Beth Chatto’s Garden Notebook

As Heard on The Daily Gardener Podcast:

Copy of Grow That #Garden Library (3)

Beth's book was a monthly record of everything she did in her garden. Her chapters covered the garden, but also bits of her life. From a personal standpoint, Beth shared her successes as well as her failures. She was a business owner and ran a garden center, and she also showed a garden at Chelsea, which was a tremendous thrill but also an incredible amount of work.
Beth gardened for over four decades, and she appreciated the time-factor of gardening and the patience required to grow a garden and grow into a good gardener. She wrote:
"As certain of our plants take many years to mature, so it takes a long time to grow a genuine plantsman. Those of us who have been at it longest know that one lifetime is not half enough, once you become aware of the limitless art of gardening."
Here's an excerpt from her chapter on January. Beth's talking about a mass planting of shrubs that appeared less-than-enticing in the winter landscape:
"I remember several years ago… suddenly feeling very dissatisfied with a group of shrubs which had not faulted when they were full of leaf (and, for a few weeks, blossom) during the summer. But now, leafless and with nothing distinguished about their habit of growth, the whole patch looked muddled, formless and lifeless.
By removing some of it, planting a holly and Mahonia among the rest together with vigorous sheaves of the evergreen Iris foetidissima ("FOY-ta-dis-EMMA")'Citrina' nearby and patches of small-leafed ivies as ground cover, the picture became much more interesting in winter and now forms a better background to the summer carnival which passes before it."
In her book, Beth writes in conversation with the reader. In January, she asks:
"If you look out of your favorite window now, are you satisfied with the view? Does it lack design? Would a small-leafed, narrowly pyramidal Holly do anything for it, and how many plants can you see which remain green -or grey, or bronze -throughout the winter, furnishing the bare soil at ground level?"
Finally, Beth begins her chapter on February with a word about how, for many nursery owners and landscapers, this time of year can feel overwhelming as the full weight of the season's work is anticipated. Beth also acknowledged how difficult it was for her to write during the garden season. This is a common challenge for garden writers who are too busy gardening in the summer to write but then can find less inspiration to write in the winter without their gardens.
"This morning, I awoke to hear the grandfather clock striking 4 a.m. and was immediately alert, all my present commitments feverishly chasing themselves through my head. Apart from a garden I have foolishly agreed to plan, there is the Chelsea Flower Show nudging more and more insistently as the weeks rush towards May. Usually, I have a nucleus of large plants and shrubs in containers that provide an established looking background. [But] the sudden severe weather in January has killed off several of my old plants. I have no frost-free place large enough to protect them all; in normal winters, a plastic-covered tunnel has been sufficient.
Another commitment is this notebook, which has been fermenting in my mind for several months. I would like to write it, to record some of the ups and downs of a nursery garden, but my one fear is not finding time to write decently. Even keeping up a scrappy diary becomes difficult as the sap rises."


"If you have a garden, a garden podcast, and a library,
you have everything you need."

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