At Great Dixter, it’s important to get your hands dirty

Carpenters congregate in a 15th-century thatched-roof barn and wield hand tools to produce ladders, garden benches, and hedges, which are fences scattered around the garden to ward off badgers and other pests. Great Dixter has its own nursery, meadows, woods and farmland, and compostes its waste in massive piles, then sterilized in-house to prevent weed growth. Visiting scientists are carrying out biodiversity audits and have advised Mr Garrett not to remove certain stumps from decaying trees, as they serve as a nesting place for the rare solitary bee.

The camaraderie was contagious and we, the students, often ended our long days with late night chats over drinks, where we talked about what we had learned, exchanged pictures of gardens like others do. ‘children and began to imagine how to tear up and reinvent our own plantations. Then we collapsed into bed to get up early enough to enjoy the full English breakfast and bring up the next topic.

There was staking: Garrett demonstrated the correct way to stake plants for support, essential in a public garden like Dixter which is always on display and extremely useful in environments like mine rocked by strong winds. We practiced clove hooks to connect bamboo stakes and learned to position them under the leaves and behind the stems, to better hide them.

There was a soil test: Looking through our multi-page documents, we saw Mr. Garrett mixing Dixter soil with additions like bark, gravel, and organic matter to maximize drainage and stimulate growth. . We followed him as he decoded the optimal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for which plants.

Those in the group with land to sell wanted to create meadows dotted with wildflowers. So Mr Garrett and senior gardener Graham Hodgson explained the need to first cover them with hay or black plastic for two years to kill weeds and then delay mowing long enough for the heads to flower seeds spread in the earth. It was mowing season, and gardeners were cutting flowers and grass “to the knuckles,” as Mr. Garrett put it, to allow new growth.

On the last day our knowledge was put to the test. Garrett split us into two teams to design edging in full sun. We named and eliminated plants to serve as anchors and underlayers, sorting through which sun needed, the length of their growing seasons, how much we needed in each segment, and whether our design provided enough. contrast in height, foliage and color.

Mr Garrett approved of our attention to contrast and seasonality, but noted that the borders of both groups were overloaded with plants and did not exhibit enough movement or strategic use of color or shape to attract the eye through them. Then we headed to a friendly pub for a farewell dinner, where many of the Great Dixter staff joined us for a table loaded with roast beef, roast lamb, chicken with vinaigrette, Yorkshire pudding. and huge portions of sticky caramel pudding, apple crumble, or ice cream. cream.

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