The site had very low rainfall, forcing the Chattos to design a garden that would thrive in dry conditions.The core of the original garden was built around unusual plants, unfamiliar to many British gardeners.This area comes as a huge surprise in dry Essex after walking through the entrance Gravel Garden.Inspired by a dried-up river bed in New Zealand, Beth Chatto designed and planted this 3/4 acre of gravel and sand using plants adapted to drought, an experiment begun over 20 years ago, to see what survives without irrigation and help gardeners who have hosepipe bans.The soil ranged from coarse gravel on the upper slopes to clay in a long wet hollow fed by springs. Over the past 50 years seven acres have been transformed into diverse and beautifully landscaped gardens.A spring-fed ditch was dammed to form several ponds around which water gardens offer a home for damp-loving plants.Besides the actual gardens, the property has a cafe where you can enjoy light refreshment, a gift shop and an outstanding nursery. Chatto is now 87 years old and intimately involved in the running of the place, but she does have “staff” and a head gardener.I have a staff of me and maybe a reluctant husband once in a while.
And though I love tending it, I love visiting the gardens of others even more.Visitors cannot fail to be affected by the peace and beauty of the garden. Ecological communities are governed by prevailing conditions, giving rise to variation such as dry or damp grasslands, woodlands, mountain plants or bog plants.We have a large Tearoom overlooking the Gravel Garden and nursery, offering homemade breakfasts, lunches and teas. From these communities come many of our garden plants.The reservoir garden, built on debris from the neighbouring farmer’s lake and now looking rather Eighties, is due for a facelift and will become a living catalogue for many of the new plants grown in the nursery.Only the scree garden, near the house and packed full of favourite sedums, sempervivums and alpines, is a disappointment.