The sign outside reads ‘Beth Chatto Gardens’. There is a life-size photograph of the great plantswoman in the visitor reception building. But Beth Chatto died in 2018. So who is the living creative force in the garden today?


The answer comes in the form of Åsa (pronounced ‘Orsa’) Gregers-Warg, the 53-year-old head gardener at Beth Chatto Gardens, who arrived at this obscure corner of Essex from Sweden 21 years ago as an intern – and stayed on.

“I first came over one very, very cold January in 2001,” she recalls. “I had seen an article about Beth in a Swedish garden magazine. The whole ethos and philosophy attracted me: her wide knowledge of plants, her artistic eye and her passion for working with nature. So I stayed in London and I came down on the train on the windiest day. It was bitterly cold and I couldn’t see another living soul. But even in winter I was so impressed – I was taken aback by the bone-structure of the garden.

Even in winter I was so impressed – I was taken aback by the bone-structure of the garden.

“Of course I was way too shy to knock on Beth’s door, so I went home and wrote her a letter, asking if I could come and work over the summer. Initially, it was for six months. I lived in a caravan by the vegetable patch – which was great, as I could wander around the garden, observe, make notes, compare cultivars and so on.”

Given this level of dedication from the outset, perhaps it is not surprising that Åsa rapidly became a quasi-head gardener – because “Beth was always the boss”. The role became formalised over time, and Åsa says she has been in charge of the day-to-day running of the garden for the past seven years.

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“When I started,” she says, “Beth told me: ‘I probably haven’t got long left.’ But she was always in the garden working or observing, latterly on her mobility scooter – which was a little hair-raising, as she was always looking at the plants rather than where she was driving. To be honest, I never once saw her sit down in the garden and relax.”

With shoulder-length blonde hair swept back from her forehead and that sunny, open disposition we – perhaps unreasonably – tend to expect from Scandinavians, it is difficult to imagine the preternaturally calm Åsa being fazed by anything. But is there not a great burden of responsibility in being expected to work “in the spirit” of someone who is no longer with us, but whose memory is still so bound up with the garden? “It doesn’t bother me,” says Åsa, apparently with genuine unconcern. “I’m happy just working with the plants. If you ask, do I have to stop and think all the time what Beth would have done, I don’t – because I know that 99 per cent of the time my choice would be the same as Beth’s. Of course, she had her favourites: if she had her way, there would be bergenias everywhere. That was her go-to plant. But my worries are more practical: sustainability; whether we have the manpower; integrating new team members. In the end, the biggest challenge for any gardener is understanding what it is you are trying to create, and getting that image in your head.”

The biggest challenge for any gardener is understanding what it is you are trying to create.

Growing up near Stockholm, Åsa says she was not drawn to gardening as a child. “When you have wild nature, as we do in Sweden, it’s different,” she explains. “We don’t have Dixters or Beth Chattos.” She only began to think of gardening seriously as a career option in her early twenties, while helping her parents in the garden of their weekend cottage, “deep in the forest”. This followed stints as an au pair in the USA and working at a ski resort.

“Initially, I thought about floristry,” she says. “But then I got practical experience [as an intern] in the botanic garden in Stockholm.” There followed a two-year course at a horticultural college, then a period at a nursery-cum-garden centre – and finally, at the age of 31, her horticultural destiny.

“Beth was a tough boss,” Åsa says. “Her whole life was led by plants. When you arrived in the morning, it was as if she had been up since the early hours, impatiently waiting for someone to come in. There was always a long list of things to do. But she was so generous with her time and her knowledge. She was a great friend and I miss her hugely. I always had the highest respect for her.”

She was a great friend and I miss her hugely.

Sometimes in Britain such things can be said almost out of politeness. But in the case of Åsa – who was informed, when she first arrived in England, that she was “quite direct” – it is clear that these sentiments are deeply and earnestly held. Indeed, respect and affection for Beth Chatto are the underlying reasons for her career-long loyalty and dedication to one garden.


Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens, Clacton Road, Elmstead Market Elmstead, Colchester, Essex CO7 7DB. Tel 01206 822007,


Garden critic and landscape historian, Tim Richardson is also founder-director of the Chelsea Fringe Festival.