Garden News

Beth Chatto 27th June 1923 - 13th May 2018

Date 14thMay 2018


Beth Chatto OBE VMH dies 


It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Beth Chatto OBE VMH, the acclaimed gardener, writer and plantswoman. 


Beth Chatto, who was born on 27 June 1923, died peacefully at home with her family by her side, on the evening of 13thMay 2018, aged 94. There will be a private funeral with a memorial service to follow.


In a gardening career spanning six decades, Beth Chatto’s many awards included ten successive Gold Medals at RHS Chelsea, the RHS’s highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour, and the RHS Lawrence Medal both in 1987, the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 from the Garden Writers Guild (now the Garden Media Guild), and two honorary doctorates, from Essex University in 1987, and from Anglia Ruskin University in 2009.  


In 2002, Beth Chatto was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours, and her most recent honour came in 2014 when she received The John Brookes Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Garden Designers.


Beth’s spirit will live on in the gardens and her gardening ethos will continue through the work of the Beth Chatto Education Trust, established to inspire the next generation of gardeners.


She leaves behind her two daughters, five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. 


More about Beth:

Beth Chatto was born on 27 June 1923 in Good Easter, Essex. She attended Colchester Girls’ High School and trained to be a teacher at Hockerill College, Bishop’s Stortford from 1940 to 1943. 


In the early 1940s, she met fruit farmer, Andrew Chatto. Their shared love of plants brought them together and they married in 1943. They lived in Braiswick, Colchester, where their two daughters, Diana and Mary, were born in 1946 and 1948.  Andrew died in 1999.


In the early 1950s, a close neighbour, Mrs Pamela Underwood, who ran a nursery, encouraged her to become involved with flower arranging. They both became founder members of the Colchester Flower Club, the second flower club in Britain. 


Around the same time, the Chattos met Sir Cedric Morris, whose art school at Benton End, Nr Hadleigh, Suffolk, attracted later to be famous names such as Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. She learned about plants from Morris but was dismayed when he advised her that to create a great garden she would have to move.


By the late 1950s, she persuaded her husband to build a house on part of his fruit farm at Elmstead Market. The site, with its slope from dry gravelly soil to a boggy, stream-fed ditch gave her the combination of conditions on which to create what has become one of the most famous and loved gardens in the world.


In 1967, she opened a small nursery called ‘Unusual Plants’. Although she claimed never to have coined the phrase ‘right plant, right place’, this was always the abiding tenet of her planting philosophy. The gardens and nursery soon became a place of pilgrimage for keen gardeners. 


In early 1975, she was persuaded to enter a small selection of plants at a Royal Horticultural Society show in London, dug up from the garden. Unknown to her at the time, one of the judges wanted to have her exhibit disqualified as he felt her native plants rather than cultivars were no more than ‘weeds’. The other judges disagreed and she was awarded an RHS Flora Silver Medal.

Her first exhibit at the RHS’s Chelsea Flower Show in 1976 won a Flora Silver Gilt medal, but the following year came the first of ten successive Chelsea Gold Medals. Her stand was unique at the time with its display of plants for dry and damp areas as they would be seen growing in contrast to the traditional Chelsea displays with plants shown in visible black pots.


In 1978, she wrote her first book, The Dry Garden, and in 1982 The Damp Garden. These were followed by Plant Portraits (1985), Beth Chatto’s Notebook (1988), and The Green Tapestry (1989). In 1998, she collaborated with her close friend, Christopher Lloyd in Dear Friend and Gardener. This was followed by Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden(2000), and Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden (2002). The Gravel Garden, on the site of the old car park, was to become her most famous achievement displaying plants carefully chosen to cope with ultra-dry conditions which have never been watered other than by light Essex rainfall.


Among the many awards bestowed on her, she was enormously proud to receive in the same year, 1987, the RHS’s highest honour, the Victoria Medal of Honour as well as their Lawrence Medal for the best display at Chelsea. She was given two honorary doctorates, one from Essex University in 1988, and from Anglia Ruskin University in 2009. Among many other awards, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Garden Writers’ Guild (now the Garden Media Guild) in 1998, the Order of the British Empire medal (OBE) in 2002, and The John Brookes Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society of Garden Designers in 2009.


The garden and nursery continue to thrive under the direction of Beth’s granddaughter, Julia Boulton. The Beth Chatto Education Trust was established in 2015 to promote her beliefs and give practical advice to future generations of young gardeners.

Beth Chatto 27th June 1923 - 13th May 2018

Comments (21)

I'm glad i was able to visit the gardens last year! I remember her in my garden with some of her lovely plants.....Thank you, Beth, you changed gardening for ever!!!
Anneke (Holland) | 04/06/2018
Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd are my two gardening heros. So I especially love Dear Friend and Gardener which I can read over and over again. And even though I have easy access to the internet I still like to refer to The Beth Chatto Handbook for her comments on a particular plant. So sad to have lost both Christopher and Beth now but they live on in their writing and legacy of beautiful and inspirational gardens and ideas.
Carole Josselyn | 27/05/2018
I never met Beth but I traveled from Devon to visit her garden quite a few times....her books detailing how she started and used mulch a lot have helped us create a garden from one of our farm fields.

