Many of us who are avid and long-time fans of Beth Chatto’s garden and her Unusual Plants Nursery will always remember that she won 10 consecutive Gold Medals at the Chelsea flower show.
Her legacy is a garden she created which is unlike any other in the UK and abroad: it is unique.
Dr Catherine Horwood, Beth Chatto’s authorised biographer, introduced Beth Chatto to members and guests via last Monday evening’s Zoom meeting.
The talk was about Beth Chatto’s personal life and the influences that led to the garden’s creation. We learned that she happily gardened alongside her parents and had her own garden patch of cottage garden flowers. And we know that her hobby as a flower arranger as a young woman hugely influenced her interest in plant forms, textures and colours.
Dr Horwood described Beth Chatto as ‘tough’ and ‘steely’, and she must have been extremely determined from a young age, as she trained as a teacher during WW2, instead of taking the usual route of joining the Forces. An advantageous marriage to a fruit farmer, Andrew Chatto, with a life-long interest in plant ecology, set the stage for the purchase of land at Elmstead Market and the garden that followed.
But why did Beth Chatto design the garden the way she did? We know she was influenced by the terrain and various soil conditions, in addition to a natural spring at the lower level. How did her design of a ‘necklace of ponds’ separated by very narrow water channels come about? We know she was influenced by her friend and mentor, Cedric Morris in those early days and Beth Chatto acknowledges the huge debt to her husband at the start of her book, ‘The Dry Garden’, in which she states: “Without Andrew neither my garden nor a book would have been possible”.
Dr Catherine Horwood is an English journalist, author and social historian who has written extensively on horticulture and garden design and is the authorised biographer of Beth Chatto. A keen gardener for over thirty years, Catherine has created three gardens that have been open through the National Gardens Scheme and was for many years an organiser for the NGS. Her Facebook page gives you links to her other work on women gardeners, growing houseplants and you can check out her blog on growing vegetables. Her book on Beth Chatto won European Garden Book of the Year in 2020.