Growbag Blog

Sounds like, Great Dixter

picture of Caroline

Great Dixter, a garden that once seen, can’t be forgotten but could you as easily, recall its sounds?

Last week The3Growbags were invited to this iconic garden, created in East Sussex by the late Christopher Lloyd, to learn about its biodiversity ethos – as it’s heard.

Stopping briefly to offer sympathetic noises for Elaine who was still in Normandy, Laura and I grabbed out hats and coats and we were off!

In setting the scene Christo’s trusted garden confidante Fergus Garrett put words to what has been obvious to many of us: that there is a middle way between full on ‘re-wilding’ and profligate use of insecticides and wasteful gardening habits; that Dixter, in common with many others, has long worked in harmony with its incumbent wildlife; but that as we learn more, and share our understanding of biodiversity, we have the power as gardeners, to make a bigger and bigger difference.

Fergus Garrett explains that it’s Great Dixter’s natural ethos to care for its wildlife

Crucially Dixter has previously undertaken a biodiversity audit, so in the company of ecologist Andy Phillips we set off to check-out its creepy crawly hot-spots. First stop – and first lesson – a log pile is a wildlife priority. Andy explained it’s the spectrum of decomposition that happens in a log-pile that brilliantly supports the transitioning life cycles of a huge array of…I’m going to call them ‘bugs’ because I’m not an ecologist. 

A log pile is one of the best habitats you can provide in your garden

Next it was to the sunken garden and the pond – another wildlife ‘must have’ and then through the tropical garden to the ‘long border’. Traditional elements like this offer the all-important ‘lengthening’ of the pollen and nectar season. Osmanthus got a big tick from Andy as an early food source and of course ivy provides food well into the start of winter. 

The long herbaceous border had the highest occurrence of wildlife of anywhere on the estate.

Blurring the edges between wildlife gardening and modern art, the final exhibit was an immense wood-stack created specially as a ‘five-star hotel’ for animal and insect guests. And to think we routinely set fire to these every November 😳

We’re seeing things through a fresh lens. This specially created wood stack takes on a new appearance now we know of its value as a habitat.

But there’s another element to the merger between the needs of humans and wildlife – what it sounds like.  And in the creaking galleon of Dixter’s Great Hall, electronic headsets ‘opened our ears’ to the wonderful co-existence of nature and gardeners.

That log pile which looked completely inanimate – actually seethes with audible activity. The sound of the wind and swallows are interspersed with those of the garden’s human inhabitants – the scraping of spades on the concrete, the chatter of volunteers, the boom of Fergus Garrett’s voice ringing across the garden as he tries to track someone down. They merge into a wonderfully therapeutic soundscape which, explained Harry Coade and Mike Edwards from SoundMatters, is an insight into interactions often not visible to us in our busy lives.

Lost in a world of birdsong and soundbites – I got the full vibe through those headsets!

More immediately the sound of Laura knocking over her water glass twice during the otherwise sepulchral silence of our listening experience, together with the rising decibels of the torrential rain outside signalled it was time for The3Growbags to head for home. 

Next year audio clips from this recording will be available to all at Great Dixter – another compelling reason to visit this garden which looks back, and forward, and clearly reverberates with the sound of its protected wildlife and human laughter.

This was a biodiversity workshop that was inspiring, encouraging and fun and we left feeling that Great Dixter is, yet again, leading the field. Christo Lloyd would be delighted.

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

6 replies on “Sounds like, Great Dixter”

Loved this particular “episode”.
I have log piles, but am now going to create a 5 star bug hotel with tree clippings and fallen branches.
So inspiring.
Always longed to go to Great Dixter…all the way from Scotland…next year!

Ishbel how lovely to get your comment, thank you so much for your compliment on our posts this morning. It’s great to hear from you again. Yes the Great Dixter ‘insect accommodation’ is something else isn’t it! It’s Caroline here – even further north than you and this was my first visit to Great Dixter. Because the afternoon was focused on biodiversity we didn’t see all of the garden so, like you, I’m determined to visit next year. I can see why it’s considered in a class of its own! Very best wishes to you 🙏 , Caroline

Remember, Caroline …one day on your way south to stop off here in Bathgate. I’d love to show you round my garden…it is very two sided…a highly cultivated area, my pride and joy….but mostly wild and wonderful for the wildlife.
Message me for my address.
Love, love, love the 3 Growbags….wish I had a sister. 💞💞💞

Your visit to Great Dixter sounds fascinating Laura and Caroline. I’m giving a talk about gardening for wildlife to a local conservation group in a couple of weeks and plan to add GD to a suggested list of gardens to visit where the ethos is to garden alongside wildlife and nature without sacrificing impactful planting design.

Katrina thank you so much for your comment. Yes GD would be a great addition. Fergus Garratt explained that sprays have not been used in the garden for years and that by working with an ecologist they had become much more aware of the wildlife in the garden and felt far more invested in the tiny signs of activity every day. He also urged people to create different habitats to that of their neighbours (and that everybody doing No Mow May at the same time wasn’t very helpful for a particular bee that actually likes short grass!).Such an interesting subject – Im sure your group will love your talk. Very best wishes to you as always, Caroline (and the other two bags)

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