Great Dixter’s Head Gardener and Chief Executive, Fergus Garrett has received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH). The award is the Society’s highest accolade for British horticulturists. Pictured with the award certificate and Roy Lancaster, already a VMH winner as well as a friend, plantsman, gardener, author and broadcaster, Fergus has other accolades from the RHS, outlined below.
The award was established in 1897, with the assent of Queen Victoria, to enable the RHS Council to confer conspicuous honour on those British horticulturists whom it considers deserving. Only 63 medals may be held at any one time in recognition of the duration in years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Fergus was appointed as Head Gardener at Great Dixter in 1992 and worked alongside Christopher Lloyd until his death in 2006. As well as writing, lecturing extensively across the world and serving on RHS committees, Fergus continues to build on his work at Great Dixter and the legacy of Christopher Lloyd, whose special garden is known for its vibrant and experimental nature.
Fergus’ recent work involves new ways of thinking about biodiversity and the environment within a garden like Great Dixter, which can then be mimicked in other gardens (large or small), but also in villages, towns and cities. The current biodiversity audit at Great Dixter undertaken by a group of specialists shows how an ornamental garden can have a richness of wildlife within its abundant displays, therefore bringing the two worlds of ecology and horticulture together. Great Dixter is open to visitors Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays, from April to the end of October.
Fergus was born in Brighton and grew up in Istanbul before returning to school in Brighton. He trained in horticulture at Wye College, London University. He became Christopher Lloyd’s Head Gardener at Great Dixter in 1992. Fergus was made a Royal Horticultural Society Associate of Honour in 2008 and awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal for outstanding contribution to the practice of horticulture in 2015.
Great Dixter patron, Anna Pavord, added her tribute: “There is no higher accolade in the world of gardening than the Victoria Medal of Honour. And Fergus has been given it. Of course he has. The Royal Horticultural Society which hands out this award perhaps had in mind the RHS committees he sits on, the plant trials he attends, the judging he does at their shows. I’m thinking about his extraordinary devotion and loyalty to Great Dixter, where he has been Head Gardener for 26 years.
“There’s a dynamism about Dixter you don’t find anywhere else. The high-spirited young gang that garden there – they come from all over the world to learn with Fergus – give the place a special, animated vigour. Whenever I visit, I stagger out of the place high as a kite with visions: spires of green winged orchids littering the meadow grass, a vast furcrea leering out of its pot with a neck as tall as a giraffe’s, wild fennels rearing into flower on 12ft stems.
“The energy of the man is amazing. Even more astounding is his generosity. Of himself he gives, gives, gives. Not just to the garden, imbued with his joy, exuberance and wild energy, but to the people that work there: students, volunteers, scholars, gardeners. With his talks, he raises funds for bursaries, at the Dixter symposia, he’ll use plants as an artist uses paint: a swirl of deep red from some well grown snapdragons, a hint of cream and purple from some late irises. Fergus knows only one mode; full steam ahead. In him we have that rare thing: a much-treasured idealist who lives out his ideals. Congratulations Fergus. How proud of you Christopher would be.”
Great Dixter has long been a place of pilgrimage for many, who find inspiration from this highly artistic and individual garden. But it is also now a place where young horticulturists come to receive the highest standards of training, working under the tutelage of Fergus and his team, in order to produce the head gardeners of the future. It was for his contribution as a plantsman, gardener, as well as an educationalist that Fergus was presented with the award by Sir Nicholas Bacon, RHS President on April 8 2019. Christopher Lloyd himself received the VMH in 1979.
Image Credits: Great Dixter, Gillian Roder.