Captivating Beth Chatto Gardens


Imagine a boggy gravel pit. Where most of us would only see the grey dusty desolation of the former scene of frenzied excavation at the quarry, a visionary in the form of Beth Chatto saw past the starkness, the stones and rubble and over the past 55 years she and her team has worked tirelessly to create the serene, lush and heavenly gardens now named after her.


The gardens are loosely split into various areas including the Gravel Garden, the Water Garden which leads through to the Woodland Garden and the recent addition of the Scree Garden.


From the very beginning, Beth Chatto decided to work with the environment and this was particularly pertinent since the gardens are located in the county with the lowest rainfall in the UK (famously less than in the Sahara desert!)


She longed to learn how to garden in these conditions and in the process help other gardeners of the future. The Gravel Garden was an inauspicious stone parking space for many years and I recall a visit here many years ago when a few cars were dotted around this rather glum piece of land and the ‘cafe’ was located in one corner. A tent ‘cafe’ barely held in place as the wind relentlessly tried to lift it to the sky! Nowadays a modern designed restaurant sits at the edge of the gravel garden with tables outdoors open to its views and wildlife – robins and blue tits were frequent visitors to our table.


Over the years the arid land has been transformed into its current beautiful Gravel Garden. Vibrant colours abound through the inventive and inspiring planting where also the textures of the plants and flowers are taken into consideration. As the sun comes out there is a real Mediterranean feel to this sun trap and I’m transported to the South of France! 


A novice to gardening, Beth Chatto is self-taught although both her parents were enthusiastic gardeners and her husband, Andrew, had a life-long interest in the natural environment of plants. During her decades of work at Beth Chatto, she became close friends with some of the eminent gardeners at the time and in due course became an award-winning gardener. For ten consecutive years, she has won gold at the RHS Chelsea Flower show; she was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2002, received the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour as well as accepting an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Essex. Furthermore, she’s lectured worldwide and written numerous books on gardening. Even to this day at 96 she often comes out to the gardens!

The gardens have constantly evolved as her expertise has grown and in my opinion, the Water Garden is the jewel of all the areas.


Four ponds straddle the garden, linked by a gurgling stream which was dammed up specifically to fill the ponds. There is a powerful lush tropical feel throughout and there is a dominant celebration of the colour green – from the immaculate emerald green of the grass to the hundreds of shade of green of the rich foliage of the trees, plants and flowers. Colour is used sparingly and when in evidence has a transforming impact on the garden and on the flower, they stand out like never before. 

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The sense of harmony and tranquility is almost overwhelming, the effect immediate and real. As I enter a seeming state of transcendental bliss I let my senses absorb the delights as I nurdle* (wander aimlessly) around the Water Garden. 

Nothing has been left to chance. Soft fragrances float on the gentle breeze, never overpowering, rather a warm hint of promise. 


The stream provides a constant rhythmic backdrop to the walk, changing in pitch as I meander around, then in the hushed reverential near silence I notice the birdsong; what a jubilant chorus as they seem to compete for attention, their delight in life infectious. Only later looking over the videos I took on the day do I hear the distant roar of planes high overhead, at the time they were effectively tuned out!


It was not only my eyes which took in the varying textural forms, from the razor sharp, sword-like leaves, to the whimsical frilly grasses, to the variegated leaves of the ferns. My hands swish between some leaves here, some grasses there. My fingertips enchanted my the soft tender sensations, some tickling, some spiky.


Giant parasol leaves loom over me at one stage and proof again that Beth Chatto has achieved something remarkable here – these moisture-loving plants never associated with East Anglia are thriving. I bend to inhale the scent of the roses, I stretch up to spy the colours closer, I stand stock-still following the dragonflies darting over the lake and its irises, so fast in their dance, impossible to capture on camera. 