We open for the NGS today [ we do so every 2 years]. I feel Beth can take a share in the achievement.......many of the plants purchased from her nursery have been propagated on and are for sale here to raise money for the NGS charities.

Thank you.
James Hedger | 26/05/2018
Inspiring life's work, filled with passion for plants that lives on in all her writings, gardens, nursery and the lovely folk at Beth Chatto Gardens
Sarah Jarman | 24/05/2018
It was with great sadness that I learned of Beth's passing on the BBC tv this evening. I had the great joy of visiting her garden last year, and found it so beautiful. Her spirit filled the garden. From her writings, especially Dear Friend and Gardener with Christopher Lloyd she revealed herself to be a lovely, warm and above all caring person, for her husband and family, and of great importance to her, all her staff. A lovely lady to be proud of, who I for one will greatly miss. .
Elizabeth Warner | 23/05/2018
I was so very sorry to read this - we enjoyed visiting her garden last year and seeing what had been achieved. She was so lovely on the interview a few years ago on Gardeners World, a gentle soul whose love of plants radiated from her entire being. She has left a wonderful legacy, that her family can be proud of.
SARAH DENNISTON | 23/05/2018
I visited the gardens last year with a friend and we were both completely captivated by their uniqueness. Having visited many wonderful gardens both great and small I have never been anywhere else quite like the Beth Chatto Gardens. Each area so exuded the intense passion and ethos of the garden's creator that without discussion my friend and I slipped quietly away from each other to take time alone just to drink in the atmosphere and spirituality of the place. Gardens inevitably change and develop and with the Trust in place this natural progression is assured but I feel quite sure that Beth's spirit will continue to dwell in her gardens.
Sue Napper | 21/05/2018
I pay deeply my respect to mrs Beth Chatto. I visited the garden 11th of may. I was touched and impressed. I must say that it is the most wonderful garden I've ever seen--- and I've seen a lot in the UK and all over the world. Thank you so much! Sorry for my english, I' m german
Petra Behrens | 21/05/2018
So sorry to hear of her death. The garden is her legacy.
.Gill Strudwick | 20/05/2018
I was terribly upset to hear of Beth's passing today from someone in the trade. I met Beth on several occasions over the years and was at first nervous in her presence, given her status. But she was never intimidating. She was a delight in conversation and an inspiration. We always have and always will buy plants from Beth. My deepest sympathies to her family and her extended family of gardeners at the Beth Chatto Gardens.
Mark | 19/05/2018
After a decade of our tour company bringing Aussies to see the famous garden and meet Beth, she was always so gracious, I had the chance to film the garden & interview Beth in 2006 for Australian audiences. Many ‘met’ her for the first time. No-one ever forgot or will forget Beth one of history’s finest plantswoman
Graham Ross VMM | 16/05/2018
Beth's garden is one of the most peaceful and beautiful places we have ever visited and one of our most favourite days out. She has been an inspiration to us all. RIP.
Roy | 15/05/2018
Sadly an end of an era. It was nice to think that my bees may well have made honey from pollen taken from the plants in her garden. A privilege to have lived near to and met such an inspiring lady.
She will be remembered and missed by many.
Our condolences to her family.
Ian Hunter | 15/05/2018
sad passing of a true and genuine horticultural icon. will inside celebrate her life her wisdom and her immense achievements. but i have also shed a tear. RIP Beth.
terry king | 15/05/2018
I am very sad that Beth Chatto has died!!! She was a great lady, I have learnt so much from her & was introduced to so many plants I never thought they existed!!
I enjoyed her short video at Lambeth palace garden, I have seen it again & again as she is my favourite designer, plants women & kind lady. Please accept my condolences on your great loss. Suha Aranki
Mrs S aranki | 15/05/2018
Beth Chatto’s ideas have been an inspiration to me for over 2 decades. Her first book, The Dry Garden’ got me really thinking about our use of water, and how to choose the right plants for their situation. Another book Dear Friend and Gardener with Christopher Lloyd had me in tears with laughter and fed me with further understanding. My condolences to her family, and may we all go on in our gardens celebrating a life so very well lived.
Andi | 14/05/2018
Beth Chatto is no longer with us but her spirit and love of plants will inspire gardeners for generations to come.
Richard Heaton | 14/05/2018
When I was studying for my Landscape Architecture degree in the 1990s, they didn't teach us much about plants on the actual course so plantswomen like Beth Chatto became heroes that I read about in books. Many years later I found myself living not far from Elmstead Market and have enjoyed being a regular visitor to her gardens ever since. Amazing and inspirational woman.
Gillian | 14/05/2018
Very sad to hear this news today. I've enjoyed numerous visits to the gardens over the years and you simply can't help but leave full of ideas and inspiration. What a lovely legacy she has left for us all. I hope the gardens will continue to flourish for many years to come.
Rob Sangster | 14/05/2018
So sad too hear of Beth's passing my mum and dad were her next door neighbours in Braiswick and she was a lovely lady , who will be sadly missed.
debbe gatland | 14/05/2018
How very very sad. I only met and spoke,very briefly,to her twice,but such a lovely lady. I do hope the nursery and lovely garden continue. X
Hilary | 14/05/2018
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