Beth Chatto was internationally renowned, and greatly influenced gardeners by her choice of plants for any situation, and her ability to display them to perfection. She had a particular interest in unusual plants. Her influential books The Dry Garden (1978) and The Damp Garden (1982) are now classics.
Betty Little was born on 27 June 1923 in the Essex countryside, brought up by parents who enjoyed plants and gardening. In 1943 she married the late Andrew Chatto, a fruit grower with an interest in the origins of plants. She taught children in a local school how to grow vegetables as part of the war effort but she had no formal horticultural education.
The Chattos built a new home, White Barn House, on their fruit farm at Elmstead Market in 1960, and this is where the now-famous garden was created, subsequently known as The Beth Chatto Gardens. The neglected, overgrown site offered widely varying conditions from moist and wet soil in sun and shade, to sun-baked, drought-prone gravel slopes.
They started from scratch, creating a garden suited to these conditions. Beth had been inspired by her husband’s research into natural plant communities. This, combined with her artistic flair, resulted in beautiful and harmonious plant compositions which have since inspired thousands of gardeners. She started her Unusual Plants nursery adjacent to the garden in 1967, propagating and selling plants from the garden.
At RHS shows, her beautifully designed exhibits became famous and popular with visitors, winning her 10 Gold medals in succession from 1977. As well as her nursery and garden, Beth Chatto was a keen advocate of organic gardening and lectured throughout the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe. She wrote eight books and contributed many articles for magazines and journals.
In 1987 Beth Chatto was bestowed the Society’s highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH) and an OBE in 2002. She was given two honorary doctorates, one from Essex University in 1988 and from Anglia Ruskin University in 2009. Other awards include lifetime achievements awards from the Garden Media Guild (1998) and the Society of Garden Designers (2014).
As Beth Chatto lived on site, rarely a day went past without her walking round the gardens. The business is currently managed by her granddaughter, and The Beth Chatto Education Trust carries forward her passion for plants and the environment for all age groups.
This is an abridged version of a full obituary which appears in the July 2018 issue of The Garden magazine.