Andy Salter's plantsman's garden

A Kent garden inspired by Great Dixter’s borders

Inspired by Great Dixter’s mixed borders, Andy Salter has conjured a dynamic garden full of surprise on a plot in Kent. Photographs Claire Takacs

Down a track deep in the Kentish countryside is the kind of landscape usually only encountered in literature. Sheep graze in the fields, kingfishers dart along the river where watercress grows and, sitting proud in a meadow, is a tiny, black-painted house. When Andy Salter first came here in 2014, it was a book that sprung to mind: Walden by Henry David Thoreau, about his quest for self-sufficiency while on a two-year sojourn in the 1840s in a cabin in the woods around Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

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Bignor Garden, designed by Chris Moss
© Jason Ingram

The possibility of making a garden was important to Andy, a special-effects artist, who had also fallen hard for horticulture. A working holiday on a farm in Japan had led to a course at Hadlow College in Kent and then, inspired by a tutor who sang Christopher Lloyd’s praises, on to Great Dixter where Andy volunteered under head gardener Fergus Garrett, sometimes for as many as four days a week, for four years. Read more about the garden below.

Andy Salter's plantsman's garden
© Claire Takacs

Andy Salter’s house stands on a deck enveloped in planting. Beyond the fence, he has planted a wildflower meadow, which he hopes to expand.
He devotes October to mowing, having already established yellow rattle to weaken grass growth and allow other flowers to proliferate.

Andy Salter's plantsman's garden
© Claire Takacs

Plants, shapes and colours are repeated to make a coherent whole. The red of Rosa ‘Florence Mary Morse’ is echoed in ladybird poppies and, later, in Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, and the domed heads of Angelica archangelica are mirrored in the Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii. Stands of Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cosmopolitan’, Digitalis and Thalictrum ‘Elin’ add vertical interest.

Discover Andy Salter’s tips on how to recreate the Great Dixter border look and 12 key plants from the garden

Andy Salter's plantsman's garden
© Claire Takacs

Andy loves the contrast of the dark foliage of Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Eva’ with the white-flowered Persicaria x fennica (a combination also used at Great Dixter) and the lilac Knautia macedonica. Cardoons and a golden-leaved Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ will grow to screen the house beyond.

Andy Salter's plantsman's garden
© Claire Takacs

A handsome clump of Thalictrum ‘Elin’ will soon be challenged in height by the emerging Macleaya x kewensis ‘Flamingo’ in the foreground. In the distance is the distinctive silhouette of Ferula communis subsp. glauca with its yellow flowers.

Andy Salter's plantsman's garden
© Claire Takacs

In the rear corner of the garden, a mass of jewel-coloured poppies mingle with cornflowers, alliums and a mauve form of Knautia macedonica, their soft flowers a striking contrast to the sword-leaved Eryngium pandanifolium ‘Physic Purple’. New and unfamiliar plants that Andy wishes to trial are grown in pots on the deck.

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This article appeared in May’s Gardens Illustrated magazine. Subscribe here.