Monday, July 28, 2008

The Long Border at Great Dixter

"Not a lot of room for weeds"
The Long Border at Great Dixter

12" x 16", coloured pencils in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

One of the things I love best in gardens is a big long herbaceous border full to overflowing with blowsy perennials. Such borders came about as a nineteenth century response to over formal gardens and were then popularised by garden designers such as Gertrude Jekyll in the Arts and Craft Period of garden design (see Gardens in Art: Arts and Crafts Gardens #1.)

Jekyll's partner in many house and garden design projects was Sir Edwin Lutyens so it's hardly surprising to find that there's a long herbaceous border at Great Dixter as Lutyen worked in collboration with the owner in the design of some of the house and garden. Not surprisingly it's called The Long Border - and if you click the link you can see just how long it is relative to what is a large house.

Great Dixter - The Long Border
looking north west to the house

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

It's been my ambition to have a go at sketching it for a while - but to do so I had to first decide where was the best spot. Then once I'd decided that the Lutyens Bench at the top end of the path was probably the best place I then actually had make sure I could sit on it as it's ALWAYS got somebody sat on it! (This is a garden with very few seats.)

However last Friday a couple got up just as I arrived at the Long Border and I scurried up the path which you can see in the photo below right (who am I kidding - I nearly broke into a trot despite the dodgy feet!) and managed to sit down on it before anybody else had the same idea.

The Long Border, Great Dixter - looking south east to the Lutyens Bench
(High Garden to the left and meadow to the right)
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The plein air sketch at the top is the result. The title for the sketch comes from the comments from an elderly couple who came and sat next to me. "Not a lot of room for weeds" was the wry comment of the elderly gentleman.

This sketch started off as massive shapes of hatched colour which I just kept refining and refining until the end result was the above sketch.

People ruminate about composition - but sitting on this seat there wasn't a lot of choice - except where to crop! However I was helped by the huge dark shape of the tree which really set off the bright colours of the pink phlox, yellow verbascum and coreopsis verticillata and red crocosmia 'lucifer'. I loved the way that there were lots of different natural forms which intermingled. I think I captured the sense of profusion - although I don't think I've done as well as I would have liked with the cardoons!

I confess I added some more colour when I got home and also added some more "drawing by battery eraser" which I find works so well for producing lighter values and cleaning up paler patches and splodges. It is also fabulous for making a mark - quite literally - in lots and lots of different ways to create the sense of the different shapes created by the planting.

One of the outstanding features of the Great Dixter garden at this time of year is the Verbascum - which apparently are self-seeding and which are everywhere! The particularly large one is called Verbascum Olympicum and was very much favoured by Christopher Lloyd and his head gardener Fergus Garrett.
The biennial V.olympicum (2m/7ft) .....makes a heavy candelbrum (we need to give each plant a stake) which braches generously near the top, making a powerful head of yellow bloom. Some visitors think we have too much of this but Fergus and I think otherwise.
Christopher Lloyd - Christopher Lloyd's Gardening Year - July p141
Verbascum Olympicum in the Long Border, Great Dixter
copyright Katherine Tyrrell



  1. AnonymousJuly 28, 2008

    Hi Katherine,
    I love your use of color here, a bit brighter than some of the sketches I've seen you do. Looks great, lots of movement in your pencil strokes. It must have taken a bit of time biulding up the strokes in Color Pencil?
    thanks for posting such great information,

  2. You should be thrilled with the way this one turned out, Katherine. It's beautiful and the electric eraser works magic for you.

    I did have a chuckle about your dash for the seat. I was lurking near one myself the other day, menacing two old ladies who were having the sort of very long chat, Italian ladies do. As they finally got up they must have felt the breeze as I slid in behind them.

  3. Thanks Mary - it doesn't take too long. I hatch very fast as anybody who has seen me sketch will testify!

    The brightness is entirely down to the wonderful garden at Great Dixter - it's even more colourful in reality.

    Robyn - I hooted! We sketchers have never been known to let a good perch go to waste!

  4. Very beautiful sketch! You have rendered it really well without killing the spontaneity of it with too much fussy and unnecessary detail! Love it. This is the sort of border that I'm attempting to achieve in Bluffton, South Carolina. It's very hot here so it's a real challenge, but it's made progress. (I just started on it in April, so I guess I shouldn't be hard on myself!)

  5. Thanks Judy - this particular border has been going a few years so I think they've worked out a number of planting patterns which work - which I guess makes the work a little bit easier.

    I can highly recommend Christopher Lloyd's books - they're a really good read and very valuable for people interested in planting combinations.


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