The gardens at Great Dixter were created in 1910 by English architect, Edwin Lutyens, in the manner of cottage gardens on a grander scale. The gardens are set in the grounds of the manor house, first built in 1220 and added to in 1464. The house boasts an impressive timber-framed hall, one of the largest surviving in the UK. The Great Hall’s roof with its oak frame and crown post, is of particular note. It is decorated with carved shields and contains a fireplace, one of Lutyens additions. The gardens and home are owned by well known gardening author and lecturer Christopher Lloyd.
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In designing the gardens, Lutyens used curved (such as found in the yew hedges) as well as straight lines. He also took advantage of existing features—a chicken house’s rotten walls were turned into a loggia supported by laminated tile pillars. Other found objects he used were cattle drinking tanks within a cattle yard that was turned into a rose garden. It has since been re-created as a late summer “tropical effect” garden.
Over the years Lloyd has altered some of the original plantings and designs by Lutyens using his own style of planting and original mixtures of colours in the cottage garden. At one time there was a central rectangular lawn, but that was changed into paving with mosaics in 1998. The gardens reflect many colours, rather than one in the manner of the white garden at Sissinghurst. Thus a natural look is achieved, and many of the plants are self-sown.
The series of small gardens surround the manor, connecting with each other in the manner of rooms in a house. Birds, especially green woodpeckers, find the gardens a pleasant sanctuary. On either side of the entrance walkway of the house are meadow gardens. Here natural plants are allowed to grow and re-seed themselves. Some beds are changed throughout the year, especially those where summer flowering annuals have completed their bloom.
To the left of the entrance pathway are the Peacock Topiary Garden and the High Garden. 18 birds fashioned of yew are of special note. Although vandals cut off the heads of a large number, yew is a plant that easily regenerates itself, so the full splendor of the garden will remain a feature. The High Garden contains narrow flower borders, espaliered fruit trees, and vegetables.
To the right of the meadow gardens lie the Barn Garden (its name taken from the tiled-roof barn) and the Sunk Garden—a mass of red and yellow in the summer—the Walled Garden, and an 1890 oast house. Fig trees, a particular favourite of Lutyens, are found in the Barn Garden. The Brunswick fig was chosen for its decorative effect.
On the south side and behind the house, beyond the High Garden, are the Orchard Garden and Long Border. In the Orchard Garden are many daffodil hybrids. The mixed border contains shrubs, climbers, perennials, annuals, and biennials mixed together. This area of the garden requires much maintenance.
There are a number of brick arches that date from the design in 1910. Lutyens also designed seats for the gardens at the top of the Long Border and in the Topiary Garden at the back of the house. Yew topiary is a feature of the garden as well as high hedges of olive green holm oak.
An Exotic Garden features purple and white blooms alongside banana trees. An orchard is at the rear of the property, and a nursery and garden shop are nearby.
Geometric paths, rare perennials, topiary, a mix of formal and informal outdoor rooms—Great Dixter offers many garden highlights.
Great Dixter Garden
Northiam TN31 6PH
By car: On the A28, signposted from village, 12 miles north of Hastings.
Open: gardens April-end Oct, Tue-Sun, 11am-5pm and BH Mon; house, same days, 2-5pm
Tel: 01797 253 878
Web: Great Dixter Gardens Note: website slow to load
Photos by Barbara Ballard