Great Dixter and the man



Christopher Lloyd’s legacy—both his garden writing and the magnificent Great Dixter—will never be forgotten. Not if Timber Press has anything to do with it. After publishing (posthumously) his book on exotic planting in 2007, the press has released a tribute to Lloyd and his famous property in East Sussex, entitled The View from Great Dixter.

Now Great Dixter is part of a trust, and the gardens continue, under the direction of Fergus Garrett, who was head gardener during Lloyd’s lifetime and is CEO of the Great Dixter Charitable Trust. So the good news is that you can still tour Lloyd’s masterpiece; you can even take gardening classes there. The bad news is that you will never have the experiences detailed in this book, which is a loosely-stitched-together collection of memories from those who knew Lloyd and spent time with him. The contributors include Lloyd’s family, his friends, and his colleagues (with plenty of intersection among the categories)—some of the names: Anna Pavord, Dan Hinkley, Helen Dillon, Rosemary Alexander, Beth Chatto, Garrett, and many, many others.

It’s interesting how much of this book is not about gardening. It’s about drinking, cooking, eating, playing the piano to Paul McCartney, and a whole lot of other fun-sounding stuff. In fact, many of the reminiscences begin with “We arrived in November”—a time when you’d have to assume not too much border admiring would be going on. We learn that Christo loved Champagne and single malt—and had quite a temper when provoked. We also learn that a roaring fire was preferred to television and radio and that Christo’s dogs were named Canna and Yucca.

It’s a delightful book, and the oral history-style narrative that bounces around between decades and topics makes it easy to browse. Start in the middle, the beginning, or the end: it makes no difference.

And yes, I have a copy of The View from Great Dixter to give away. Here’s the contest: I know we all feel sad when we get to the end of a beloved writer’s oeuvre. If a long-lost manuscript from a famous writer turned up, which one would you pick? It need not be gardening, either. Mine is easy and kind of boring I guess—I would like to see at least 6 more novels from Jane Austen. Sorry, that’s how I roll. Who would yours be?

I will choose a winner from comments and announce it tomorrow at 5 p.m. EST.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. You asked. F. Scott Fitzgerald. One more great and glamorous jazz age boozy party with a cast of characters to make any dysfunctional family proud. (The locations weren’t bad either)

  2. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for one more volume of garden essays by Henry Mitchell of the Washington Post. Sound advice and very definite opinions, wrapped in prose from a well-furnished mind. Don’t we all wish for more stories from that urban garden teeming with dragonflies, toads, and cabbage-stealing terriers?

  3. I tried thinking in the literary vein, but the winner today for me would be Henry Mitchell. He was a joy to read, and died too soon. His garden articles and columns were crisp, opinionated and very animated. Please allow me to quote him to make my case:

    In discussing the “Old Blush” rose, Mitchell goes on to say, “That should get anybody started, but I am appalled to see how cavalierly I describe ‘Old Blush,’ as if it did not deserve several pages of highly inflamed verbiage. It is, like the others, a very great rose which will, of course, still be around when nobody grows ‘Peace’ any more. ‘Peace,’ the great hybrid tea, will not last because it is not fragrant, so you may as well enjoy it in its century; your great-grandchildren will not know where to buy it at all. Thus, we see that justice triumphs.”

    Thus we see why I miss Henry Mitchell.

  4. Although not known as a famous writer I would love to see an undiscovered autobiography surface written by the infamous Robert S. McNamara. He was a customer and over the years unknown snatches of interesting commentary would be revealed during the cocktail hour. Also of interest would be the inclusion of his wife’s memories of living with him throughout his multi-faceted career. He could have filled in so many tidbits of history and yet refused to do so after he left public life, a troubled man who realized later in life how one person can be called upon to make important decisions which impact a nation. Sadly he never put pen to paper leaving us with an incomplete record of important parts of American history.

  5. I actually just got my copy in the mail the other day. I have not had a chance to start reading it yet, but I have to say in flipping through that I’m a little disappointed with the lack of pictures.

