Back to Great Dixter

At this time last year I had just returned from a second trip to England, exhausted but exhilarated from three weeks of intensive horticultural training and practical work experience at Great Dixter.

  with Fergus on my last day at Dixter

with Fergus on my last day at Dixter

I had visited Dixter for the very first time in September 2013 to attend a week-long horticultural symposium and it was so fantastic and the gardens so impressive in September (and promising to go on being so right through October), that I knew before the week was out that I had to come back again

  one of my favourite sections of the long border in September 2013

one of my favourite sections of the long border in September 2013

My return was in winter for a number of reasons: because I wanted to see the bare bones of the garden in order to better understand how the incredibly full plantings that I saw in September were physically achieved. And, at a quieter time of year in my own gardening business, it was easier for me to be away for a longer chunk of time.

  the long border on a sunny February day

the long border on a sunny February day

My first week was spent as a participant in the February symposium. This is a practical session held when the garden is closed to the public, with fewer participants and more hands-on practice, focused on pruning techniques and preparing beds for the coming year – as this is what the staff and students are working on as they prepare the garden for opening day at the beginning of April.

  discussions in the garden

discussions in the garden

  one of Fergus’ ‘mind maps’ detailing the work that needs to take place before opening day

one of Fergus’ ‘mind maps’ detailing the work that needs to take place before opening day

  symposium group in the long border

symposium group in the long border

Our group had lots of lessons and demonstrations of Fergus’ pruning techniques – hydrangeas, roses, honeysuckle, jasmine, spiraea, fuchsia, buddleia, cotinus, bamboo, on and on the list goes.

  pruning demonstration

pruning demonstration

  Maria pruning in the exotic garden

Maria pruning in the exotic garden

And then we were paired up and given our own assignments, receiving specific instructions about what we were to achieve.

  my first pruning assignment – spiraea

my first pruning assignment – spiraea

  ‘after’ successfully pruning the spiraea

‘after’ successfully pruning the spiraea

The subsequent two weeks of my trip were spent volunteering in the gardens with the Dixter staff and students. One of the major projects undertaken during my stay was the preparation of the beds in the orchard garden.

  ‘before’ in the orchard garden

‘before’ in the orchard garden

  working in the orchard garden

working in the orchard garden

  ‘after’ - the bare bones of the orchard garden, everything labelled and marked

‘after’ - the bare bones of the orchard garden, everything labelled and marked

  the orchard garden in July 2015

the orchard garden in July 2015

I am largely a self-taught gardener - for years I have culled what I needed to know from books and magazines, a short course here, a short course there, slowly but steadily directing my own horticultural education, every year gaining more skill, confidence and practical experience. But working and learning at Dixter proved to be the ideal demonstration and training ground, vastly increasing my understanding of how to achieve the results I wanted and adding quite a few new tricks to my repertoire. It’s a totally inspiring and exciting horticultural destination for all gardeners, whether to work, study or just marvel at the beauty.

The symposia are just one of a number of educational programs on offer at Dixter - they are an action-packed week, each day full to overflowing with lectures and slideshows mixed with practical time spent in the gardens, examining and discussing the details of border design, plant selection, maintenance and planting strategies and techniques. Details here: http://www.greatdixter.co.uk/learning/symposia/