20170529_120412Benches are logistically, romantically, placed around the gardens, often in the soothing shade to sit and contemplate nature and her amazing art. The play of shade and light is spectacular, the dark grasses a sharp contrast to the soft mellow sunlight stems taking on their own structural sculptural artistic form. Gazing, absorbing and reflecting I sit in silence…before I feel the eyes of others eager to enjoy the peace, to rest up and reluctantly I move on.


Peeling myself away from the sumptuous Water Gardens I wander through the Reservoir Garden, its large borders a miracle of colour and flowers and it’s hard to imagine this is the site of a former wasteland filled with scrubby bushes. 


The woodland came to its own after the infamous hurricane of 1987 when trees across the UK, and especially in the South, were decimated with about 15 million trees felled by 115 mph winds. At Beth Chatto many new trees were self-seeded and those remaining include many oak trees over one hundred years old. The dappled light shines playfully between the tall canopies and below flowers adorn the ground, the damp earthy forest fragrance is reminiscent of many childhood bluebell wood walks. 


Many thanks for accompanying me on this epic walk through Beth Chatto Gardens’ seven acres…however, it’s not quite over! A visit is never complete without looking at its renowned nursery with over 2,000 different species of herbaceous plants and bulbs and we came away with armfuls of plants including Cosmos and Veronicas.

*Please see the previous post.

NB. All photos ©Annika Perry, 2017

120 thoughts on “Captivating Beth Chatto Gardens

  1. Oh, Annika, Ms. Chatto is not only a visionary but an artist as well! How incredibly awesome to take a barren, drought-plagued patch of land and turn it into a paradise. I love gardens, they are truly good for the soul. I wish I had one locally to go and sit and regroup. The pictures are gorgeous, and I enjoyed seeing your lovely smiling face as you relaxed on the bench. I see why you wouldn’t want to give it up. I know you certainly enjoyed that visit, happy nurdeling!

    1. Haha!😀 After waiting so long for a seat I wasn’t going to relinquish it in a hurry!!😃 😀 One of many wonderful places (mostly occupied) to sit and take in the gardens and peace. You catch my mood exactly, a very soulful day, inner quiet peace and yes, regrouping – I think I need this on a weekly basis at the moment! I hope you have something similar near you, Lana. 😃Meanwhile, my nurdeling will be on a more local level across the cracked earth fields and through the cooling shades of a wood. You are so right in describing Beth Chatto as an artist – she truly is with her exquisite creation of these gardens.

  2. What a stunning place, Annika. I can’t believe it was a gravel yard at one time – that you can remember! Beautiful now, and I could feel the serenity of your walk. It’s amazing what one person with a boatload of inspiration and dedication can do. And the Earth loves it. Our green home is meant to grow and be beautiful. ❤

    1. Diana, thank you for your wonderful and heartfelt comment, I can feel mother earth rejoicing in your words! 😀 Sometimes I feel that the earth does respond to a person’s love and imagine if this was a garden built out of a sense of obligation rather than love the result would be different. Beth Chatto is so inspiring and the flowers I bought there are now in full bloom and so the trip lives on….

      1. I think all living things respond to positive and negative energy, not just animals, but plants too. It almost seems silly to think otherwise. 😀 Let’s go outside today and love up our gardens!

  3. Beth Chatto created an Eden! What a glorious testament to bringing life out of death. Of bringing joy and beauty to a joyless place. It almost seems like a miracle. Your photos are incredible, Annika, and your prose is poetic. I loved learning about this garden (I never knew there were places in the U.K. so arid). And by the way (you’ll appreciate this), I see a wise face peering out from the trunk of the tree in your last photo.

