Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Christopher Lloyd

I am inspired by so many gardeners, and one of my all-time favorites is Christopher Lloyd (or "Christo" to his family and friends).  Born into an upper middle class family in England, Lloyd's love of gardening and his beloved home, Great Dixter, established itself early in his life.  Even while away at school, the voluminous correspondence between the 11 year old and his mother contained amusing and very mature discussions about their gardens (Lloyd cultivated a plot at Rugby School for which his mother would send him cuttings and seeds from Great Dixter).  I found The Times obituary about Lloyd and have posted it below.  Don't worry, it's not a macabre or sad remembrance.  The obit is full of life, laughter and celebration....just like I imagine Christo to have been.
"The Times January 30, 2006
CHRISTOPHER LLOYD ranks with Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West as one of the major figures in 20th-century British gardening. He may never have had the mass popularity of television personality gardeners such as Percy Thrower and Alan Titchmarsh, but through his long career in writing, based so closely on his practical experience, and through his garden at Great Dixter in East Sussex, he was known and respected by gardeners throughout the world as the voice of serious gardening. If British gardening in the 20th century was a long love affair with the Jekyllean, heavily planted, labour-intensive, country garden, it was Christopher Lloyd who best chronicled and explored its riches.
Christopher Lloyd was born at Great Dixter in 1921, the youngest of six children. His father, Nathaniel Lloyd, who was a successful printer in London, had bought the manor house in 1910 and had employed Edwin Lutyens to renovate and extend it. Lutyens also laid out most of the garden, in this case with no assistance from his later collaborator Gertrude Jekyll. Nathaniel Lloyd himself was keenly interested in architecture and designed the sunk garden and planted the yew hedges (he also wrote the book Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box, 1923).
As a child, Christopher Lloyd learnt gardening with his mother, herself a passionate gardener, and was introduced to Jekyll. After attending Rugby School he read modern languages at King’s College, Cambridge, before being called up into the Army. He was not a good soldier but did as he was told; for him there was much more appeal in gardening, botany, embroidery (which his mother had earnestly taught all her children) or playing the piano or the oboe. Some describe him as wholly incompetent as a soldier, to the extent of getting on the wrong side of his sergeant- major by collecting flowers in a fire bucket.
After the war he took a BSc in decorative horticulture at Wye College, London University, graduating in 1949 and staying on as an assistant lecturer until 1954. Thereafter he moved home to Great Dixter, in Northiam, near Rye, and set up his nursery, specialising in clematis and unusual plants. From the early 1950s the house was opened regularly to the public.
Lloyd will be remembered longest for his many books. The Mixed Border first appeared in 1957, followed by Clematis in 1965 andThe Well-Tempered Garden in 1970. His books have remained in print over the decades and are read worldwide. What makes his writing so appealing is his eye for effective planting, his brevity and wit, and his willingness to give a personal opinion. He was always ruthlessly critical of what he saw, and prepared to say what he thought. He encouraged and expected everyone else to do the same. Unconfident gardeners would tremble at the prospect of a visit from one so notoriously outspoken.
In 1979 he was given the highest award of the Royal Horticultural Society, the Victoria Medal of Honour, and he sat for many years on its floral committee, but he also criticised the society mercilessly in print for its unimaginative gardening. Yet for all his undoubted abilities as a practical gardener, as a trendsetter, and as a gardener with an eye for innovation and high quality, he was not a garden designer. “I couldn’t design a garden. I just go along and carp,” he said.
His taste in gardens, as in most things, was remarkably catholic. What he hated most was lazy or unadventurous gardening. When at home at Dixter, or when travelling, his own pace of life was furiously busy. His mother, who lived with him at Great Dixter until her death in 1972, was a formidable woman, and known among his friends in her later years as “The Management”. She instilled in her children the rule that they should never be idle, and Lloyd heeded it. He invariably rose with the dawn, sleeping with windows and curtains wide open, and tirelessly worked, wrote, cooked and socialised until bedtime. He could easily write a first article before breakfast. He refused ever to have a television but was a passionate follower of opera and a familiar face at Glyndebourne, where for a time he advised on the garden.
His weekly column for Country Life, In My Garden, began in 1963 and was the magazine’s first gardening column. At his interview for the job the Editor, John Adams, showed him a worthy article on machinery and mowing and asked Lloyd if he could turn out a piece like that. “No. I’m afraid I couldn’t,” replied Lloyd firmly. He got the job and wrote weekly about his garden until last year, even writing from his hospital bed in 1998 after a triple bypass operation. For many years he also wrote weekly for The Observer, and latterly for The Guardian.
If Lloyd was an admirer of all things hard-working, it led him to admire new trends in gardening as well as the old. He launched a trend himself with his book Foliage Plants(1973) and in the 1990s, when in his late seventies, was leading fashion by the nose towards the use of subtropical plants in his exotic garden at Dixter. He had been experimenting with flowering meadows and American “prairie gardening” long before there were any serious attempts to use the new German and Dutch style of planting massed perennials in Britain; his book Meadows, of 2004, is the best on the subject. He loved to mix the old and the new in all spheres, and would regularly commission modern furniture for the ancient interiors of Great Dixter.
