Christo, Fergus and me

Fergus Garrett |

Fergus Garrett (left), head gardener at Great Dixter. Photo by Ann Daly.

Central Texas has been rainy this month, so everything here is surprisingly, and rather oddly, green. Still, it’s too hot to start planting and will be for at least another four to six weeks. Sidelined, I turn to books. Today I finished one by Christopher Lloyd — The Adventurous Gardener. (I’m concurrently working my way through another of his anthologies, entitled, with appropriate cleverness, Cuttings.) I picked up The Adventurous Gardener this summer at a sale in Sydney, at the extraordinary Florilegium, a garden bookstore (!) in Glebe, for $5. In Australia, most paperbacks are $30 or even $40, so I couldn’t NOT buy this Lloyd volume.

Christopher Lloyd |

Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter.

Lloyd was the eponymously adventurous gardener who vaulted his family home and garden, Great Dixter (not to be confused with the lesser Dixter nearby), to twentieth-century fame. I’ve been there several times, all because I bought a book at the Leura bookshop* (I always drop into the independent bookshop wherever I travel) that paid tribute to Lloyd, who died in 2006. I vividly remember going through the first dozen or so pages very confused: Why do they keep talking about the artist Christo? Turns out, that was Lloyd’s nickname . . . Anyway, that book inspired me to begin the first of now-annual trips to the great gardens of England. In the meantime, I had watched on YouTube everything I could find about Lloyd, Great Dixter, and its head gardener, Fergus Garrett.

In May 2014 we found our way to Great Dixter from London, without disappointment. The medieval home is as extraordinary as the garden. After several rounds about the place, we stood in the nursery, as I wondered what I might bring home. Ross tugged at me with uncharacteristic urgency. “Isn’t that Fergus?” he whispered in my ear. How the heck did Ross know about “Fergus”? I must have replayed those interviews more than I realized.

Yes, indeed, that was Fergus! I was, as they say, gobsmacked, but I couldn’t bring myself to say hello. Too wanky, and he was clearly in the midst of work, in conversation with another gardener. But I did manage to make the picture above, Fergus on the left. I like the grainy, distant, look of the photo — telltale sign of a stalker.

Garrett (to offer him his due respect,) wrote the introduction to The Adventurous Gardener. His prose is as engaging as his video interviews. I quote at length his wonderful description of Christo, starting with their first meeting when he was one of a group of students visiting the master’s garden:

“Christopher met us on the patchy formal lawn bordering the old timber framed building. He was slightly stooped, with hands cupped behind his back, his clothes worn and threadbare, his tweed jacket darned and patched; he had holes in his shoes. He looked unconventional and awkward, yet there was an easy elegance about him. His two dachshunds, Dahlia and Tulipa, snuffled around us disapprovingly, out for blood given the change. [ . . . ]

“Christo was curious. He had a capacity to focus and concentrate, coupled with an extraordinary talent for communicating. He tirelessly fixed our attention on one plant and then another — the tour took two hours, but could easily have stretched to four. I was intrigued by him and his garden The visit left its mark and unbeknown to me a gardening seed was sown — a seed that is now a fully flourishing plant.”

(*I checked out Leura Books for its URL and sadly see from the website that the shop is closing up as of this very day. Very, very sad. It was my primary target when I visited this lovely Blue Mountains town, after visiting the historic home and garden Everglades.)


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