She favoured a strong, natural, slightly rambunctious style. As a plain speaking northerner, mother did not harbour a place for heroes in her heart, preferring the company of “commoners” to fancy folk, any old day.
But there was one woman – also a gardener – whose name she always mentioned with something approaching reverence and definite high regard.
My mother was a formidable woman and a fine instinctive gardener.
I learned it all from her – a no-nonsense love of plants, in which there was no place at all for delicate hot housing, but plenty of enthusiasm for all things green.
Nothing in this serene and graceful garden ever shouts its name. In a rare interview with , when they ask what are her “Desert Island plants”, Chatto seems rather appalled by the question. But when pushed, she chose subtle, foliage-rich specimens, such as the winter-lovely Helleborus orientalis (Christmas and Lenten Rose), the wine-coloured Bergenias and the ballerina-pretty tree, Amelanchier lamarckii. “Plants”, she says, “like people, have their preferences and don’t like being thrust into the nearest available hole. ” Once, walking round the gardens with my mother, we caught sight of Chatto, pottering discreetly in the separate garden to her house, which borders the public space.
Practically a living legend in the gardening world; yes, mother chose her icons with care.She looked at her difficult piece of land – boggy at the bottom, arid and poor at the top – and investigated which species of plants might be able to grow in each situation with grace and ease, instead of forcing things to survive artificially, which was the prevailing fashion.The result, developed organically over half a century, and still evolving, is an exquisite and varied landscape.Loveliest by far are the linking pools in the shallow valley, densely planted with Gunnera, Phormium and Miscanthus.The tranquillity of this place, with its lush but discreet greenery, seems to reflect the natural reticence of its creator.