Throughout his life Lloyd surrounded himself with young people and young ideas, and he was always extraordinarily generous to people wanting to learn. He loved Americans for their fresh, uninhibited attitudes to gardening. At the age of 68 he found huge pleasure and inspiration in a world tour, accompanied by his friend the gardener and nursery woman Beth Chatto, lecturing at conferences in Canada and Australia. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Open University in 1996 and was appointed OBE in 2000.
With so much time committed to writing, Lloyd had need of a head gardener with whom he could develop his garden. Sometimes he was fortunate in his choice, and the garden would go through a period of great success. At other times it could look weedy in comparison with the ever-immaculate Sissinghurst nearby, with which it is often compared. He liked to have a head gardener such as he found in Romke van de Kaa (now a successful Dutch nurseryman and writer) or latterly in Fergus Garrett, with whom he could collaborate on the garden, planning its development in great detail and even sharing travel to see other gardens at home or abroad in search of inspiration. The garden has never been more admired than it has been in the past ten years, under Garrett’s supervision.
He usually refused to revise his books for reprinting, because he wanted always to write about his current preoccupations and not look back. (He would occasionally revise a book by working on it with someone who shared his interest; Clematis was revised with Tom Bennett in 1989.) But he loathed being typecast by the commissioning editors of magazines, who regularly asked him to theorise on subjects he had already covered to his own satisfaction, such as colour association or foliage. Even so,Colour for Adventurous Gardeners appeared in 2001.
In his later years he began to write books in collaboration with others: Garden Flowers from Seed with Graham Rice, (1991), andDear Friend and Gardener, an exchange of letters with Beth Chatto (1998). Succession Planting for Adventurous Gardeners(2005) explored the way he and Garrett produced the year-round flow of colour at Dixter by setting one layer of planting upon another.
Cooking was a passion for Lloyd and after his mother’s death he filled Great Dixter with weekend guests for much of the year, cooking expertly for great numbers. It was not unusual for him to meet a couple of visitors in the garden, take to them and invite them in to lunch, even if he already had half a dozen people staying for the weekend. His bookGardener Cook was published in 1998.
Lloyd had an occasionally deserved reputation for grumpiness and an acid tongue, due no doubt to his criticisms in print, his dislike of ever being wrong, and his enjoyment of being provocative.
He knew perfectly well that people found him outspoken, but would rather be regarded as rude rather than uninteresting. On a lecture tour of America, he was billeted with a woman who ran one of the horticultural societies he was to address and who was anxious to touch the hem of her gardening guru. Lloyd found the husband dull and a bore, and wrote words to that effect in his diary. While Lloyd was out visiting gardens in the morning, his hostess took the opportunity to peruse his diary, and when he came back, his cases were on the doorstep.
Lloyd was happiest when he was planning the practical details of the next season’s gardening or tomorrow’s lunch. Until his last few years he refused to dwell on what should happen to the garden after his death, despite knowing that it was a place of pilgrimage for gardeners from all over the world. He believed firmly that he had done his best by it, and felt that his energies should go into developing Great Dixter for today, not fossilising it for the future through the kind of institutional ownership presented by the National Trust. However, in recent months a charitable trust was finally established to manage Great Dixter’s future.
Lloyd, as befits the down-to-earth gardener that he was, died from complications of an operation on his knees. He wanted no funeral but a party.
Christopher Lloyd, OBE, gardener and author, was born on March 2, 1921. He died on January 27, 2006, aged 84."

Don't forget to check out the Great Dixter Website!


  1. Hello:
    As we gardened for over 25 years in Herefordshire, where our garden was regularly open to the public and achieved national recognition, this new blog of yours, with which we wish you every success, is of great interest to us.

    Dixter has never greatly appealed to us, although CL's column each week in Country Life for so many years was hugely entertaining and very informative and for which there is no replacement. Very good friends of ours knew him well and often stayed at Dixter where he was the most generous of hosts.

  2. Hello,

    Congrats whit your new blog. (I'm your second follower :-)). I love this blogspot.


  3. Jane & Lance - Thank you for visiting! Sorry to hear that GD doesn't appeal to you, but I'm very curious now about your garden! Please share!

    Jerome - Bienvenue! Aimez-vous le jardinage?

  4. Congratulations on this new blog and thank you for introducing me to the wonderful work of Christopher Lloyd.

  5. Thanks for visiting and for your encouraging comments.
    I love Dixter. Christo broke all the gardening rules and made a great success of that.
    Got to chat with him in the garden a few years ago as he loved just walking around amongst the visitors.
    I have an interesting shrub in my garden from Dixter too. Although Sissinghurst is great and with lots of history Dixter is more fun.