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Chatto, Beth 1923-

CHATTO, Beth 1923-

PERSONAL:

Born June 27, 1923; daughter of William George and Bessie Beatrice Little; married Andrew Edward Chatto, 1943 (died, 1999); children: two daughters. Education: Attended Hockerill Training College for Teachers. Hobbies and other interests: Family, cooking, entertaining, music, reading, and gardening.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex CO7 7DB, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Gardener, writer, lecturer, teacher, flower arranger. Beth Chatto Gardens, Colchester, Essex, England, founder and proprietor, 1960—, Nursery, 1967—. Has given lectures and talks throughout the United Kingdom and in the United States, 1983, 1984, and 1986, in Holland and Germany, 1987, and in Australia and Toronto, Canada, 1989.

MEMBER:

Colchester Flower Club (founding member).

AWARDS, HONORS:

Lawrence Memorial Medal, Royal Horticultural Society, 1988; Order of the British Empire, 2002, for services to horticulture.

WRITINGS:

The Dry Garden, J. M. Dent (London, England), 1978, updated edition with introduction by Thomas Fischer, Sagapress (Sagaponack, NY), 1996.

The Damp Garden, illustrated by Margaret Davies, J. M. Dent (London, England), 1982, Sagapress (Sagaponack, NY), 1996.

Plant Portraits, illustrated by Jill Coombs and Christine Grey-Wilson, J. M. Dent (London, England), 1985.

The Green Tapestry: Perennial Plants for Your Garden, photographs by Ron Sutherland and Steven Wooster, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989, revised edition published as Beth Chatto's Green Tapestry: Perennial Plants for Your Garden, HarperCollins (London, England), 1999.

Beth Chatto's Garden Notebook, introduced and updated by Thomas Fischer, Sagapress (Sagaponack, NY), 1997.

(With Christopher Lloyd) Dear Friend and Gardener: Letters on Life and Gardening, Trafalgar Square Publishing (North Pomfret, VT), 1998.

Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden: Drought-Resistant Planting through the Year, photographs by Steven Wooster, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2000.

Beth Chatto's Woodland Garden: Shade-Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest, photographs by Steven Wooster, Cassell Illustrated (London, England), 2002.

Contributor of articles to Garden, English Garden, Horticulture, American Journal of Horticulture, Sunday Telegraph, and Hortus. Also helped produce and appeared in gardening videos, including The Beth Chatto Gardens and My Garden, 1995.

SIDELIGHTS:

With no formal horticultural education of her own, English gardener Beth Chatto has created not only a well-known nursery in Colchester, England, but also a number of popular gardening books that deal with topics from dry-weather plants to shade plants. An international lecturer in gardening and horticulture, Chatto was in part trained by her parents, who were enthusiastic amateur gardeners, and was additionally aided by her husband's study of the natural associations of plants. Inspired by these sources, she began introducing the idea of ecology in garden design, founding her well-known gardens in 1960.

Beginning with the publication of The Dry Garden in 1978, Chatto has created a list of well-received gardening titles that have been published in England and the United States. Both in The Dry Garden and 1982's The Damp Garden, Chatto created books that, according to Christopher Andreae in the Christian Science Monitor, have become "classics." As Andreae further noted, "Mrs. Chatto's basic philosophy is: Why fight conditions?" Thus at her Beth Chatto Gardens she learned to deal not only with arid soil, but also with poorly drained ground. For the former she found drought-loving plants from the Mediterranean, and for the wetter ground she brought in plants that thrived in the moister parts of northern and western Britain. The lists of plants she uses for each condition form the heart of these gardening books, and through her efforts she brought little-known or used plants, such as Carex or sedge for wet conditions and Bergenias for dry conditions, into prominence. Reviewing a revised edition of The Damp Garden, a contributor for Reference & Research Book News noted that additions to the 1996 edition make the book "more useful for North American gardeners." Andreae also went on to note that in these two early books and in her gardens Chatto "has magnificently shown" how to grow "wonderful native plants that have adapted to no less impossible circumstances."