    1. Oh, Pam, thank you so much for pointing out the wise face!! 😀😃I hadn’t spotted it before but I do love finding faces, creatures in clouds, tree trunks etc – rather a mystical way to pass the time. The weather is incredibly varied in the UK considering how small it is relative to other countries and yes, very arid here and even more so after a week’s heatwave! Beth Chatto’s work is being put to the test!😀 I never fail to be in awe at the difference the vision and effort one person can make to a project…the garden of Eden (the perfect description for this place!) is a wonderful testament to this! Warmest thanks for your lovely comment, Pam and your words about my photographs and writing…I’m always slightly bemused but happy when my prose is described as poetic as I think I’m the least poetic person!😀❤️

  4. What beautiful pictures. Your words transport the readers to this other-worldly place and the magic makes you skip a beat. Thank you for sharing such lovely posts, Annika, and for adding to the happiness quotient of the blogosphere! 🙂

    1. Ahh…thank you so much, now I’m beaming and blushing! 😊😊 Your wonderful kind and warm words have made my day!! It has been pure joy to share these gardens here and I’m so happy you can feel their magic! ❤️

  5. Sitting and gazing at nature has to be the best of all activities. This is a beautiful space. You found the perfect bench in the shade. I think I could get lost here for some time with my writing journal and a book. How very beautiful! Thanks for sharing such lovely photos of flowers and nature. This is a fitting tribute for Father’s Day here in the US. Enjoy the day and heat in the UK! 🙂

    1. Mary Ann, you’re right and this is the perfect place for spending peaceful hours with a book and journal! I fear they’d have to drag me away! Its serenity was all pervasive and I’m happy I’ve managed to convey some of that to everyone here on WP. The gardens are being tested to their limits at the moment in the midst of a heatwave here! Wishing you a lovely week.😀❤️

      1. Annika, I am laughing at the remark that they would have to drag you away. I feel that way sometimes as well. No cares and demands but just being. Talk of being tested, the Phoneix temperature today is expected to reach 122 and several flights have been cancelled. What a stark difference from Upstate New York and our winters. Enjoy your heat-filled week in the UK. I think I would be drinking iced tea with lemon. 🙂

        1. Oh…now I want some iced tea! 😀This is just the drink in America but never the same back in the UK! Tonic water with lemon instead. BTW I just ‘translated’ your Fahrenheit and realised we should stop moaning – it’s about 40 F!

            1. Just a footnote with the weather in Phoenix:117°F or 47C. It’s still early there though to it will be warmer. Iced tea anyone? Or a cold lemonade? Even a pink one? Enjoy the heat wave in the UK.

            2. Talk of coincidences! Listening to BBC Radio 4 later in the afternoon they were discussing the weather around the world and mentioned Phoenix and linked in with a local weatherman!😀 He explained about the problems for light aircraft as the very hot temperatures meant the air was too thin for take-off (I think I got that right!). I hope your flight went well in the end.

              1. It is a small world indeed, Annika. We don’t fly until towards the end of July, but I like to watch the weather in advance. Usually the average has been around 45C but hotter some days. As for aircraft, I avoid the small ones and am taking a larger plane which so far seems ok. Well, if we have to change plans, we have to change plans. Do you still have your heat wave?

                1. I keep hearing of a cold front for us in Upstate New York. I don’t mind 70-80 degree days. The Phoenix temperatures hover around 110-115 now. I think that’s a good place to visit in winter when it is in the 80s. Give me a cool wind any day.

    1. I agree, Janice, with so much in life it makes a real difference when you know the back story to a place, book, painting, music and in this case, gardens! In the cafe/restaurant they have huge before and after photos and these really bring to life how it all looked in the 1960s and 1970s.

  6. Anonymous

    Lovely photos Annika, and your description of the gardens made me feel as if I was there. It just goes to show that someone with the vision, foresight and fortitude can produce something which provides so much pleasure for so many people.

    And it has a cafe too!


    1. Oh, I think cafes are almost obligatory for these kinds of places and perfect for taking a break between nurdling!😀 I’m so glad you liked the photos and description, Mike and I wanted to bring everyone along ‘virtually’! Beth Chatto has given us such a gift with these gardens and it’s a wonder when you consider her work and dedication – an inspiration to us all!

