When I plotted out how I would squeeze this visit to Great Dixter in to one day at the end of a work trip, planning my transportation with Google maps was easy and didn’t really prepare me for just how small a village I was headed for. My hosts at the South Grange Bed and Breakfast seemed pretty surprised by the effort I’d gone to, just to get to Northiam and see Great Dixter (but then, maybe that was just classic British modesty I wonder?) There are more famous gardens in Britain for sure, but the fact is I’m not really in the know when it comes to famous gardens in Britain (though I’m working on that). So why did I immediately think to visit Great Dixter? (And believe me I’m glad I did!).
It all started with the plant blog reading, a habit I picked up years ago, after I moved to San Diego. At some point I was lucky enough to stumble into Thomas Rainer’s Grounded Design, including This post about the Long Border at Great Dixter. I devoured Grounded Design — it felt like finding a set of secret instructions. So Thomas Rainer’s post about Great Dixter is where this idea started. And the chance to see it in mid-July, high summer, at its peak? Certainly worth a few hours on trains and buses.
So: the Long Border. Truth is, after I got through The Sunk Garden I needed to give my eyes (and my brain frankly) a break. So I paused, had a cup of hot tea, dried out a little bit, and then headed out to see it. From the Refreshments Loggia you can get to the Long Border via the Orchard.
Once there, I spent a very long time looking at the Long Border.
I didn’t decode any master planting plan, or suddenly understand the mastery of Christopher Lloyd’s lifelong project — that was all more than I was equipped to comprehend, and wasn’t really what I was after. I just looked… and looked some more.
But while yes I suppose all along I did intend to write a blog post about my day off at Great Dixter, I was deliberately trying to not aim to report out on anything in particular. I hadn’t really known what to expect, and liked that feeling. I was at some point struck by how lucky I was. It’s a rare thing to have a day set aside to just see, to look at something, and to be someplace where what I was looking at was beautiful and unendingly interesting to say the least.
And in the end one thing I can say for sure is that it was utterly beyond any perennial border or planting bed I have ever seen. So yes the Long Border was legitimately spectacular. I went back through at the very end of the day — it was the last part of the garden I visited before I left.
Here (below) is my last look — looking back from the path through the orchard. We all know this, and we’ve heard it before and sad it ourselves, but I was reminded again that gardens are powerful — they conjure the power of place, of mystery (or in this case, mastery), of surprise and wonderment… made all the more powerful because they are fragile and fleeting at the same time, never the same on a different day.
Do check out a series of posts from another blogger (Pam at Digging) about Great Dixter and the Long Border visited on a day a few weeks before I was there. It was sunny then, and earlier in the season of course, and Pam has a very thoughtful (and different) take on Great Dixter!