top of page
  • Jennifer Jewell


Beth Chatto. Image Courtesy of Beth Chatto Gardens and Trust. All Rights Reserved.



This past May we lost one of the great women of gardening in our world when just short of her 95th birthday Beth Chatto died after many years of being a garden leader. This coming August 30th and 31st at the University of Essex, The Beth Chatto Educational Trust and gardens are hosting a The Beth Chatto Symposium in her honor and in celebration of her life and her deep and wide gardening legacy.

Today we’re joined by three plantspeople instrumental at the gardens and in the symposium planning and hosting: Beth Chatto Garden and Nursery Director David Ward whose been with Beth and the Gardens for more than 35 years, Head Gardener Åsa Gregers-Warg and recent Garden Intern and Symposium Coordinator, gardener and floral designer, Amy Sanderson.

The three join us today via Skype from their various locations in England and Canada.

“You have to verge into the obsessively passionate to get into ecological planting because it requires such a deep horticultural and scientific knowledge and it also requires artistry, so you have to wear a lot of hats. And I think there can come a loneliness from operating out there on the edge of experimentation or engaging with these ideas deeply because they’re really complicated - so I’m most excited for all the young horticulturists who get to come meet others who share their super niche passions, be exposed to the complex thinking and decision making that our speakers are engaging in and see what can made from a bramble filled ditch and a gravel parking lot with a few decades of determination and work."

Amy Sanderson, Coordinator

Beth Chatto Symposium 2018

The Beth Chatto Symposium is a two day event featuring speakers and panels of speakers representing some of the most cutting edge research and results of ecologically-based horticulture from around the world. Speakers will include Germany’s Peter Janke and Cassian Schmidt, Sweden’s Peter Korn, the UK’s James Hitchmough, Dan Pearson, Marina Christopher and Keith Wiley; horticulturists from the US include Andi Pettis, Director of Horticulture at The High Line in New York City, and horticulturist Taylor Johnston, of Issima Nursery of New England.

The symposium will also feature panels on some of the more complex and intersectional concepts in ecological horticulture today – with themes such as Art and Science in the “WILD” garden, Building Blocks of the Ecological Garden, Expanding our Plant Palette: The Challenges of Sourcing and Propagating Wild Species and finally Immersion and Ecological Garden Architecture.

David Ward is the Garden and Nursery Director at the Beth Chatto Gardens. He’s worked with Beth at the Gardens for more than 35 years, Asa Gregers-Warg is the Head Gardener at The Beth Chatto Gardens and will be speaking on a panel at the symposium about the building blocks of the Ecological garden; and finally, gardener & floral designer Amy Sanderson of Canada is a recent Beth Chatto and Great Dixter Garden intern and she is The Beth Chatto Symposium coordinator.

The Beth Chatto Symposium will take place at the University of Essex. Speakers from around the world will share the ways in which they are re-imagining ecological gardening in both design and practice, and working to further advance and expand our horticultural plant palette. A private garden party will also be held at the Beth Chatto Gardens and Nursery for friends and fellow gardeners. All proceeds from the Symposium will go to support the work of the Beth Chatto Education Trust.


* * * * * * * *

I was living in Bristol, England when Beth Chatto’s "The Gravel Garden" was published by Frances Lincoln in 2000. It changed my whole world. I had grown up gardening in the arid US west at 8,000 feet elevation in the Colorado Rockies. Many of you know that My mother was a gardener and floral designer and so I knew what a dry garden could be, which was pretty lovely, I must say. But to see the experimental and divinely lush – low water, regionally appropriate drop-dead gorgeous gardens that Beth Chatto had crafted in her challenging bit of ground was a ground-shift moment for me – when I looked at the range of plants and flowers and intermingled communities and thought: now that is a garden. Beth did not create gardens that wanted to grow anywhere else – she and her husband Andrew grew plants that wanted to live with them in their specific soil, with their specific weather patterns and rainfall. She grew a garden suited to her place. It reminds of listening to botanist Julie Nelson last week when she recommended that we grow plants that love us, which are not necessarily the same as the plants that we think we love. Another way of saying this is perhaps that One thing we can likely all agree on is that the plants that are happiest in our gardens will in turn make us the happiest. Beth Chatto and her gardens embodied this idea on an aesthetic level that resonated with gardeners and plantspeople everywhere. Her students – which number of any of us who’ve read her books, seen her work or visited her home gardens – are legion and her educational legacy – like any healthy mychorrizal network will continue to flourish.

What are own legacies will be – now that’s something to keep working on every gardening day.

Plant communities and relationships – these seemed to be underlying concepts through the course of this conversation with David Ward, Asa Gregers-Warg and Amy Sanderson. It started perhaps with the description of how Beth Chatto and her husband Andrew worked together on the creation of the Beth Chatto gardens upon his retirement. They pooled their interests and passions and together created this garden that then in many ways grew the three people we’re speaking with today, and they are continuing to grow plants and plantspeople in form of school garden outreach, plant introductions, educational programming annual interns and volunteers – it’s literally a world wide web of gardeners making a difference in the way we treat and live within the complex cultural and natural ecosystems of our world. I think I must say something like this every single week – which is perhaps painfully repetitive to you all – but can the lasting impact of this work really ever be overstated? Over supported and paid forward. I don’t think so. Even if you can’t get to this truly remarkable Beth Chatto Symposium this August – which I wish we COULD ALL get to – I really hope you find your community of gardeners in some way and spend some time in pure enjoyment, appreciation and support of one another – as often as you can. Just as our plants like their own communities – we plants people thrive more vigorously in community as well. Whether it's a regular group you garden with like Pen Pender and Her Friday Garden (and tea and sweet) group in Australia, or the Volunteers who show up consistently at the Beth Chatto or any public garden, or its taking part in your local garden or flower society or hiking club. Find your people, you’ll be glad you did. Cause as you know I believe – we gardeners and we’re a lot of people – make a difference in this world. We make a difference to our individual and communal wellbeings, to the environment, to the economy, to the culture and health of our towns and cities. We make a difference for the better.

If you don’t already subscribe to my monthly newsletter – sign up while you’re at the website – it’s a great way for me to stay in touch with YOU! You can also always leave a comment on this episode’s post on Instagram or Facebook. I’m on instragram daily and Facebook weekly – join me there and say Hi – I’d love to connect and share your views too!

This is a listener and community supported endeavor and you are every bit as much a part of my garden life as the birds and bees and bugs and beauty. My greatest hope for Cultivating Place is to have conversations about these things we love and that connect us all. Together we gardeners and nature lovers make a difference for the better in this world. …

If you have thoughts or stories to share, please send them by email through the contact page at (scroll to bottom of page), or write them in the comments of this episode’s post on Instagram and Facebook.

And if you liked this episode – and feel moved – SHARE IT WITH FRIENDS (family, neighbors, meter maids, strangers, passersby) ....:)

bottom of page