If you adore cottage gardens in a romantic situation, Great Dixter could well strike your heart like a thunderbolt. Chocolate box divine, it’s the product of hard work, a daring to defy rules and a desire to move a house to be in the right garden.
Great Dixter is a restored (and rebuilt) oak frame house, extended by Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century. It’s half 15th/16th century (to the right of the porch) and half 1910ish (to the left of the porch). Interestingly, an original 16th century hall house from Benenden was brought by the arts & craft lover, Nathaniel Lloyd, to this site in 1909/10, where he reconstructed it to form part of the extension to the medieval hall at Dixter (the largest surviving timber-framed hall in the country).
The arts & crafts-styled garden that wraps around the house is divided into rooms and stuffed to the brim with flowers. There’s also a meadow garden to the front of the house and an orchard and wide, long border to the rear.
For the large part, Lutyens designed the garden.
There’s a nursery next door (where D, being a plantaholic, tried desperately to locate a special new plant to purchase) and cafe/shop at the bottom of the garden.
Do persist with finding the garden (we only saw one sign) as it is worth finding. Any gardener would be pushed not to love it and set themselves the challenge of finding a plant in the nursery to take home with them.
The last owner-caretaker of this garden, Christopher Lloyd, died in 2006 and the original part of the house is now also open in the afternoons: great hall, parlour and upstairs solar/study. He was a lifelong contributor to Country Life and very well respected gardener.
There’s less space for humans than plants in this garden but the result is a labour-intensive masterpiece. Inside the house is a living space rather than a real home (although only 3 rooms are open) – this is clearly a plantsman house: like D argues, if the house burnt down, no problem; if the magnolia stellata was stolen, catastrophe. I’m more of an architecture lover, so I’m rather sad when historic houses burn down.
This is a garden everyone should visit (and we went in the rain and still thought it was great)!
When visited: 2011