I am nearly finished with the December/January selection for the Garden Bloggers Book Club. This was my first time to participate, and I was excited because I love good books. A good book about gardening is even better. However, about twenty pages into Dear Friend and Gardener, by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd, I thought, I’ll never get through this. Being experts in their fields, Chatto and Lloyd mostly used Latin names for plants they discussed, instead of common names. For me, this was a hindrance to reading their letters. When I write articles or post on my blog, I use both Latin and common names, although I know that Latin is more specific.
Instead of putting the book back on the shelf, I decided this was an opportunity to learn. With my laptop in one hand, and the book in the other, I spent the first half of it looking up Latin names. Thanks to the internet, I now have more command of garden Latin. So that’s one reason to like this book.
These two dear friends shared letters between them for one calendar year, so we read about all four seasons in each of their gardens. Chatto owns The Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex, England. Lloyd was a very famous English garden writer known, among other things, for his use of bright colors in the landscape. He owned the estate Great Dixter, which is still open to the public.
I thought one of the best sections of the book was their discussion on having open gardens. Chatto’s as a demonstration model for her nursery, and Lloyd’s as one of the great English manor gardens. The other interesting thing I noticed about these two very good friends was that they were such different gardeners. Chatto preferred to garden organically, and she was very proud of her gravel garden where she did no additional watering. Lloyd on the other hand, did use some chemicals, and also supplemental watering. It was fun to read these two people bantering back and forth about their respective styles. And yet, like all great gardeners, they had tremendous respect for one another.
I became very interested in Lloyd’s style, as I also am fond of bright colors in the landscape. My neighborhood book store was having a sale, and I found his Color for Adventurous Gardens there. The color photographs in the book were wonderful to see, as they were many of the plants he and Chatto discussed in their letters.
I have a dear friend, Debbie Chester, with whom I’ve been corresponding for years. Although email cut into some of our letter writing, we still use snail mail. There is nothing like a letter, the feel of it in your hand, the stationery, quirky or beautiful and with gardeners, often seasonal. We’ve kept most of our letters. I have Debbie’s in several hat boxes. We joke about keeping them for posterity, for when we’re famous. Now, I realize they are more important than that. They are a history, and I’m grateful I’ve had such a friend. I’m sure Chatto feels the same way, especially now that Lloyd is gone. He passed away in 2006.