    1. Yeah, lovely to have you along for a nurdle around Beth Chatto, Jo. 😀❤️A virtual visit is almost (but not quite!) as good!! Maybe you’ll come this far South one day… I have been to many other gardens but the atmosphere and aura surrounding this place are unique and the tranquility is totally captivating.

  7. Enjoyed this magical walk through the gardens, Annika. I can’t decide which pictures were more beautiful, the ones you took with your camera or the ones you painted with your words. Loved it!

    1. 😊😊 Tiny, wow, thank you so much for your kind words and I love the idea of painting with words – I’m beaming now! I’m so glad you enjoyed this magical walk…not so much in the way of fauna but lots of flora!

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment!! 😀 It’s a delight to share the photos and the story of the gardens here and who can fail but be impressed and in awe of Beth Chatto and her creative work!😀

    1. You’re so welcome, Barbara and this place is a gem to share here and a delight to relive the visit!😀 The personal history of Beth Chatto and her work does make it that more special and unique.

    1. Tanya, oh, how perfect! Neverland!!😀😀 Walking under the covered archway to enter the gardens does send flutters of anticipation and joy to my stomach and heart…yes, definitely magical! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you’re doing okay. Warmest wishes xx

  8. It makes me so happy to see this! It really shows that there are all kinds of different things we can do to make the world a better place. Your photos are so beautiful and I love the story behind them of creating such beauty from a gravel pit. It reminds me of something my brother used to say when he was little – that when he grew up, he was going to build country instead of cities. I’m glad you had the chance to nurdle and enjoy!

    1. Ha! I love how nurdle is already being picked up! 😀

      Sheila, my heart started to sing when reading your brother’s beautiful comment…it really is that easy! I really hope he got a chance to build country!! We can all make a difference and I suppose that creative energy we put into our gardens is part of that – for ourselves, our souls and for the good of others and the world at large. I’m so glad you liked the photos and the story behind the gardens – well worth sharing and inspiring.

      1. Yes, I love to nurdle! 🙂 My brother does create beauty – he’s an artist and restores historical homes and buildings – not quite country but close!

    1. The fact of so little rainfall is odd considering how much us Brits complain about it but overall I can well believe it’s true in the South East! It’s nothing compared to what California suffers though, I imagine! The lawn will soon go yellow and crack dry, it will be a struggle to keep the pots going and bushes will hang wearily, fatigued by lack of water! That is why these gardens are such an innovation and really trying to work with the environment whilst still providing plenty of interesting bushes, flowers, grasses and trees! Every time I go I learn something new and come back with new plants!😀😃

  9. Lovely! It’s hard to envision the transformation and to think of the vision and work required to make it all come true. Thank you, Annika…

    1. In a small display room there are photographs of the area before and those images were in my mind as I wandered round the garden in absolute awe of the transformation and the vision – even knowing where to start would be daunting. Yep, Beth Chatto had an amazing vision – and brought it to reality! 😀

  10. What beautiful gardens! The more I saw and read about them, the more I want to see them. There’s something so wonderful–soothing–about wandering through landscapes like this. Thank you so much, Annika, for taking us on the tour with you. What a lovely place!

    1. Julie, it’s wonderful to have you along on this virtual tour and as a keen gardener I hoped this post would prove particularly interesting and inspiring! Not much in the way of vegetable gardens though!! 😀😀 The whole landscape has been transformed and is transforming for one’s soul and I felt my spirits lift and physically soothed! Pure bliss! I just didn’t want to leave! Do you have any place like this near you?

  11. What a very special and magical place Beth Chatto has created. Wonderful photos and words here Annika. I could feel how much you enjoyed this walk so thank you for sharing it with us. xo 🌷

    1. Miriam, I’m glad my joy in this walk has shone out as it was a very special and wonderful day and one that I’m so happy to share here!😀😀 I’ve been here before but never at this time of year and the serenity of the place took immediate hold and it was as if all my senses were heightened for the day, more attuned to nature. So glad you enjoyed the post. Xx❤️😀

  12. Truly captivating, your headline is right! I loved that tree what a beauty. I love visiting Edinburgh Botanic Gardens – that’s always a must see stop when I go up to see mum and dad. Nothing like nature, trees and flowers to make you smile. 🙂

    1. Very true, Marje – nature, trees and flowers have us smiling and lift our spirits! 😀I’ve never visited the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh when I was up there as a student but now I’d love to go! So glad you liked the title…I was procrastinating over this one but captivating does seem to capture the whole experience.

