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Beth Chatto: Unusual Plants

In 1959, the Chatto family moved to Elmstead Market, Essex, where they created the Beth Chatto Gardens and Unusual Plants nursery.

  • The garden at White Barn Farm before development


  • Beth and Andrew Chatto with their two daughters in the garden at White Barn Farm during development


  • Andrew Chatto with his two daughters in the garden at White Barn Farm during development


  • White Barn House, Elmstead Market, Essex


  • The house and garden under construction at White Barn Farm


  • Beth Chatto in the garden at White Barn Farm in the area which would become the nursery.


  • An early image of the nursery beds with White Barn House in the background


  • Cover of Beth Chatto's first 'Unusual Plants' catalogue, designed by John Fairhead


  • Inside cover of 'Unusual Plants' catalogue, showing the location of the Nursery and Garden


  • Introduction of the first 'Unusual Plants' catalogue, showing the division of plants by condition


  • Plan of Beth Chatto's garden and nursery from an early guide c.1980


Following the advice of Cedric Morris, in 1959 the Chattos moved to Andrew’s fruit farm at Elmstead Market, Essex. They built a house and developed a garden on an area unsuitable for farming or conventional gardening: the upper part was dry and gravelly while the lower areas were water-logged. Following Andrew’s principles, Beth cleared the overgrown brambles and designed a series of gardens with plants adapted to the conditions of each problem area: ‘right plant, right place’.

She created a Mediterranean Garden on the dry, gravelly soil, widened the spring-fed ditch to make the Water Garden, and added to the existing boundary line of trees to form the Long Shady Walk. In later years came the Reservoir Garden, the Woodland Garden and the Scree Garden, which emulates the growing conditions of stony mountainous slopes, with alpine planting.

Beth opened the garden for visits and established the Unusual Plants nursery in 1967, dividing the catalogues into her trademark different environmental conditions. She took plants with her to sell at flower arranging demonstrations, where she had a captive audience.

By 1969, with Andrew’s health deteriorating, they decided to sell the fruit farm.