  6. I have a friend who recently shared her Bucket List with me. (She was recently diagnosed with a serious lung disease.) This got me thinking about what my Bucket List would be. The first thing that came to mind was to grow the “perfect garden”–not sure what that is but I have a vision in my head. The second is to re-read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Not great literature, but it enthralled me as a 15 year old kid. I’d like something more from her along the same vein as GWTW. Right up there with your wish for more Jane Austin.

  7. I’m delighted to see the existence of this book and look forward to reading it shortly. Its release coincides with the passing of another great gardener and fine writer, and my nomination for this contest, Wayne Winterrowd of North Hill. Mr Winterrowd had charming verbal fluency; I once heard him quip in a lecture that “A garden is made up of annual festivals, like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Who would want them all year? YOU sit down to Thanksgiving for three months and see how YOU look!” Just so.

    And simply for the record, Mr. Lloyd’s also had a dachsund named Tulipa–I believe she may have come before Canna and Yucca–whose name I purloined for my own Internet moniker.

    Hard to lose these folks.

  8. One author immediately comes to mind: Virginia Lanier, who died in 2003 after writing 6 fun and strangely inspiring novels in a series about bloodhounds. The main character was Jo Beth and she kicked ass! My daughter was 14 when I started reading these and going through a bad time. You know, dark eyeliner and skull jewelry. I gave these books to her and she was so taken by Jo Beth’s exploits that she asked for a bloodhound of her own. Working with this puppy steered her life onto a different course and I will be forever grateful to Ms. Lanier. Books given to the right person at the right time truly do have an awesome power.

  9. Totally pop culture: Stieg Larsson

    Sort of pop culture: Jack Finney (time travel/ historical fiction that was somehow believable.)

  10. I can’t get Jane Austen out of my mind now that it is there. As much as I would love to be original, why aren’t there more Mr. Darcy’s?

  11. Easy, a lost manuscript of the garden journal kept by John Adams & Thomas Jefferson as they toured English gardens, together, for 2 weeks during a break from their political work.

    Too odd to believe neither, both famous for journaling, wrote a peep about this trip. WHY?

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  12. @Tara – J Adams & T Jefferson – if only ! That would be an amazing find !

    And while I’d also love to see a new Jane Austen, I have many others I’d like to see more of, even if they do seem a bit juvenile for a woman my age :

    -Harper Lee : not dead, but hasn’t written since that outlook-changing book (for me a girl growing up Southern), To Kill A Mockingbird.

    -Roald Dahl: what’s not to love ? My son’s 4th grade teacher has the whole class hooked on him, and not just Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. They are reading The BFG, Matilda, & James & the Giant Peach this year. Me too, just for the pleasure of it. Something new from him would be fabulous !

    -Laura Ingalls Wilder : Loved her books as a child, but have relapsed into the addiction, spurred by my daughter’s obsession. She cannot get enough of learning about her life on the frontier & would love to hear even more from this autobiographer.

  13. Douglas Adams- I loved the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, and he had started a Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective agency series before he died.

  14. OK, since Jane has been taken, how about Ellis Peters and Brother Cadfael? I’ve read all the books at least once and now that I think about it, I’m ready to hunt them down and re-read them, all in order this time.

  15. Jane Austen is never boring. I’d take more of her anyday. I also wouldn’t say no to another book by Harper Lee and if JK Rowling had a harry potter prequel I’d buy it, anonymously of course.

  16. Since so many someones already grabbed Jane Austin, I’ll go for LM Montgomery. I’d like a new character and a new series in the same vein as Anne and Emily. Ms. Montgomery certainly loved the landscape of PEI and flowers and trees played a huge role in the imagery she used in her novels. I’ve never been to PEI, but I can just smell the June Lilies blooming there in an old orchard.

    If I can’t have Mr. Darcy, can I at least have a Gilbert or Teddy?

  17. John Steinbeck would be my writer of choice. His books really explore some of the deep social issues of the 20th century. To Kill a Mockingbird was amazing though, so if Harper Lee has a long lost book, I would gladly read it.

  18. I’ve read and reread the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery at least 6 times…and every time I wish the story would go on and on. They’re not exactly gardening books, and in fact are designed for a MUCH younger audience (I think in first read them in about grade 4), but they opened my eyes to the beauty and personality of trees and outside places.

    Montgomery wrote other books, but none ever touched me as much as the Anne series.

