It seemed a shame for the 70 and more of us to be tramping across the uncut grass meadow, as we took our seats on bales of last year’s hay. However, we were soon reassured by Fergus Garrett, chief executive and head gardener, as he began his talk to the Friends of Great Dixter yesterday evening.
A party of 15 entomologists had visited the previous day, he said, to evaluate and advise on the biodiversity to be found there, with some surprising results; insect wildlife in the meadow benefits greatly from being stressed, so trampling is good for the soil. Then they found that the insect count in the meadows far exceeded that for the gardens themselves. Even the beautiful orchids in the garden were rather despised for their usefulness to insect life. Meadow management required an experimental regime, which Fergus embraced with his usual enthusiasm.
It is this sense of experimentation which makes his talks so enthralling. They are delivered in so friendly and informal a manner that one would hesitate to call them lectures, but the knowledge they communicate demonstrates the highest order of horticultural expertise. The flow of his thought unfolds effortlessly as he visits mentally each aspect of gardening, both with its immediate seasonal challenges and its overall design.
The half circle of hay bales contributed to the sensation of being part of a theatrical performance. We enjoyed our introductory cucumber and egg sandwiches with a glass of Pimms or elderflower cordial. Chatting with friends, touring the garden afterwards, it was all very English and very delightful. All the Great Dixter staff had worked so hard to create this wonderful experience.
Image Credits: Kenneth Bird .