Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to see Anna Pavord and Fergus Garrett recalling their memories of the Amazing Plantsman Christopher Lloyd.
I followed Christopher Lloyd’s writing in the Guardian on Saturday for some years before and up until his death in February 2006. In fact it was at Great Dixter whilst organising tulip bulbs that I decided to retrain and become a gardener. I think Christopher Lloyd was the greatest plantsman of our time and a fascinating character. I feel very strongly that Christopher was not only ground breaking for his time but also had the rare quality of gardening instinctively and not worrying if he went against the grain. To watch modern gardeners such as Toby Buckley, Charlie Dimmock and Diarmuid Gavin churning out the same old ideas that are low maintenance and don’t support the local flora and forna, there was none of that with Christopher. Christopher Lloyd gardened with a deep passion and knowledge, not forgetting good old fashioned hard work. Modern gardens have become so bland and monotonous, Great Dixter stands proud of that. Christopher was his own man with no rules and restrictions. He wasn’t frightened to try something and if it didn’t work he would experiment again. This is how his garden evolved from a classic Lutyens arts and crafts garden to its current magnificence.
Christopher Lloyd started writing in 1957 and wrote for Country Life, The Garden, The Guardian as well as many of his own books including “The Well Tempered Garden” and “Successional Planting for Adventurous Gardeners”. He also taught at Wye College. Christopher Lloyd moved gardens out of flat pastel planting schemes into bold block colour schemes with reds, pinks and oranges in the same borders. He was also the pioneer of tropical planting, something that is taken for granted now. Christopher believed a garden was an area of theatre and performance, an area to combine vibrant block planting with naturalistic self seeding.
Christopher hated the word subtle and all it represented. He was attracted to strong, adventurous and exciting people. He was a generous, hospitable and articulate host who filled his house with any who caught his eye and accepted his invitation. He corresponded regularly with gardeners and students with a love of horticulture and a freeness and eloquence of language. He used to play plant charades with his house guests, bursting into the kitchen, pulling a pose and shouting “What am I?”
For those interested in gardening, may I highly recommend Great Dixter. The entrance with the meadow pathway is stunning. They have made some wonderful changes to the beautiful 18th centurycountry house. When Fergus first started working with Christopher Lloyd, they decided to dig up a traditional (but diseased) Rose garden and replace it with a late summer/ autumn tropical border.
The Garden Museum in London have organised an exhibition of Christopher’s work and writings. The exhibition runs till September 12th, see my links page for the website. It’s a great insight into a truly great plantsman and writer
I can happily wax lyrical about Christo for quite a while so I will leave you with an anecdote from Fergus Garrett.
Christopher Lloyd was visiting a derelict house and garden. He noticed an unusual Bamboo in the garden and started digging it up. Before long a security guard appeared. Christopher turned to him and said “Can I help you?”The guard replied “Can I help you?” Christopher replied” Is this your bamboo?” The guard confirmed it was.”It’s very badly looked after” Christopher said whilst continuing to dig it up.
It’s clear to see from Fergus and Anna’s recollections that Christo held a very special place in their hearts. It was great to get such a wonderful insight into such a fantastic man gardener who regularly broke the mould.