Beth Chatto: A Life with Plants – A Review

Beth Chatto Book Cover

There is a photograph of Beth Chatto on page 8 of this book, a black and white photograph, which I imagine is of her in her forties. She has that lean-towards-the-camera pose which was so typical of her. Her bright smile and enthusiastic face light the shot; her hair is in a short, neat perm and she is wearing a neat, elegant yet practical blouse and knee-length skirt. There is a gold watch on her left wrist; she is holding what might be a key fob while sitting on a garden bench and showing, not quite cut off by the framing of the photograph, are the tops of her wellington boots. It is the image of the public figure yet reveals the dogged hard work and determination which brought her success. It is a revealing photograph and this biography is equally revealing.

Newly-weds Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Chatto
Newly-weds Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Chatto
Andrew and Beth at Col de Sevi, Corsica, July 1951
Andrew and Beth at Col de Sevi, Corsica, July 1951

Beth Chatto has been one of the most influential British gardeners and plants women of the past hundred years. Her garden has charmed us and her books have informed us – The Dry Garden, The Damp Garden, Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden – there were eight in total. She went to the Chelsea Flower Show, winning ten Gold Medals and later pioneered the development of dry gardens, those which did not require any irrigation, and her planting philosophy “Right plant – right place” is both simple and profound and will continue to influence how we garden for some considerable time.

Beth Chatto First Chelsea Gold Medal 1977
Beth Chatto with her first Chelsea Gold Medal, 1977

 

Throughout the 1970s Beth kept up a rigorous programme of flower arranging demonstrations to promote the garden and nursery.
Throughout the 1970s Beth kept up a rigorous programme of flower arranging demonstrations to promote the garden and nursery.

Behind the public persona, as might be expected, there are other facets of her life and character never previously shown to the public and these are revealed in this book. Indeed, this is a book more about the private person than the public personality though both are intrinsically intertwined. Throughout her life, Beth Chatto, kept a daily journal as well as individual notebooks for special occasions, talking travels abroad, holidays etc.

Beth Chatto with Christopher Lloyd who shared a fascination with plants.
Beth Chatto with Christopher Lloyd who shared a fascination with plants.
At Great Dixter with Christopher Lloyd and Tulipa.
At Great Dixter with Christopher Lloyd and Tulipa.

The Garden Museum hosted a Beth Chatto exhibition in 2008 which was “such a success that it persuaded Christopher Woodward that the museum ought to be collecting archives of great horticultural figures such as Beth.” When he approached Beth Chatto with this project she helped generously with fund-raising and was one of the first, along with John Brookes and Penelope Hobhouse, to donate her archive. Catherine Horwood had full access to this archive; was authorised by Beth Chatto to write to write her biography and had many interviews with her – all the ingredients to give an excellent insight into her subject and she does this with sympathy yet without brushing what might be considered the less than pleasant aspects under the carpet. It is an informative, interesting and eye-opening biography and a very enjoyable read.

[Beth Chatto: A Life with Plants, Catherine Horwood, Pimpernel Press, 2019, Hardback, 288 pages, £30, ISBN: 978-1-910258-82-8]

Kniphofia 'Little Maid' one of the most successful introductions from the Beth Chatto Nursery.
Kniphofia ‘Little Maid’ one of the most successful introductions from the Beth Chatto Nursery.
Pulmonaria rubra 'David Ward' discovered in the garden, an introduction from the Beth Chatto nursery named for
Pulmonaria rubra ‘David Ward’ discovered in the garden, an introduction from the Beth Chatto nursery named for David Ward who is in charge of the nursery.
Plan of the Beth Chatto Gardens.
Plan of the Beth Chatto Gardens.

7 thoughts on “Beth Chatto: A Life with Plants – A Review

  1. I tried to preorder this but Amazon has this message “This item requires special handling and cannot be shipped to your selected location.” Not sure what that means. I have ordered books from England before & never had a problem.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s