Last June, my mother and I traveled to England to celebrate my recent graduation from landscape architecture school. We planned our trip around the Chelsea Flower Show and a handful of gardens we’d long dreamt of seeing.
While England has a reputation for being proper and old-fashioned, its gardens are anything but. Many of today’s most lauded landscapes were designed during the Edwardian era, embodying a rebelliousness that was first promoted by William Robinson as a rejection of Victorian formality. Sissinghurst and Great Dixter, two gardens established around that time, capture this wild spirit. (Their designers, Vita Sackville-West and Christopher Lloyd, respectively, were rebellious characters in their own right.)
Beth Chatto Garden reflects a more contemporary design than Sissinghurst and Great Dixter, featuring a variety of conditions like a dry garden and a woodland garden, all designed with a loose, informal aesthetic. Even the Chelsea Flower Show, away from the tight arrangements of mums, exhibited gardens that mimicked the unkempt beauty of nature. Garden design in England has such a long history, it’s no surprise they are ahead of America in their understanding the visual appeal of the wild landscape.
While I may never be able to replicate the dense borders of Great Dixter, I was excited to see California native Ceanothus used profusely there. The layout of the garden rooms, the layering of plant material, and the passion for horticulture continues to inspire, and I return to these images for inspiration for my home garden.