Tennessee Dixter is a piteous imitation of Great Dixter
Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 8:01 pm
Years ago, when Tennessee played Rutgers during one football “slaughter month,” the derisive question, “What is a Rutgers?” was bandied about in the days preceding the game. The inference was the lowly Scarlet Knights would be no match for the mighty Vols.
Well, they weren’t, but not because they were not up to Big Orange standards. They whipped Tennessee and sent the Vols home with their tails between their legs.
Such is the power of emotion brought on by untoward ridicule. (Incidentally, it happened another time when the heralded Archie Manning was quarterbacking Old Miss and the stupid Tennesseans preceded the game with the infamous question, “Archie Who?” The rest is history.)
All that to say this: What is a Dixter?
We call our garden Tennessee Dixter. It surely must be the most preposterous and presumptious of imitative monikers in history. Why Tennessee Dixter?
Great Dixter is one of the world’s great gardens. Located in the south of England, it was named such to distinguish it from another location, Little Dixter, nearby.
Great Dixter boasts a timber frame manor house dating to the mid-1400s. Since the early 20th Century it has been owned by the Lloyd family, including possibly the most famous garden writer of the last 100 years, Christopher Lloyd. He followed his father, Nathaniel Lloyd, there and was largely responsible for the creation and nurture of the garden that remains to this day, though Nathaniel and the famous architect Edwin Lutyens built the bones.
Christopher Lloyd died a few years ago, but his garden remains as a monument to his acumen. He was a plantsman par excellence as well as an astute student of garden design.
I have been a fan of his for years and own most of his books. We have visited Great Dixter twice and plan another look-see later this year. Of many famous British Isles gardens we have visited, Dixter remains my favorite.
On our first English garden tour in 1992, we met Ron and Donna Dieter, nursery owners from northwest Illinois. We have become fast friends and visit back and forth several times a year.
Sometime after our meeting, they were here and observed our garden had English design overtones in the perennial borders and cottage garden implications. Considering my admiration of Christopher Lloyd’s brilliance, they suggested (preposterously) that we name our garden Tennessee Dixter. I leaned more toward Redneck Dixter, and was reluctant to go even that far.
Long story (slightly) shorter: they prevailed, so now as you enter our front garden there is a sandstone with a plaque denoting the year, 1974, we built our stick house, and the name Tennessee Dixter. The only resemblance I can find is that both houses, Lloyd’s and ours, are made with wood.
We date from 1974, Great Dixter from 1460, just over 500 years difference. Great D has 100-year-old yew hedges tight as walls 15 feet tall. Tennessee D has 2-year-old holly hedges three feet tall.
Great D’s long border stretches hundreds of feet and is 25 or so feet deep. Tennessee D’s “long” border is 60 feet long and eight feet deep. Great D hosts many thousands of visitors a year, Tennessee D maybe 100.
Some resemblance, but there it is.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack (with apologies) — Imitation, however piteous, is the sincerest form of flattery.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 7.12.11
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path