Peeling back the layers at Great Dixter

On Saturday it was the Great Dixter plant sale.  I have never visited Dixter so early in the season, generally visiting for the tulips in late spring, and again in the summer, for the dahlias and annuals.

Great Dixter (in East Sussex but near the border with Kent) was the home of the late Christopher Lloyd, and is now orchestrated by his collaborator Fergus Garrett.  The gardens are known for exuberant colour through the seasons, tropical, jungly, lush plantings, stagings of bulb theatres, Lutyens landscaping, topiary in and amongst wildflower meadows, and sausage dogs.

This was also an opportunity to meet a few fellow garden bloggers for cake.

It was a sunshine-and-showers sort of a day, but luckily, far more sunshine than showers.  This is the view as you enter the gardens:


It’s the first of many meadows, currently filled with wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) and a smattering of snakeshead fritillaries (Fritillaria milleagris).

I forgot to mention the house.  It is part 15th Century, with another 15th Century house moved (yes moved) from nearby Benenden in 1910, and the two joined together.


I am used to seeing a profusion of colour here, but today there were pots of conifers, organically spilling from the house and clipped (box? yew?  I forgot to examine!) I’m going to go for box.

But don’t worry, because there were glorious spillages of colour.  Like here:


Two varieties kept catching my eye.  First this dark Muscari (sorry, label just said ‘Muscari’):


And then this Tulip ‘Light and Dreamy’.  I had to google this one, because the label appeared to say ‘Luyhtond Dneamy’.  Thank you to the couple puzzling over the label who were able to interpret the ‘dreamy’ bit.

After a quick coffee, we perused the stalls at the plant fair,

img_6840and caressed some reconditioned garden tools.


Then we scampered off to the gardens for a bit.  It is not quite tulip time, but there was this one, ‘Orange Emperor’:

Tulipa ‘Orange Emporer’

In a couple of weeks, this part of the high garden will be a sea of tulips.  Which is why I bought an annual pass (it’s your turn next time, mum!)

Because the last time I visited Dixter was high summer, I was amazed to find it looking so low-to-the-ground.  This seems obvious now: much of the planting is herbaceous perennials, annuals, bulbs and tubers, so of course it would be low-to-the-ground in April.   Here is the long border, on the cusp of bursting with tulips:


I sometimes worry about the lack of structure in my flowerbeds, but if it works for Dixter, it works for me.  Also interesting is the way the planting areas are laid out with bamboo canes:

I’m guessing there is going to be a lot of support needed for the lush growth to come.  By June this will be towering over visitors’ heads.  The sense of enclosure and having to part curtains of flowers and foliage is what I love about Dixter.

Speaking of structure, look at the surgical trussing here, in the Exotic Garden:


I’m guessing that there is a tree fern or banana in there, mummified in straw.  Imagine the trepidation of unwrapping it!  Like the tension in the Blue Peter studio when the tortoises were disinterred.

Still on structure, we have to do the barn.


And views of the house, moat and oasts:



Is this where I get my love of wobbly lines?

I would share a picture of garden bloggers eating cake, but that wasn’t taken on my phone.  The sun came out and it was warm enough to peel back the layers.  Which is how it felt visiting Dixter in early spring.

I will be back in a couple of weeks to chart the change.

[You can see the changes here: A Perfect Day at Great DixterBrushing past at Great Dixter, Read this post if you want to WAKE UP!!! and Will this post calm me down?]

31 Comments Add yours

  1. Susan Beard. says:

    It’s 8:30 Monday morning, already feel like I’ve had a day out. Ha. Thanks. x

  2. janesmudgeegarden says:

    What a beautiful ‘spillage’ that is. I can only imagine what it will be like when the tulips bloom. Thank you for the walk around Great Dixter, Ali.

    1. Ali says:

      It’s like the magic porridge pot, isn’t it? Or leaving the washing machine door open with too many soap suds!

  3. annpappas says:

    It’s so beautiful!

    1. Ali says:

      It really is, isn’t it Ann? What a setting.

  4. You had me at ‘plant sales’ and ‘cake’ 🙂

  5. pommepal says:

    Now tell me how many plants did you buy?

    1. Ali says:

      I was weirdly well-behaved. I don’t have any gaps!

      1. pommepal says:

        Well you can always pull some old ones out!!!

      2. Ali says:

        True! I do have a ruthlesss streak!

  6. We have an annual plant sale at one of the local community colleges. All plants for sale were grown either from seed or grafts by students in the horticultural program. I took a few classes some years ago and learned a ton. The must have plant every year is African Blue Basil. It’s a stunning plant and the bees go crazy, which is why I never end up using the basil! As far as I know it can only be propagated. But I will check with them in early May.

    1. Ali says:

      Oh! I came across that plant in another blog I follow! (Here:
      It looks gorgeous! I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it in the flesh.

      1. Cool! I will go check this out! Thanks Ali!

  7. Chloris says:

    I have always wanted to go to a plant sale at Great Dixter but so far I have never made it. Lucky you. And I have only seen the garden in summer so it is interesting to see what it looks like in April. And you met fellow bloggers? What fun.

    1. Ali says:

      It was, Chloris! Give me a shout if you are ever this way!

  8. Lisa Wagner says:

    So interesting to see your view of Dixter in early spring (I’ve just visited in late May and September. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ali says:

      My pleasure, Lisa.

  9. fredgardener says:

    Thank you for sharing this visit at Great Dixter that I didn’t know. Looks lovely !

    1. Ali says:

      It’s up there with Sissinghurst, Fred, and many people prefer its wilder abandon!

  10. Andrew OBrien says:

    Garden bloggers eating cake? Picture, or it didn’t happen! Lovely summary of a great day, and so pleased to meet you and the Garden Brewer too!

  11. Heyjude says:

    I envy you having such great gardens on your doorstep – I managed to visit Great Dixter in mid-July 2014 and it was a riot of colour. Lovely to see it looking slightly more subdued in spring. Do you go to Pashley Manor to see their tulips? I always wanted to go, but never managed to. In the July it was the lilies that took the stage.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, we went to Pashley Manor two years ago and are hoping to return this year!

      1. Heyjude says:

        I shall look forwards to your tulips then 😀 😀

  12. My tulip envy is getting out of hand. Next year my garden is going to be crammed to the borders to make up for it. This look like a nice plan for an outing even without the mention of plant sale.

    1. Ali says:

      It is a lovely day out! I love that you are getting the tulip bug!

      1. I’ve always had the bug – it’s just the squirrels killed everything this year sadly

      2. Ali says:

        Oh, your naughty squirrels! They really are a menace, aren’t they?

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