Working sustainably: the home of ecological and sustainable planting revisits Beth Chatto’s Green Tapestry, first published in 1989. The Beth Chatto team brings “Right Plant, Right Place” ethos to a new generation of gardeners with the launch of Beth Chatto’s Green Tapestry Revisited, A Guide to a Sustainably Planted Garden
One of the unexpected outcomes of the pandemic has been the near three million gardeners that cropped up during lockdown in the UK, with nearly half (49%) of these new green-fingered fans aged under 45. Set to inspire this new generation of horticulturalists, a new book has arrived at a time when, as the result of climate change, the need to create sustainable gardens and planting schemes has arguably never been more important.
Beth Chatto’s Green Tapestry Revisited, A Guide to a Sustainably Planted Garden, published by Berry & Co and with new contributions from the Beth Chatto team, is a substantially revised and updated version of Beth Chatto’s Green Tapestry, first published some 30 years ago. Then, award-winning plantswoman, author, and lecturer Beth Chatto OBE (1923-2018) shared her wealth of plant knowledge based on her own observations and practical experience of making a garden on what was considered a “difficult” site.
Right plant for the right spot
From dry, exposed areas to damp places around ponds, the landscape varied dramatically so that each part of the garden became an example of working with nature to find the right plant for the right place, a forward-thinking, ecological principle which, 60 years later, remains at the heart of Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens – continuing Beth’s drive to continually learn more about plants, their sustainability, and the need to carry on refreshing the gardens to answer those needs.
Beth began to build her garden in 1960 – successfully transforming an overgrown, desolate wasteland into the now world-famous, Grade II-listed Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens in Elmstead Market near Colchester, Essex (UK).
As Beth would say: “A garden is not a picture” – it is ever-changing. In Beth Chatto’s Green Tapestry Revisited, A Guide to a Sustainably Planted Garden, garden and nursery director David Ward and head gardener Åsa Gregers-Warg have therefore added to Beth’s original text to discuss new and remodeled areas of the garden since the original edition was published.
These include the Woodland Garden, the recently-redesigned Reservoir Garden, and the much-acclaimed Gravel Garden. Initially created in the early 1990s, the Gravel Garden was an experiment in drought-resistant planting and has famously never been irrigated – despite being situated in one of the driest parts of the country and having poor, free-draining soil.
Finding a new audience
Julia Boulton, Beth’s granddaughter and CEO of Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens, says in the book’s foreword: “Some 30 years after the original edition was published, the time is right for a fully revised and updated edition of The Green Tapestry.”
“It has given us the opportunity not only to bring Beth’s original discussion of her gardens to a new audience, but to include descriptions, in photographs and words, of how the garden has developed since, both under her careful eye in her lifetime and following her principles since then.”
According to David, who came to work for Beth in 1983 and assisted in creating and planning both the Gravel and Woodland Gardens: “An understanding of the principle of right plant, right place is key for any new gardener. Now this book, drawing upon new experiences, further reinforces the importance of this cornerstone of Beth’s ethos.” He adds: “Beth’s observations and advice are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. The updated chapter covering the challenges of the drought-resistant Gravel Garden will hopefully give gardeners hope that an aesthetically pleasing yet sustainable garden is possible with the changing climate.”
Åsa, who joined the Beth Chatto team in 2001, says: “With climate change an ever more pressing issue, sustainable gardening has never felt more relevant. Beth’s mantra ‘right plant, right place’– choosing the plants most suited for the growing conditions we’ve got not only ensures healthier and happier plants but also greatly reduces the need for unnecessary irrigation. Re-reading the original text reminded me how much gardens change and evolve over time, yet Beth’s ethos and planting principles have stood the test of time and still guide us.”
The evolving ‘green tapestry’
The publication of Green Tapestry, Revisited follows a hectic period for the Beth Chatto team. While young gardeners were discovering the delights of growing during the first lockdown, every team member was working around the clock to meet rocketing demand for the nursery’s mail-order plants. Orders from March until June (2020) increased tenfold.
David recalls: “One day we sent out more than 500 orders, which was our record. Mail order continues to hold up and is currently three times that of pre-Covid levels.” In addition to increasing the nursery’s output and ensuring that visitors can enjoy a Covid-safe experience, a new welcome area has been created. People are now greeted with informative display boards as they enter the gardens.
In 2020, the gardens and nursery were awarded Grade II listing, added by Historic England (formerly part of English Heritage) to the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. Among the reasons for the designation, they cite the following: "As a particularly important and early example of an environmentally sustainable garden design, using plants adapted to, and in harmony with, local conditions; as the home of Beth Chatto OBE VMH (1923-2018), the leading plantswoman of her age. The gardens are an example of a new post-war garden type in their marriage of a domestic landscape and nursery business. Adding "its pioneering design based around plant communities has become the bedrock of many successful garden designs and has been absorbed into the gardening lexicon."
Meanwhile, the gardens and nursery continue to inspire students of the Beth Chatto Education Trust charity. Set up by Beth in 2015 (when she was 91), this charity offers a wide range of education opportunities to people of all ages. This summer, for example, the charity gained funding from the Essex Community Foundation to support Garden Access Project for Schools (known as GAPS). This project has seen 400 children from six schools take part in a fun-filled program of activities in the Gardens’ Wild Garden.
Since lockdown, the Wild Garden (a private area of the garden used for educational purposes) has been maintained every fortnight by volunteers from Futures in Mind – an Essex-based service that supports people recovering from mental health problems and/or substance and alcohol use. The volunteers have been busily thinning trees and using the wood cuttings to create a “dead hedge” for the area.
For more information:
The Beth Chatto Gardens