  19. I just read Philip Roth’s latest book, Nemesis. I am so grateful that he’s still writing and at the top of his game–same for Alice Munro, both in their seventies. I know this wasn’t the question you asked,Elizabeth, but I do feel like each book from them could be the last, and I have a sense of loss after finishing the book–the way you wonder with the very old if this will be your last visit, or next to last.

  20. Well, she wasn’t exactly famous, but I’d dearly love to have more books from Louise Andrews Kent, who died in 1968. She wrote a newspaper column and many books under the pseudonym “Mrs. Appleyard”. She wrote more or less autobiographically about cooking, gardening – and life in general. Her humor was dry New England (my ancestry), and I’ve always felt that she and I would have been great friends. That would be my first choice!

  21. One of my favorite reads and re-reads is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Toole committed suicide without ever having the book published. His mother found a smeared carbon copy of the manuscript and pushed tirelessly to get it eventually published. I can only imagine what else he could have written.

  22. No contest – the Anglo-German memoir/history writer W.G. Sebald, tragically killed in a car accident just as his books were becoming acclaimed in the English-speaking world. Austerlitz, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo and The Emigrants are haunting and unlike anything else, with their embedded photographs.

  23. I need more books by Terry Pratchett, who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. His “I Shall Wear Midnight” may be nearly his last. I cannot argue with another Jane Austen (but I am in awe of someone who wants six more). I would like another Emily Bronte (or six). More of Donald Westlake, especially Dortmunder. Another book about book collecting by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern. I enjoy modern books on gardening by living gardeners- anything by Amy Stewart, Beth Chatto (modern in outlook, even if not young), Pat Welsh (expert for my region) and anything by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden.

  24. For me it would have to be Jules Verne or H.G. Wells and the famous Alfred Hitchcock. As a kid growing up I buried my face for hours in these authors books. I would love to see a lost manuscript found from any of these great writers.

  25. Elizabeth, if I am allowed two choices, I’d like to see another book by Reginald Arkell (author of the novel “Old Herbaceous) and another book by the Czech writer, Karel Capek (author of “The Gardener’s Year”).

  26. Harper Lee. Hands down. I first read To Kill A Mockingbird on a camping trip when I was about 10 years old. I remember spending more time in the tent reading than outside having fun with my sister. Now, 14 years later, it’s undoubtedly my favorite book. Who wouldn’t want to be Scout, running around like a boy and saying things like “What in the Sam Hill are you doing?” I know it’s been 50 years since she wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, and with that book, she probably said everything she wanted and needed to say, so I’m not asking for another novel. Just a short story. Or a poem. An essay? Something?

  27. I too, would choose Henry Mitchell. His dry wit and spirit inspire and resonate with me. “There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who ruin after ruin get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises. It sounds very well to garden a “natural way.” You may see the natural way in any desert, any swamp, any leech-filled laurel hell. Defiance, on the other hand, is what makes gardeners.” (from The Essential Earthman)

  28. Another journal by May Sarton or another book in “The Borrowers” series by Mary Norton. I loved reading about the adventures of Pod and Homily Clock and their daughter, Arrietty, when I was a kid.

  29. This looks like a wonderful book! If I could have one more book from a favorite author, it would be Sarah Caudwell whose 4 mystery novels I love very much. I would have liked one more fun & lighthearted book before the final excellent but rather sad one.

  30. Patrick O’Brian, hands down for me. He died while writing of Jack Aubrey’s long awaited promotion to Read Admiral. It was to be his 13th novel in the series that many people know only from the ‘Master and Commander’ movie. These are wonderful books with characters that became almost a part of my family.

    The final three chapters that O’Brian had left on his desk at the time of his desk were published simply as 13.

  31. Ok, I messed up. There are 20 books in the series, the one that he was writing while he died is simply 21. For some reason 13 was stuck in my head, I guess because of the bad luck to die while writing it!

  32. Through an introduction, I was able to stay at Dixter for a day and a night once. Champagne and olives before lunch (which was tongue) and whiskeys before dinner (which was I cannot remember). There were several visitors from London and Scotland and I was the nice young man from Canada. What a pleasure.

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