I arrived at Great Dixter on a perfect spring morning, sun shining, birds singing and everything looking fresh and green. Having arrived early I had just enough time for a wonder round the garden with fellow garden designer Pauline Wood before the day began. Both of us commented on the peacefulness of the garden and there just seemed to be a special feel about the place.
The day began with a lecture by head gardener Fergus Garrett. The lecture was held in part of the beautiful and historic house with a roaring open fire in one of the huge inglenook fireplaces, a welcome change to a conference room with fluorescent lighting! After an in depth lecture on the complexities of succession planting the one thing that stood out is that you only have to look at how nature does it to understand how it works. For example in a bluebell wood, first come the wood anemones, then the bluebells, then the trees come into leaf, then the shade loving plants like ferns appear. This simple system can be scaled down using garden plants to create a seamless continuity of colour and interest in the garden throughout the year.
We were then lucky enough to have lunch in the 15th century Great Hall, the largest surviving timber-framed hall in the country, restored by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Next on the agenda was creating a shade border using plants from the nursery. Fergus talked us through the process of placing the plants and then filling any gaps in the planting with bulbs, annuals or self sowers to ensure the border looks good all year round. We were then taken on tours of the gardens with 2 of the gardeners, it was great to hear first hand from the people working in the garden every day and get a few tips! If you're looking for a high performing tulip 'Ballerina' was recommended for its tall sturdy stem, long flowering period, small number of shorter leaves and scent.
A great day all round, can't wait to return in the summer to see the next season of plants in bloom.