Many of Chatto's publications take a more casual and less nuts-and-bolts approach to gardening. Beth Chatto's Garden Notebook, for example, is a diary of a year in the writer's life at her gardens. Unlike other such books that can be "self-indulgent," as Victoria Glendinning pointed out in the Spectator, Chatto's addition to the genre is full of "frank … opinions" and "variegated information" that will make it "an evergreen" publication. With The Green Tapestry: Perennial Plants for Your Garden, Chatto primarily presents a picture book of her gardens with explanatory text. For one House and Garden reviewer, this title is "an attractive and quite personal wish book all about the author's own garden," but for Allen Lacy, writing in the New York Times Book Review, the work "seems to be several books in one," with a text that left the reviewer "wanting to hear more—not look at pictures of hostas." This complaint is addressed in the 1999 revision, Beth Chatto's Green Tapestry: Perennial Plants for Your Garden, which a contributor for Publishers Weekly called a "welcome reprise," and one that "will suit American gardens in zones 4-7."

Another title from Chatto that is less of a how-to book is her 1998 collection, Dear Friend and Gardener:Letters on Life and Gardening. This book features letters between Chatto and another of England's leading gardening writers, Christopher Lloyd, and involves topics beyond horticulture that range from cooking to music. Mary Keen, writing in the Spectator, felt that this "is a book that thoughtful gardeners who are interested in the wider world will want to own." Jennifer Potter presented a similar opinion in the Times Literary Supplement, commenting that "once the letters gain their own momentum, they crackle with ideas, tips, [and] stories bartered back and forth." Potter further noted, "These are both writers who get their hands dirty. Trust them." And in the opinion of Fine Gardening reviewer Linda Wesley, the title will make "great bedside reading."

On a more technical level are Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden: Drought-Resistant Planting through the Year and Beth Chatto's Woodland Garden: Shade-Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest. Again, reviewers have praised Chatto's impressive knowledge and attention to detail in both titles. Valerie Easton, writing in Horticulture, found Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden a "practical guide to lower-maintenance and environmentally conscious gardening." New York Times Book Review contributor Verlyn Klinkenborg commended Chatto's "crisp enthusiasm and a vivid sense of what is possible" in the same work, while Flower and Garden Magazine writer Jonathan Prebich observed that Chatto "eloquently explains" how to find and cultivate the proper plants for dry environments. Reviewing Beth Chatto's Woodland Garden, Carol Haggas noted in Booklist that the author supplies over five hundred plant varieties for shady zones and "describes this amazing bounty in poetic, nearly rhapsodic terms." Critiquing the same title in the New York Times Book Review, Klinkenborg dubbed Chatto the "doyen of difficulties."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, February 1, 2003, Carol Haggas, review of Beth Chatto's Woodland Garden: Shade-Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest, p. 962.

Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 1990, Christopher Andreae, "Pick Plants That Fit Natural Conditions," p. 12.

Fine Gardening, September, 1999, Linda Wesley, review of Dear Friend and Gardener: Letters on Life and Gardening, p. 68.

Flower and Garden Magazine, July, 2000, Jonathan Prebich, review of Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden: Drought-Resistant Planting through the Year, p. 9.

Horticulture, September, 1989, Ann Lovejoy, review of Beth Chatto's Garden Tapestry: Perennial Plants for Your Garden, pp. 49-50; May, 2001, Valerie Easton, review of Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden, p. 78.

House and Garden, May, 1989, review of The Green Tapestry: Perennial Plants for Your Garden, p. 91.

New York Times Book Review, June 11, 1989, Allen Lacy, review of The Green Tapestry, p. 30; June 4, 2000, Verlyn Klinkenborg, review of Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden, p. 39; December 8, 2002, Verlyn Klinkenborg, review of Beth Chatto's Woodland Garden, p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, June 7, 1999, review of Beth Chatto's Green Tapestry, p. 79.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 1997, review of The Damp Garden, p. 167.

Spectator, December 10, 1988, Victoria Glendinning, review of Beth Chatto's Garden Notebook, pp. 36-37; December 5, 1998, Mary Keen, review of Dear Friend and Gardener, p. 53.

Times Literary Supplement, October 2, 1998, Jennifer Potter, review of Dear Friend and Gardener, p. 35.

ONLINE

Beth Chatto Gardens,http://www.bethchatto.co.uk/ (June 23, 2004).

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