DEAR CHRISTO: Memories of Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter

by Rosemary Alexander and Fergus Garrett

Publisher: Timber Press (2010)
ISBN 978-1-60469-223-5

Hardback £18.99

This coffee-table book can be compared to your favourite box of chocolates, full of wonderful small chunks to be savoured over time. The title suggests a book full of warming affection and it does not disappoint.

It has been compiled by Linda James of the Dixter office and begins with a foreword by Beth Chatto, a close friend of Christo’s, commenting that all the contributors are like his extended family. It is not a formal biography and the editor has chosen themes linked with short but evocative paragraphs. The contributors are all well-respected people in horticulture worldwide who came into contact with the grand master as friends, acquaintances, through business and travel. It includes memories, anecdotes and thoughts about ‘Christo’, as Christopher Lloyd was affectionately known. It was touching for me to find entries by people I know personally.

It is filled with beautiful photos of the garden and planting, plus a clear map – a saviour for the likes of people like me who always want to know where they are and where they are going next! The editor used these contributions to weave together an intriguing and sensitive atmosphere of both Christo and Great Dixter. One feels involved from the inside and not an observer looking in. This was achieved by the conventional biography already attempted by Stephen Anderton.

Christo was a gardener, a writer, a good cook and a lover of music and opera. I would have got on well with him, apparently he liked people who came armed with pen and notepad and took notes! He also liked lapsang souchong tea, a delight of mine.

Dixter, now known as Great Dixter, is in Northiam, East Sussex: it was a historical 15th century home. Bought by Christopher Lloyd’s father, Nathaniel, who commissioned Lutyens in 1910 to clear the 15th-century house of the later alterations, he added new domestic quarters to accommodate an Edwardian household and a further wing. When his father died and the family moved away, Christo lived there with his mother Daisy (affectionately called ‘the management’), finally on his own with Fergus Garrett as his head gardener.

This book wonderfully entwines both Dixter and Christo into an evocative priceless treasure; I too now feel part of the extended family. Please savour the Dixter magic for yourselves.

Hilary Bosher