful natives of many regions of the earth in our woods, wild and semi-wild places, rougher parts of pleasure grounds, etc, and in unoccupied places in almost every kind of garden.
Sorrel Everton says of this approach:
At the time such ideas were almost unheard of. The Victorian garden day was a place of carefully refined order, striking colours and exuberant displays that spoke of pioneering plantsmanship, power and influence.
Christo was attracted to the ideas of Gertrude Jekyll and Vita-Sackville West.
Christo shared his thoughts on gardening for the best part of fifty years. His first book was published in 1957. He wrote a weekly column for Country Life for forty years.
Christo worked closely with a young head gardener at Great Dixter, Fergus Garrett, to innovate in design and practice. Together they planned and planted their sub-tropical garden that replaced a rose garden of ‘miserable and unsatisfactory shrubs’.
Christo died in 2006. Fergus was interviewed in 2008 after two years of caring for the garden shaped by Daisy and developed by Christo.
… the reality is that I miss him immensely. I miss his wicked sense of humour. I miss his tenacity; I miss his doggedness in focusing on the garden and making sure that nothing else got in the way. I miss his fragility, and I miss the relationship we had between young and old. I even miss those “prickly” moments when one had to tread carefully. Christo was terrifying to many, but I will remember him as a good-humoured man with a big heart, who was genuinely interested in people.
He was, above all, a wonderfully creative, free-spirited gardener. I admired his ability to be adventurous and fashion the atypical. He didn’t do things to shock (although he did capitalise on people’s reactions in his articles), and it wasn’t a case of “chuck it all in and see what happens”. It was freedom to express one’s thoughts – pure innovation. Everything was considered, and if it didn’t work, it was changed.
In our partnership we shared all, and our successes far outshone our mistakes.
Planting a Tradition
I wondered if coach education study tours might consider visiting gardens rather than (or in addition to) sport organisations. Great Dixter is just one of many remarkable stories about design and the transformation of practice. It is a wonderful story of a century in the life of a garden.
I am fascinated by Great Dixter’s continuity planning (and planting). Christo’s practice evolved from his mother’s oversight. Fergus worked with Christo for fifteen years.
Through Christo and Daisy, Fergus is connected to the gardens at Gravetye Manor (William Robinson), Munstead Wood (Gertrude Jekyll) and Sissinghurst (Vita-Sackville West).
I wondered too if sport club owners and boards might take a long-term view of coach flourishing. Imagine sharing the experience of a Great Dixter garden in ways that gave everyone hope and joy.
Daisy, Christo and Fergus have encouraged me to think about the epistemology and ontology each of us brings to our own practice and the ways we see the world. Embedded (sic) within the Long Border at Great Dixter is a wonderful catalyst for discussing what a tradition might look like for coaches and those who will be coached by them.
I think there are powerful lessons about success and failure too that might help us with our sense of perspective about learning. It is for this reason that I chose ‘sewing’ rather than ‘sowing’ for the title of this post. I have a sense of bringing things together and connecting them as a creative process.
Great Dixter Gardens (UK Garden Photos, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Gravetye Manor (Rictor Norton and Dave Allen, CC BY 2.0)
Nathaniel and Daisy Lloyd (Great Dixter website)
View over Sissinghurst Castle Gardens (Gabrielle Ludlow, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)