If you ever have an opportunity to attend one of Great Dixter’s symposiums, take it! Great Dixter is the home of the late Christopher Lloyd, who through his writings brought vibrant, expressive color, texture and adventure into gardens all over the world. The most special example was his own. Fergus Garrett, Mr. Lloyd’s head gardener, now carries on that legacy in his own unique way. Great Dixter continues to inspire, amaze, delight and educate visitors. The symposium was a week-long immersion into horticultural life at the manor, conducted by Mr. Garrett, a charming man in his own right. He generously shared so much of his knowledgeable. Of course I chose the symposium with an emphasis on pruning. So what if it was the middle of winter? The lovely people carrying on the work at Great Dixter provided all the warmth.
After leaving Sissinghurst in late February, I spent a day at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew which is just outside London. The cold two-block walk from the Underground was through a quaint neighborhood filled with pollarded trees, espaliers and even a small plant shop with carts of flowering primrose, daffodils and pansies. The main garden exhibition, an orchid show in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, was a tropical paradise of glorious color and warmth. Elsewhere however the garden plants were as bare as could be. Perfect! Another opportunity to study great English pruning. The walled garden was lined with neatly cropped vining wisteria, lonicera, vitex and buddleia, trained to their best blooming advantage. An old wisteria curled along the ground, underplanted with blue squill, looking more like a multi-branched shrub. I could imagine the flower display! A pretty planting of red and orange-twig dogwoods, then the red-twig variety among blooming hellebores. It was gray, cold, quiet and very still. Midway through the garden, was an orangery now serving as a lovely café. The afternoon included a gentle rain, a walkway among the treetops, rhododendrons and blooming camellias, a bamboo garden, and of course the gift shop. It was overflowing with tools, silk scarves, porcelain tea sets, spring annuals and kept me occupied for over an hour. The books were surprisingly in less supply, but for that I have the wonderful NYBG shop. Had it been any other season I would never have covered Kew in one visit. But since I had a narrowed purpose to see the best pruning, I managed to cover it all. It was just enough for a winter visit.