There is an ageless quality about the Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead, Essex, something about them which is perennially attractive and pleasing. Though all gardens are a contrivance, Beth Chatto’s hand ensured the contrivance was never noticed, that all appeared perfectly natural, perfectly comfortable, perfectly right. This was her great skill, that of selecting and placing plants so they not only appeared effortlessly at home but had in fact been planted in the position which best suited them and in which they thrived – “the right plant in the right place”
That little phrase, the right plant in the right place, remains strongly associated with the late Beth Chatto and epitomises her approach to gardening, an approach of doing the simple things extraordinarily well, of paying attention to the plants, their habits, requirements and best companions. There was never a need for extravagant hard landscaping in her gardens; it would have clashed with her naturalistic design approach. Indeed, what often struck me in Beth Chatto’s garden is that it gave a feeling that this was possible, that it was something achievable, that it was a result within the reach of the home gardener. Of course, her many books were indispensable reading for admirers of her work and Green Tapestry – Perennial Plants for Your Garden, first published in 1989, was essential reading. The kernel at the centre of Green Tapestry was that her plant selections and plantings were based on ecological principles, that plants prefer to grow in an environment similar to their natural conditions in the wild – an approach adapted from studies her husband, Andrew, had made of wild flowers.
Now, over thirty years since Green Tapestry was first published, we have an updated and revised edition with additional material from David Ward and Asa Gregers-Warg, who both worked for many years with Beth Chatto and continue to work in the gardens today and we also have a complete new set of photographs to illustrate this updated edition from Steven Wooster who also worked with Beth Chatto on many of her projects. The gardens have changed over the years since first begun in the 1960s and since the publication of the original Green Tapestry in 1989. There have been major developments, such as the Woodland, Gravel and Reservoir Gardens, but also the normal and anticipated reworkings and changes made to already established areas, and these are covered in this new edition with insightful and informative comment from David Ward and Asa Gregers-Warg. Indeed, the editing of the work is of such a high standard that the additional material slips in seamlessly with the original writing, complimenting and updating it perfect.
Beth Chatto’s Principles of Planting is an introductory chapter in the book and also a consistent thread running through the book with her emphasis on an ecological and sustainable approach and her strong leaning towards favouring foliage more than flower in plant selection and, of course, on putting the right plant in the right place. The main sections of the book deal with various areas in the garden: The Gravel Garden, Water Garden, Open Walks, Shade Gardens, Reservoir Garden, Woodland Garden, Scree Garden and Other Areas of Interest and is followed by a substantial Plant Directory, a representative selection of the very best performers in the garden.
It has been a pleasure to read again Beth Chatto’s original words and to be brought back to memories of visiting her gardens and of being in a very special place, a garden which felt so perfectly natural, the work of a great gardening artist and plantsperson. No other garden has ever appealed so much to me and this book is an excellent tribute.
[Beth Chatto’s Green Tapestry Revisited, A Guide to a Sustainably Planted Garden, Beth Chatto, David Ward and Asa Gregers-Warg, Berry &Co, London, 2021, Hardback, 256pages, £30,ISBN: 978-1-9999631-6-3]