Dear Friend and Gardener: Book Review

Beth Chatto (b. 1923) is a British plantswoman and famous for her garden in Essex, which she began to make from scratch in 1960.   In contrast, Christopher (Christo) Lloyd (1921-2006) was born at Great Dixter in Sussex, an already established garden.  Both with very different gardens and both dear friends, having first met in the early 1970’s.  Their friendship grew over the years with visits to their respective gardens and the exchange of wonderful and interesting, warm letters.

It was a publisher who suggested they incorporate their letters into a book and in 1998, Dear Friend and Gardener was first published.   Aurum Publishing are re-releasing the book on 3 October 2013, this time with a foreword by Fergus Garrett, the Head Gardener at Great Dixter together with some beautiful photographs.

Dear Friend jkt copy

Their personal letters, written with wonderful command of the English language,  include:

  • An exchange of cooking ideas:-

“…we ate a platter of cheese with French made bread and a vegetable salad made of diced courgette – the little round patty type…little tomatoes “Gardeners Delight and Golden Summer, all held together with a curd sauce instead of mayonnaise”.  

Beth to Christo – 28 August

  • Planting ideas: –

“…to prevent too many flowering plants looking like ice-cream soda. I use bold foliage plants set among these to make strong accents.  A Cordyline crowns the group with phormium with green and white striped leaves echo a particularly handsome pelargonium…”.

Christo to Beth – 20 September

  • Picturesque descriptions:-

“…It is now another sunny day, after an even colder night, bringing the rest of the mulberry’s leaves down to form a thick carpet, through which you cannot see the lawn grass at all”.

Christo to Beth – 30 October

  • And personal thoughts:-

“…we have both been blessed….to have enjoyed good health, enabling us to carry on as if old age were always far ahead, but like an old tractor, parts do wear out.  Over the past year or so, I have been made to pause and consider what my body is trying to tell me, that there are signs of wear and tear, to slow down a bit..,”

Beth to Christo – 11 October

They also exchanged seeds and cuttings, albeit their gardens being of a very diverse styles.

Beth Chatto’s Garden and Great Dixter are on the “must visit” list of gardeners and garden lovers alike, it is interesting to read their discussions about the future of large gardens being able to continue to exist, which at the time of writing to each other must have been a concern:-

“…Will there be people to afford to own and keep them up to scratch?  It is in the private sector that more inspiration is to be expected… there will always be plant enthusiasts who want to create a beautiful scene with plants…and enthusiasm is infectious.”

Christo to Beth – 8 January

This book makes for a fascinating historical account of two famous gardens between two expert gardeners.  They exchange ideas, successes, and failures as well as day-to-day ordinary events occurring in their lives.

It is not a book that you would read from cover to cover, as you would a novel, but one that is great to dip in and out of.  It is full of plant information and planting ideas.  My only criticism is that the majority of plants are referred to by their Latin name, this is slightly frustrating but is easily overcome by quickly looking up the names and is a good learning curve.  It would be a welcome Christmas present for any garden lover.

If you would like a copy, the publishers have the following reader’s offer:

To order a copy of Dear Friend and Gardener for £16 including p&p* (RRP £20), telephone 01903 828503 or email, and quote the offer code APG16.   *UK only – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.


  1. I spotted the original edition in an Oxfam bookshop for £4.99, in mint condition, and absolutely love it. As you say, it’s not a book to read cover to cover so I restrict myself to the particular month we are in, which makes it all the more relevant. So, it is really interesting to hear that a revised version will be out shortly, and with photos too, I suspect I won’t be able to resist it. Thanks for the tip!


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