Two bucket list gardens down, so many more to see. OUTHOUSE principal designer Steve Warner recently spent a month in Europe, and visited a number of famous gardens. In this post he discusses his experience of Great Dixter; next month will focus on the garden at Sissinghurst Castle.

As landscape designers we are always looking to be inspired, either by new ideas or by reflecting on the past. When I had the chance earlier this year to visit two of the most incredible gardens in England, I jumped at it. When your job is a joy, and you spend a holiday doing the things you love and seeking inspiration, you feel very fortunate.

My journey started at Great Dixter, the family home of the late legendary gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd. Lloyd was a passionate plantsman who devoted his lifetime to creating one of the most experimental, exciting and constantly changing gardens of our time. We’re privileged to experience the garden in its second chapter under the care of head gardener Fergus Garrett, who challenges us on how we see and engage with our gardens.

Great Dixter uniquely combines the incredible history of a 15th century home nestled within a small estate, with a thriving centre of biodiversity – not just horticultural diversity but ecological as well. No wonder Dixter is of such ecological interest and a must-see for all green thumbs.

On arrival via the front meadow, you are immediately drawn towards the main house and stunning entrance porch, flanked by swirling cloud-pruned hedges that act as a backdrop to the seasonal heroes of the garden, the magnificent hostas. An array of eclectic pots overflow with foliage and flower, and provide a hint on to what to expect as you explore via the aged pathways and low hedged archways.

The riot of colour is at times overwhelming, and you feel like you are drowning in a sea of green. The borders are just bursting with yellows, whites and purples, but when you stop and look closer you find the delicate petals of the poppies and buttercups in their masses.

The sunken walled garden is the winner in my humble opinion: the stone paving, aged brick and barn timbers are so tactile and act as an aged canvas for both espalier figs as well as majestic apples. The bumblebees are drunk on nectar and appear en masse everyplace you go in the garden.

This garden reinforces to me that the once-traditional view that ornamental gardens do not support biodiversity is not the case. It cemented my view that we may only have a small inner-city garden or rooftop, but every raised planter, garden bed and border counts. If managed correctly, ornamental gardens can play not just a vital role in the protection of habitat, but we can all have our own small Dixter and do our small bit to allow it to thrive!

– Steve Warner, principal designer at OUTHOUSE design