Inspiring Gardens Series: Great Dixter

A few years ago, my faithful travel companion (that would be my mom) and I set off for England again in search of glorious gardens. The itinerary was a veritable bucket list for gardeners. We were going to Hidcote Manor (more on that in a later post), then back to London for a full day at the Chelsea Flower Show, then on to East Sussex, where we made the fantastic Rye Windmill Bed & Breakfast our home base for day excursions.

The garden I was most interested in seeing on this trip was Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson’s famed Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent (and more on that in a later post). In order to ensure we had a perfect day there, I did not solidify our plans until our last two days in the area. There was another garden I was interested in seeing, but good weather for Vita’s garden was most important. So on a Monday morning, when we had only two days left and I saw that the weather would be very fine, indeed, I announced that we would be going to Sissinghurst. I told myself that if it rained on Tuesday, we could still enjoy the other garden without regret.

Sissinghurst was as wonderful as I had hoped, and we did have a delightful day there. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the gardens were breathtaking. But the next day made me so grateful that the weather held beautifully for our last day.

From the moment we walked through the gates of Great Dixter, I was absolutely enchanted. I felt as if I couldn’t fully catch my breath and kept putting my hand to my chest. The garden is an absolute riot of flowers, all jostling for space. The word that kept coming to mind as we walked from one garden room to another was “frothy.” Everywhere we turned, we came face to face with another glorious flower combination. There were moments when the flowers were at eye level, and it felt like I had either been transformed into an insect or returned to childhood. To say that the place was inspiring is to miss the mark by quite a bit. Looking through my files, I’m shocked by the 155 photos I saved from that day, but the high number actually makes sense to me. That trip was five years ago, and I still feel blissful when I remember that place.

Great Dixter taught me two things. One lesson is that everyone has her (or his) own gardening sensibility. Some may like clean, formal gardens, and others may prefer gardens that seem to lack restraint. I thought I was of the formal garden sort until I saw Great Dixter. Now I know that I just love a garden teeming with flowers—the more, the better.

The other thing I learned is that it’s best just to pack plants in cheek to jowl and choose everything that strikes my fancy. Let the plants help each other to stand up, and maybe encourage a little competition among them to show off as much as possible. After all, flowers make us happy. Why not have all of them? For a few dollars, we can buy a couple packets of seeds and create a real sense of abundance.

Maybe that’s the better word for the feeling that Great Dixter fosters—abundance. And that, is very inspiring, indeed.

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