top: this view of a bed, colored in a gentle a palette as you will find at Great Dixter, is still just as boisterous with its imposing height and mix of textures.

above:  between the rustic gate, and the partially obscurred country manor, anticipation builds as you catch glimpses of the garden on your walk through the wildfower meadow.

above: circular stairs and the unconventional use of a conventional material are signature Lutyens touches.

above: layers of texture and color, bolted down with hefty hew hedging.

above: one of the keyholes that usher you to onto your next adventure.

above: the best analogy I can conjure right now is Aretha Franklin at Kennedy Honors, dropping her fur coat on the stage floor on her way to the piano.

above: after all that drama, a soothing unidentified clematis to calm the eyes.

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One would think that on a garden tour, Sissinghurst would be enough for one day, but no, Jeannine Zenti, Mike Collins, Frank Eddy, and I took in Great Dixter as well. A fitting finale for the first segment of our tour of British and Dutch gardens, our visit to the storied home of Christopher Lloyd determined the start for the Dutch segment as well, but I'll get to that later.

The house is a relatively modern amalgam designed by Edwin Lutyens , who connected parts of the existing 15th century structure with a 16th century house (relocated from Kent) via contemporary additions. Completed in 1912, it was Lutyens last decorative house. He also designed the gardens, which Christopher would later turn into his life's work.

above: teasles and eupatorium dominate this shot, notice how the ribbing and backlighting of the teasle stems echo the blades of ornamental grass just behind them, and the eupatorium calls out the blush in the teasle flowers. various shades of white and cream marble their way through the compostion, while ochers give depth.

Like Christopher Lloyd, Lutyens took a well-thought and playful approach to design. He added a 'crawling window' to the day nursery at floor level, so that a small child such as a young Christopher could view the garden. Lutyens extended his design of the house out onto the sloping garden, creating walled sections and vistas that the Lloyds could fill in as they please. Christopher's father Nathaniel was so taken with the process that he decided to study architechture, eventually publishing several books on the topic. Later, senior Lloyd removed a section of lawn (hurrah!) and designed The Sunk Garden, featuring terraces leading to a pool. Upon seeing it, Lutyens is said to have proclaimed that he was proud of his 'pupil.'

above: looking back at the house from the lush Long Border, the genesis for Christopher's first book, 'The Mixed Border'.

Christopher's mother Daisy adored wildflowers and followed the writings of Gravetye's William Robinson. She also brought her young son to Munstead, where they met with then 80 year old Gertrude Jekyll, who in a thank-you note to Daisy hoped the child would grow up to be a great gardener. Like Robinson and Jekyll, Lloyd would become well known and respected by expressing his love of gardening through his writings, and like the other writers, his home garden was his laboratory.

above: beyond these pink anenome lie mauve phlox, purple delphiniums, inky Salvia 'Amistad', and white symphyotrichum.

"Many gardens are like looking at a painting, where as Dixter's as if you've walked into the painting, and you're within the painting, so you're immersed by this", said Head Gardener Fergus Garrett, narrating a short film about the garden. A similar feeling hit me at Sissinghurst, which opened when Lloyd was seventeen. When it hit me again at Great Dixter, it soon gave way to a sense of wonder, as I no longer viewed them from on high as an adult, but at or below their level, as would a child.

The two gardens are connected by more than the short half hour's drive. After Lloyd lost his lecturing position at Wye (challenging authority), he started a nursery at Great Dixter, and Vita Sackville-West gave him cuttings of the Corsican rosemary 'Benenden Blue' (a tale told of Lloyd involves a secret sowing of nasturtium seeds Sissinghurst's White Garden)

above: Lloyd loved all kinds of plants- a swath of daylilies slices through bulbs, perennials, shrubs and self seeding annuals.

Both gardens envelop you with a foaming profusion of plants connected with intmate paths and portals. While Sackville-West intensified color schemes, Lloyd staked new horizons experimenting with his combinations. He also broke convention by mixing different types of plants together, so annuals rubbed shoulders with herbaceous perennials and shrubs. Tall plants could sit in the front of the border if easily seen through; a run of shorter plants could cleave to the back of the border

above: more of the immersion experience, with orange lilies, buttery oenothera and lavender alliums. plantings in the aptly named High Garden were at head height and higher.

Lloyd took a brazen but characteristic gesture in 1996, when tired of the progressively weakening shrubs in Lutyens rose garden, and with the encouragement of Garrett, he had all the roses ripped out (hurrah again!) and replanted the area as an Exotic Garden (hurrah withdrawn). I was searching for ideas for my gardens, and since I try to match plants with the surrounding ecology, a tropical theme does not interest me, so sorry, no photos (by this point of the day I was also feeling the onset of sensory overload).

What I do applaud is the guts to look a failing convention in the eye and take radical measures to remedy it. Lloyd complained that the area got too hot for the roses in Summer, and new introductions succumbed to replanting disease. Just as in the Long Border, he was keen on extending the season of interest, so by choosing subtropical and exotic looking hardy plants which welcomed the Summer heat and generally took longer to reach their peak, he killed two rose bushes with one stone.

above: a trial bed, just beyond the vegetable beds, for vetting new varieties and combinations. I happen to love it as is.

Always critical of the ossification of famous gardens, Lloyd set up his own trust to assure that after his death (2006), the garden would continue to evolve dynamically. Lloyd is said to have stated 'low maintenance is low braintenance', and made no pretense toward sustainability or ready-to-wear replications for the average gardener. Great Dixter is horticultural haute coture; one may purchase some botanical swatches via plant sales or at the seed barn, and read one of his many books ('The Well Tempered Gardener' is considered his best), but the rest is up to the individual to discover, and that's how it should be.

For me, a most useful take away was our meeting of a fellow Californian doing an internship at Great Dixter (he had already done Chanticleer, living the life!). We described our trip and he suggested a nursery we should visit in the Netherlands, De Hessenhof. It gave us a destination for the next day's drive, which turned out to be one of the best surprises of the trip.

Dean Ouellette 415-820-1623