Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden – Book Review

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I’ve only recently become a fan of Beth Chatto after a recommendation from Monty on Gardeners World. I promptly bought and thoroughly enjoyed her book ‘Garden Notebook’. I’d put her Shade Garden book in my amazon wishlist so it was perfect timing when I was asked if I would like to review the revised and updated version which was has just been published.

Beth is well known for coining the phrase and gardening philosophy of ‘the right plant for the right place’ and holds the RHS’s highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour as well as being awarded an OBE. She is a plantswoman. garden designer and author who created her own famous gardens and nursery in Essex in 1960. The Beth Chatto Gardens comprise a varied range of planting sites totalling five acres, including dry, sun-baked gravel, water and marginal planting, woodland, shady, heavy clay and alpine planting, and now include the Gravel Garden, Woodland Garden, Water Garden, Long Shady Walk, Reservoir Garden and Scree Garden. It was the development of these sites that prompted her to write books on gardening with what could be considered as “problem areas” using plants that nature has developed to survive in differing conditions.

The Shade Garden was originally published in 2002 and describes how she transformed a dark, derelict site into a garden that is tranquil yet full of life in every season. She offers a palette of more than 500 plants that will flourish in the shade. The book begins in Winter and follows the seasons in a diary style. We begin with snowdrops, aconites, narcissus and hellebores heralding the awakening of the garden and move through to the Summer when the overhead canopy provides the perfect habitat for ferns, hostas and grasses. Autumn brings the berrying shrubs and the glowing colours that are synonymous with that time of year. The book also contains a reference section of shade tolerant plants for specific hardiness zones.

I really love her writing style, it’s personal, based on her many years of experience and trial and error, it’s not like a more traditional factual gardening manual. You really get a sense of the gardens and her love of nature through the narrative and it’s illustrated throughout with lush photography. I’ve been sneaking up to bed early every evening so that I can read this and now have a growing list of plants to put into our shady border bed under a beech hedge where to date, we’ve had little success. Attention has been duly paid to ‘the right plant in the right place’ principle which should stand us in better stead this time around.

This book is great for anyone who has a shady area that they’re a bit stumped with or just for a good old interesting read that fills you with a rosy glow of well-being. It would make a great gift. I’ve also now purchased a copy of her book The Damp Garden that I shall savour for another day – she’s still winning fans at the age of 93, I’m one of them, which is pretty impressive. She still lives in a house in the gardens where she continues to work with her team, I’d love to visit one day.

The Shade Garden has an RRP of £30 however it’s on amazon for £20!

2 comments

  1. I will definitely look for that book. I’ve visited Beth’s gardens twice…once when the cyclamen were amazing. I have her Green Tapestry book and love it.

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