Unconventional Mentor no. 18 - Beth Chatto

“Plants, like people, have their preferences and don't like being thrust into the nearest available hole.”

Quote: “Plants, like people, have their preferences and don't like being thrust into the nearest available hole.” - Beth Chatto

Quote: “Plants, like people, have their preferences and don't like being thrust into the nearest available hole.” - Beth Chatto

The garden that Beth Chatto created at her home in Essex is one of my favourite gardens. I don’t know if it is her 1960s house or because being in Essex it reminds me of the landscape I grew up in (just over the border in Suffolk) but it really is a beautiful space. I only realised last year how much I love and appreciate gardens. During the interview for my current job at Perennial, the only charity in the UK that supports horticulturalists during times of need, I put together a presentation about why I thought I was well suited to the organisation. Looking back at photos from me as a child with my grandparents and even on my holidays now, I realised that visiting a garden is top of my list of things to do. I’m not the best at keeping plants alive, but my little garden here in Maidstone in Kent is starting to come together, and I think with a bit more care and attention it will really start to feel like a proper garden. Working at Perennial has certainly reinvigorated my love of gardens and I’m very lucky to be getting to work with some of the best horticulturalists in the industry and will be running at trade stand at the Chelsea flower show this year, I can’t wait!

In preparing for the year ahead I have been looking at the gardens, and garden shops, that inspire me, and I keep coming back to Beth Chatto. Beth Chatto was born in the 1920s and from the 1950s onwards, as she married and started a family, she began to bring plants into her life. She was heavily involved in The Flower Club movement and then in the 1960s, she started to develop what would become the Beth Chatto garden.

“We may all have the same palette, but we paint a different picture.”

Beth Chatto credits part of her approach to gardening being inspired by her husband Andrew, who had done a huge amount of research into plants and what their natural environment was like, which helped her to select “the right plant for the right place.” She also took inspiration from her artist friend Cedric Morris who was also a keen gardener. He inspired in her a sense of developing her own style when it came to make her garden, to paint her own picture with the plants. She was a pioneer of using species plants in her garden, rather than the traditional cultivar garden plants and her influence continues in the gardening world today.

“The right plant for the right place”

At the root of Beth Chatto’s gardening philosophy is choosing the right plant for the right place. A plant will thrive when it lives in the conditions in which it was meant to be grown in, if you put it in a place in which the conditions aren’t what it needs then it will shrivel and die. She knew that in her gravel garden, she needed to find plants that would tolerate extreme drought and heat to survive in this space. Throughout her garden she sought out the plants that would work in the conditions she had, to make the most of every inch of space.

Beth Chatto died in May 2018 at the grand old age of 94. Her legacy lives on in the books she wrote, and of course the garden and nursery that she established in Elmstead Market.

Mentor advice: Know the conditions under which you thrive and do your best to make those conditions happen.

The advice I take from Beth Chatto is to know the conditions under which you thrive and do your best to make those conditions happen. Over the last two years I have had regular coaching sessions which have caused me to do a lot of reflecting on my own needs and behaviour. I have come to understand the conditions under which I thrive and do my best work, and those in which I become bored or frustrated and stagnate in my career. For me, doing work that I feel has a greater purpose and positive impact on the world, and being able to have the autonomy to do that is top of the list. When either of these things aren’t available to me, or worse taken away, I start to become frustrated and don’t do my best work. This project came about because I want to inspire people to take big, bold steps in their careers and businesses, and to bring their ideas into the world. Being able to work on this project on my own, being responsible for everything from who to feature to putting the copy and images together, is what makes me excited and I have really thrived by doing it. What are the conditions that you need to thrive in your career?

You can find out more about Beth Chatto and visiting the gardens here, and you can also hear her speak about how life and gardening in these wonderful videos. To find out more about Perennial and the work we do to visit Horticulturalists visit their website.