Under the glossy surface of this handsome book there is a core of steel. As one first picks it up with its large photographs of beautiful flowers and many charming illustrations, one thinks “aha, another pretty coffee table book” but nothing could be further from the truth. Only the truly dedicated and knowledgeable plantsperson could cope with the advice dispensed by Lloyd in his insouciant fashion. All the horticultural information he gathered over his more than 80 years of life is on display here.
Christopher Lloyd had become the “Grand Old Man” of British horticulture, a status much admired in England if only one lives long enough. Remember W. Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, a novel in which a rather loathsome man of letters was invested with a golden nimbus simply because he lived to be 90. Lloyd was an indefatigable writer and teacher over the years but those close to him were aware of aspects of his personality which could be summed up as an enfant terrible enclosed in a monstre sacré.
Lloyd was born at Great Dixter in Sussex, lived in the same house all his life and died there. Everything he knew about gardens and plants came from observing the seasons and plant growth on his property. The garden had been built from the ground up by his father, a successful businessman who moved to the country in early middle life. Added to that was a strong-willed and autocratic mother who brooked no disagreement in garden matters.
As soon as he inherited Great Dixter he began to dismantle his parents’ structure and re-create the garden in his own style. What he had also inherited, apart from property and wealth, was the idea that a garden is a serious occupation for an intelligent man. His almost weekly contributions to “Country Life” and the numerous books he wrote all lead to the same conclusion. For him Great Dixter was like Gilbert White’s Selborne, a complete world unto itself. He neither wanted nor needed anything else.
Lloyd could never rest on his laurels. As soon as he had made a change, he wanted to change it again. He found nothing so soul-destroying as routine and rote. That is probably why Succession Planting comes as the culmination of a long and complex life in plants. He could not bear to have an empty space in the border even for a week or two. Change became permanent.
The way in which to carry this out demands a minute knowledge of each plant’s specific characteristics, together with a strong awareness of how it will do surrounded by the other plants in its vicinity. Shrubs and small trees act as anchors and the yew hedges are indispensable as backdrop to the gorgeous hues he adored. For example, the caption to one modest sized picture on page 14 contains references to 17 different cultivars and varieties of flower. This book should be treated as a reference, to be consulted from time to time for inspiration. It is marvelous.
Copyright © Judith M. Taylor MD 2008
Succession Planting for Year Round Pleasure
Portland, Oregon Timber Press 2005
Review by Judith M. Taylor, M. D.
The San Francisco Garden Club
Member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society