    1. The UK is in full green-mode at the moment – I never fail to be astounded by all its wonderful hues during the Spring and early Summer and particularly lush after heavy rainfalls and then sun. I soak it up before the summer heat and dry spells turn the lawns and fields to mustard yellow!

    1. You’re very welcome, Debby and so glad you enjoyed the post. I agree, that the passion and life-long dedication to the gardens are astonishing…and awe-inspiring!😀 I try to take home a couple of ideas for my own garden its flower borders!

  13. Quite lovely Annika and you provided a first rate tour. I am reminded of the Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, which if I recall correctly, have a similar history. I’m convinced that there is something in the DNA of people from Britain that enables and encourages them to create such beautiful gardens. Thanks for the walk and photos. –Curt

    1. Many thanks for your great comment, Curt and so glad you enjoyed the tour! 😀 We’ve visited a number of bigger gardens across the UK but this is my favourite! The amazing history and dedication of Beth Chatto is part of the reason as well as its unique calm and tranquil atmosphere – the busy everyday life just floats away! I agree that it seems a British interest and special skill in creating these type of gardens which I haven’t come across elsewhere – you name Butchart Gardens and I imagine that has a British connection? I’ll try and read up a bit…

      1. Wow!! I’ve just looked up Butchart Gardens and they are stunning and exquisite. Wow! You are right about the similar history with his wife, Jennie creating the gardens from what was a quarry. This one sees a lot more people with over a million visitors per annum. Many thanks for mentioning this garden, Curt and for anyone interested here is a link to the history of the gardens.

      2. If you ever make it ‘out West,’ Annika. The cities of Vancouver on the mainland, Victoria on Vancouver Island, and Butchart Garden (all part of British Columbia) have very British feel to me.
        Peggy’s sister Jane, is a great fan of English gardens. A few years ago, Peggy and I went with her and her husband to Chatsworth. Jane made a believer out of me! –Curt

        1. Curt, I’m glad you became a Brit by proxy as far as gardens are concerned! As far as visiting Canada this is a place I would love to go and was next on my list when I met my husband, got married, had a child…one day hopefully! 😀

    1. Absolutely, Bette, she’s an amazing woman and gardener and I’m in awe of her achievements! A joy to share here and relive my day out at Beth Chatto Gardens. 😀 ❤️

    1. Ahh, thank you so much, Andrea! 😀😀 Now I’m beaming! 😀That is exactly the effect I was hoping to achieve and for the post to give an immersive, albeit on a minuscule scale, feel of the gardens!

    1. Iris, it’s a joy sharing the photos and the history of the gardens here – Beth Chatto is truly inspiring; her perseverance and dedication show us that our dreams and visions are within our grasp, we just have to believe that and act accordingly! 😀

    1. It feels an honour and a privilege to walk the grounds, imagining the rocks and rubble of earlier years and the hundreds of hours of hard work it has taken for this miraculous transformation. A place of tranquillity and it naturally invites relaxation. 😀 Many thanks for your lovely comment, David.

    1. Thank you, Sharon! 😀 There were so many striking and fascinating trees in the gardens but this particular one caught my attention in awe. I took a photograph of its name: metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) – brought to mind the stunning trees of California in Tracy Chevalier’s excellent book ‘At the Edge of the Orchard’.

  14. Wow! That seems a wonderful place…lovely pics Anni…what a treat! It is heartening to note that some benevolent souls have so much of love for nature in their hearts. A beautiful garden! Thanks for taking us around dear friend, really enjoyed the pictorial visit. Have a nice weekend!

