Beth Chatto: A Life with Plants

by Catherine Horwood

A personal review by Judith Ladley

The main garden – picture from the HPS holiday 2016

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). 

Picnic in the car park – now the Gravel Garden
The Gravel Garden as it is today

  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.

Laden car

I am reading this delightful book slowly – something to look forward to each day, it could not have come at a better time.

Judith Ladley

Publication details

Beth Chatto: a life with plants

by Catherine Horwood

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Pimpernel Press Ltd; (5 Sept. 2019)

ISBN-10: 1910258822

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