If there are two gardens I would recommend visiting it would be Monet’s Garden in France and Great Dixter in East Sussex.
They offer very contrasting styles and designs but the planting is equally as dramatic.
They may be hundreds of miles apart but they make for amazing days out learning not just about ways of increasing seasonal interest through the choice of plants but also the mindset of the two visionary but very different men behind the designs.
Starting in England, Great Dixter has the garden it is today because of horticulturist and author Christopher Lloyd, who wrote regular gardening columns for The Guardian and Country Life
A brief history: Great Dixter is in Northiam, East Sussex, and was built in 1910–12 by architect Edwin Lutyens whose work with Gertrude Jekyll was at the heart of the arts and crafts movement.
Christopher’s father Nathanial Lloyd commissioned Lutyens to restore the buildings and set out the framework of the garden.
Lutyens designed the garden in the manner of cottage gardens but on a grander scale using curves (such as found in the yew hedges) as well as straight lines.
Over the years Christopher Lloyd who died in 2006 altered some of the original plantings and designs by Lutyens using his own style of planting and original mixture of colours.
A natural look has also been achieved, as many of the plants are self-sown.
The gardens consist of series of small gardens surrounding the manor, connecting with each other in the manner of rooms in a house.
Christopher’s style of planting and maintaining a garden is probably more widely copied now than any other. I much prefer Great Dixter to neighbouring Sissinghurst in Kent as it has a more free flowing style.
The topiary is particularly impressive but was in fact Nathanial’s contribution and Christopher admitted to not being particularly keen on the topiary. I love topiary so Great Dixter’s topiary lawn, particularly appeals to me.
What I particularly liked about the garden is its fantastic mix between formal and informal. It feels very natural as you wander along the paths which create small corridors of planting magic.
The sheer volume of planting in the herbaceous borders and contrasting colours which change though out the seasons are stunning. The seasons are extended by the use of key shrubs such as Dahlias and large-leaved exotics: Cannas, Hedychiums (gingers) and Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ (a tender banana.)
Great Dixter is my idea of what a real English garden should be about.
Located in the small Normandy town of Giverny, Monet’s house and gardens are like a work of art. Looking back over my photos of the maze of tulips it almost looked as though they could have been painted in by the master painter himself.
These beautiful gardens inspired French impressionist Claude Monet’s, most famous works including the Water Lilies.
He lived there from 1883 to his death in 1926.
I went to Giverny in mid-May and found the intensities of colours awe inspiring.
The formal use of rectangular beds in front of the impressive house with its striking green shutters is in direct contrast with informal planting scheme.
The Japanese inspired water garden with its Lily pond was developed by Monet three years after moving to Giverny.
He had a bridge built across the river and surrounded it with weeping willows, wisterias and bamboo. The result was so inspiring he created his ‘Japanese Bridge’ series of paintings.
I was expecting the visual experience but not the noise. The gardens were packed but the sound wasn’t human but coming from toads preforming mating rituals which brought the pond alive.
Play the Sounds of Toads in Monet’s Garden
Monet wasn’t a horticulturist but the framework of the gardens were developed by him and he even created varieties of irises and roses which are both dominant features in the garden.
The main garden is covered by iron arches which are bedecked by roses in the summer.
Flowers bloom one after another so that the garden changes gradually with the seasons while keeping its colours and brightness.
Tulips are replaced by Irises, and Peonies followed by Verbena, and Rudbeckia, along with sunflowers (of course) and the season is extended with Dahlias also used at Great Dixter and Monet’s amazing pink water lilies last right throughout until August.
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