by Catherine Horwood
A personal review by Judith Ladley
On looking through the April edition of the RHS magazine recently I noticed two book reviews by Fergus Garrett which looked particularly interesting. The first was a book about Jimi Blake, a recent lecturer at our last Conference, and the second was Catherine Horwood’s biography of Beth Chatto and her life with plants. This proved the more tempting and having just had a win on the premium bonds (£25!) I treated myself via e-bay.
It is an extremely comprehensive coverage of Beth’s life, telling of her childhood love of gardening, her education, early marriage to Andrew Chatto and later the many and varied personalities in the world of horticulture who became her friends. I was particularly interested in Beth’s friendship with Cedric Morris and, later, her association with Christopher Lloyd.
I first learned about Beth Chatto and her nursery through flower arranging classes in the 1970s and by the early 80s decided it was time to take a trip down to Colchester. Along with three flower arranging/gardening friends the visit was arranged and we decided to call at Bressingham Gardens, then in its heyday, to break our journey. After a night spent in Diss we progressed on to Colchester and Elmstead Market and after a picnic in the car park (now the gravel garden) we toured Beth’s beautiful garden before progressing into the nursery area (bliss).
In her book Catherine tells of Mrs Desmond Underwood’s great friendship with Beth. I do know we visited Mrs Underwood’s nursery, where she specialized in silver plants, but I did not realise she had such a great influence in starting the nursery.
After a night spent in Colchester we set out for home. My Austin Metro was crammed full: four ladies and over 60 plants. It was a long hard drive, but well worth the effort.
I am reading this delightful book slowly – something to look forward to each day, it could not have come at a better time.
Beth Chatto: a life with plants
by Catherine Horwood
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Pimpernel Press Ltd; (5 Sept. 2019)