27 September 2008
Beth Chatto is a celebrated gardener, and her garden, near Colchester, is of world renown, and is perhaps our favourite work of art; certainly in the category of horticulture.
Beth Chatto Garden is perhaps defined by what it is not. We once lived in Kingston upon Thames and frequently made evening visits to Hampton Court Palace Gardens on summer evenings when the palace had closed and the tourists had departed. We then had the most privileged view of a formal historic garden and we recall the extravagance of the multi-million pound budget that was laid on for our own exclusive pleasure at the taxpayers’ expense. Now they charge a fortune for that pleasure which was once free to all.
Beth Chatto Garden has no such Henry Vlll budget, and neither has it a formal quality, but the informality is nevertheless artfully and carefully and lovingly and painstakingly deliberate without appearing to be contrived.
Beth Chatto garden is ostensibly a private garden opened to the public. Her modest house is within the garden, and defies the scale and the splendour of the garden it inhabits.
It somehow remains a homely garden even though the garden seems to perpetually expand taking in and cultivating yet more ground that seems to be forever available for further expansion. This was our third visit in ten years and we have noted the expansion of the garden into the woodland area, that would seem to demand yet more challenging horticulture.
We made our way about the perimeter of this new area to investigate what was happening and momentarily lost our way. We came upon an elderly lady who was attending to the garden, weeding and tinkering. I asked her to direct us which she did, and Mrs Monk whispered that this was in fact a hands-on Beth Chatto, working her own garden.
It occurred to me that this woman was somehow driven by a disproportionate burden, just as I appear to be whilst writing this diary for no apparent reward: but why on earth would Beth Chatto put in the manual labour when there is a car park full of paying visitors, and a garden centre and a restaurant serving tea and scones, that would pay for an army of workers to do what she was doing apparently single-handedly?
And of course this web site has no fragrant borders and I have no wheelbarrow.