Review: Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden

In 2002 ‘Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden‘ was published and became a garden classic. Written by legendary planstwoman Betho Chatto, the book charted her creation of a new woodland garden after the great storm of 1987 in her garden in Elmstead, Essex.

Now republished as ‘Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden‘ – Shade Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest – with an afterword by David Ward, Garden and Nursery Director at Beth Chatto’s Garden, today’s gardeners are able to enjoy this welcome updated version enabling the Wood Garden to come alive once more to instruct and inspire us.

Beth shows how she transformed a dark, derelict site into a woodland garden that is tranquil and serene yet full of life and interest in every season. She describes a wealth of plants that will thrive in shady beds and borders and on walls and dispels the myth that gardening in the shade is a curse rather than a blessing. She points out that the book is by no means a comprehensive account of plants suitable for shade, rather that she writes about those she knows and is able to grow in her own garden. However, when one considers Beth Chatto’s unrivalled knowledge, the reader can certainly be sure that there is a depth and quality to this book that is hard to equal.

Nearly all gardens have shady areas, some more so than others – a north-facing border, an area shaded by a hedge, fence or house wall, or a bed in the shade cast by shrubs or trees. In her own very distinct style Beth shows how we can use plants adapted by nature to a vast range of conditions and, by choosing suitable plants, we can transform almost any problem site into something beautiful.

We are taken through each season from the ‘Awakenings’ of the garden year, with the first daffodils, snowdrops and February sunshine into ‘Spring Enchantment’, with its flowering shrubs, robust groundcovers and April highlights.

In ‘Early Summer Profusion’ we discover elegant ferns, proud astrantias and fleeting peonies before we arrive at ‘High Summer’ where we are treated to groundcover carpets and dramatic foliage. ‘Autumn’s Sunlit Openings’ take us onto wandering anemones and glowing berries through to ‘The Depths of Winter’ where we discover beauty in leaves. A section on ‘Shade-tolerant Plants’ is also included containing a robust and valuable list.

As one would expect from Beth Chatto, this book is packed with knowledge, wisdom and common sense. Her guiding principle has always been the right plant for the right place, bringing about a quiet revolution in the gardening world. The writing style is stimulating and personal, her plant descriptions eloquent.

Photography for the book is from Steven Wooster, a garden photographer and a graphic designer who won the Garden Media Guild Award for his photographs in Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden. He has been photographing Beth’s garden for more than 20 years and his intimate knowledge of the garden gives the reader a beautiful insight into this special place.

Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden‘ by Beth Chatto, with photographs by Steven Wooster, is published by Pimpernel Press, in hardback, at £30. Available from early May 2017.

Review copy kindly supplied by Pimpernel Press. –

Picture Credit: All pictures are © Steve Wooster.