    1. Thank you so much, Balroop and so glad you enjoyed the ‘tour’! 😀The photos just start to hint at its beauty and peace and it’s been a joy to share here. Wandering around you can’t help but admire Beth Chatto’s dedication and work during the decades – a lifelong passion for nature, plants, gardens becoming such a treat for us all! Thank you, yes I had a lovely weekend, enjoying time out in my own garden! 😀

    1. Jill, I went rather photo-happy on the day and took over 150!! Some luckily weren’t brilliant but with such a wonderful location it was hard to whittle them down to just 16!😀 Beth Chatto is a wonderfully inspiring person, it must have been so daunting at the start and almost overwhelming! I love the fact that she’s still so involved in the gardens…

  15. Khaya Ronkainen

    Such a captivating and delightful place, you’ve captured here! I could wander around endlessly and daydreaming. Thank you for sharing, Annika.

    1. Khaya, this is the perfect place for wandering aimlessly and daydreaming…a place to quieten one’s soul and become deeply reflective.😀 When my son was younger it was a bit more rushed but this time I had time to go back and forth and returned after a light lunch to walk around once more! A perfect day! 😀

    1. Monica, that is exactly what it felt like, enjoying the ‘vibes of life’ – perfectly expressed! 😀 After lunch we walked around again, dawdling, just absorbing the beauty! hugs 😀

  16. Beth Chatto is a stunning place – Even just in photographs, I’m struck nearly speechless. It took several moments for me to compose myself so I could think of something articulate to write. My words are meager but I am deeply grateful that you’ve taken me to a garden I never knew existed. And to learn that the woman who conceived them was an amateur until she made herself a professional, that the land was what most of us would consider unsalvageable, and to see the proof of her vision exhibited in bountiful array – a great gift to the world. Thank you, Annika, for this lovely photo essay. Should I ever get to travel to Great Britain, this is a place I will definitely see.

    1. Wow! Sharon, thank you so much for your wonderful comment. it is so warm and eloquent and I’m glad you were not ‘speechless’ for long! 😃😀 I know exactly what you mean, the beauty of the place settled on all the visitors and there was a general reverential hush throughout the day. Oh, Sharon, if you ever come to the UK, I would like to be your guide here for the day, ending it with the quintessential Afternoon Tea of Scones, Jam, Cream + tea, miniature sandwiches and cakes!😀

  17. PeterR

    Amazing what one visionary can achieve. A truly magnificent legacy. One that probably cannot be taken in during one day; it probably would reward a week of wandering. May you and your friends return often, and refresh your spirits.

    1. Peter, how true and this is a place I will visit again – I’ve been before in the Autumn but this season it really was magical. I found that taking a lunch break in the middle of the day helped and then I returned refreshed and knew which areas I wanted to head to next – just hoped the benches would be free!

  18. Annika, thank you for letting me come on this most wondrous walk on a Sunday morning. I feel all soft and serene inside. Just want to sit on every bench and meditate and take these beautiful colours and creations in.
    Some of your photos – most of them – are of award winning quality. Maybe you should add photography to your skills along with writing.

    The ponds and streams are just wonderful as are the gravel gardens. Beth Ghatto is worth every reward she achieved.
    I will actually go there now as it isn’t too far a drive and a day here would be healing in so many ways.

    1. Wow!! Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, Miriam! ❤️😀I do enjoy taking photos and on occasions such as this one I took more time and effort than usual – the gardens are an amazing photographic location and I wanted to try and represent it to the best of my ability.

      Haha! Oh those benches…there are so many and all calling to you! I think I would have sat on every one if they hadn’t already been occupied! Sitting next to the stream, under the shade of the huge redwoods made me all soft and serene inside too (I love how you phrase this!) – I hope you get to visit so you can experience it for yourself! Wishing you many healing moments. Xx💐❤️

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