by Julia Milano
Gardeners by passion and profession, Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto enjoyed a rich friendship extending over twenty years. The two exchanged letters redolent with gossip about plants, the British gardening world and their personal lives. They both owned homes with extensive and rather famous gardens, open to the public and raised plants to sell in their nurseries.
Chock full of hands-on plant knowledge and entertaining observations about plant species, their joyful letters contain a cornucopia of information and amusing anecdotes reflecting both the plants and people inhabiting their worlds. The letters take a reader through a whole year of seasons as Lloyd and Chatto prepare and propagate to make their gardens ready for the hordes of visitors descending in spring and summer.
Lloyd spent his entire life gardening at Great Dixter his family home, which is beloved throughout Great Britain for its creative and colorful plantings. Lloyd was a passionate cook (usually of his own vegetables), a sought after speaker and writer as well as a generous teacher to generations of young horticulturalists. When he passed away in 2006, Lloyd was universally mourned as a great master of the horticultural world.
Chatto’s gardens are of equal renown and she has been called “the most influential gardener of modern times.” Well into her nineties, she continues to influence and educate through the remarkable gardens she created out of a tangled wilderness in the English countryside.
Reading the missives of these two dear friends is a rare and delicate treat. I plan to reread the book with a plant identification manual by my side so that I can more fully visualize the trees, flowers, shrubs and bushes they describe. How illuminating to briefly share the triumphs and disappointments of Lloyd and Chatto and to ponder the rich friendships formed by those who live to love plants.