Beth Chatto

Beth Chatto OBE VMH (27 June 1923 – 13 May 2018)[1] was a British plantswoman, garden designer and author best known for creating and describing the Beth Chatto Gardens near Elmstead Market in the English county of Essex. She was also known for writing several books on gardening for specific conditions. She lectured throughout the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany. Her gardening and writing use the principle of putting the right plant in the right place, which she developed from her husband Andrew Chatto's lifelong research into the origins of garden plants.

Beth Chatto

Born(1923-06-27)27 June 1923
Died13 May 2018(2018-05-13) (aged 94)
Elmstead Market, Essex, UK
EducationColchester Girls High School
Hockerill College
OccupationPlantswoman, garden designer, author
Known forBeth Chatto Gardens


Chatto was born at Good Easter, Essex, England, the daughter of Bessie (née Styles) and William Little, both enthusiastic gardeners. Named Betty Diana, she used the name Beth from her 20s onwards.[2] She attended Colchester Girls High School and trained to be a teacher at Hockerill College, Bishop's Stortford from 1940 to 1943.[3]

In the early 1940s, she met fruit farmer, Andrew Chatto. Their shared love of plants brought them together and they married in 1943. The couple lived in Braiswick, Colchester, where their two daughters, Diana and Mary, were born in 1946 and 1948. In 1960 they moved into a new house, White Barn House, built on the farm at Elmstead Market.[4] Andrew died in 1999.[3]

The couple met Sir Cedric Morris, whose art school at Benton End in Hadleigh, Suffolk attracted artists, such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, who would later become famous. Beth Chatto learned about plants from Morris, but was dismayed when he advised her that, in order to create a great garden, she would have to move house.[3] From the late 1950s onwards Chatto had become involved in the Flower Club movement, lecturing, opening new clubs and demonstrating flower arranging. Members became an enthusiastic audience for unusual plants and a mail order business began from a small hand-typed sheet. From 1960, the Chattos worked on developing the Chatto Gardens and in 1967 the nursery was opened.[5] In 1978 Chatto's first book The Dry Garden was published by J. M. Dent.[6]

Chatto died peacefully, with her family by her side, at her home in Elmstead Market, near Colchester, on the evening of 13 May 2018. She was 94.[7]

In her later years, Beth Chatto commissioned author Catherine Horwood, to write about her life and her work. Beth Chatto A Life with Plants[8] was published in 2019 by Pimpernel Press.

The Beth Chatto GardensEdit

Construction of the Beth Chatto Gardens, at Elmstead Market near Colchester, began in 1960 as a garden attached to the Chatto family home on land that had previously belonged to the Chatto family fruit farm. It had not been farmed as the soil was considered too dry in places, too wet in others and the whole area had been allowed to grow wild with blackthorn, willow and brambles. The only plants that survive from the earliest days are the ancient boundary oaks surrounding the Garden.[5]

The Beth Chatto Gardens comprise a varied range of planting sites totalling 5 acres (2.0 ha), including dry, sun baked gravel, water and marginal planting, woodland, shady, heavy clay and alpine planting, and now include the Gravel Garden, Woodland Garden, Water Garden, Long Shady Walk, Reservoir Garden (redesigned by Head Gardener Asa Gregers-Warg and Garden and Nursery Director David Ward, with Beth's input) and Scree Garden. It was the development of these sites that prompted Beth Chatto to write books on gardening with what could be considered as "problem areas" using plants that nature has developed to survive in differing conditions..[5]

Beth Chatto lived in the white house in the midst of the gardens. She worked with her team on developing the Gardens and continued to inspect and approve their work until the day before she died. She contributed to articles for international and national press and appeared in international media.[5]


In January 1975 Chatto created a small winter garden at one of the Royal Horticultural Society Halls, London SW1. More exhibits followed and eventually the Beth Chatto Gardens "Unusual Plants" exhibition arrived at the Chelsea Flower Show. Exhibits by "Unusual Plants" were awarded ten consecutive Gold Medals at the Chelsea Flower Show from 1977 to 1987 (she did not exhibit in 1983). Exhibits by The Beth Chatto Gardens can still be seen at the Tendring Hundred Show in Essex.[5]

List of publicationsEdit

Beth Chatto was the author of many gardening books, including an exchange of letters with her friend and fellow gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd:

  • The Dry Garden. illustrated by Margaret Davies. J. M. Dent. 1978. ISBN 0-460-04317-X.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • The Damp Garden. illustrated by Margaret Davies. J. M. Dent. 1982. ISBN 0-460-04551-2.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Plant Portraits. illustrated by Jill Coombs and Christine Grey-Wilson. J. M. Dent. 1985. ISBN 978-046-0-0460-08.CS1 maint: others (link) (out of print)
  • The Beth Chatto Garden Notebook. Orion. 1988. ISBN 978-046-0-0473-57.
  • The Green Tapestry. photographs by Ron Sutherland and Steven Wooster. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. 1990. ISBN 978-067-1-6703-68.CS1 maint: others (link) (out of print, rev. ed. Beth Chatto's Green Tapestry: Perennial Plants for Your Garden, London, England, HarperCollins, 1999)
  • Dear Friend and Gardener: letters exchanged between Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd. Frances Lincoln. 1998. ISBN 978-071-1-2122-75.
  • Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden. photographs by Steven Wooster. Frances Lincoln. 2000. ISBN 978-071-1-2142-55.CS1 maint: others (link) (reprinted in 2016 as Drought-Resistant Planting)
  • Beth Chatto's Woodland Garden:Shade-Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest. photographs by Steven Wooster. Cassell. 2002. ISBN 978-030-4-3636-67.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • The Damp Garden. photographs by Steven Wooster. Cassell. 2005. ISBN 978-184-4-0304-53.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Beth Chatto's Shade Garden. photographs by Steven Wooster. Pimpernel Press. 2017. ISBN 978-191-0-2582-24.CS1 maint: others (link) (previously Beth Chatto's Woodland Garden, 2008)

Honours and awardsEdit


The Beth Chatto Education Trust[9] was set up to engage all age groups with plants, gardens and an ecological approach to them. This trust also sponsors the Beth Chatto Environmental Award under the auspices of the Garden Media Guild.[10]

The Society of Garden Designers has created the Beth Chatto Eco Garden Award from 2020 onwards, with focus on the ecological impact of garden designs.[11]


  1. ^ "Birthday's today". The Telegraph. 27 June 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2014. Mrs Beth Chatto, horticulturist, is 90
  2. ^ Hobhouse, Penelope (14 May 2018). "Beth Chatto obituary". the Guardian. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  3. ^ a b c "Beth Chatto 27th June 1923 - 13th May 2018". Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  4. ^ Horwood, Catherine (2019). Beth Chatto: A Life with Plants. Pimpernel Press Ltd. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-910258-82-8.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Award-Winning Gardener History - Beth Chatto". Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Beth Chatto dead: Garden designer and writer who won 10 golds in a row at the Chelsea Flower Show". 14 May 2018. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  7. ^ "Famous gardener Beth Chatto dies at 94". Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  8. ^ Catherine, Horwood (2019). Beth Chatto A Life with Plants. Pimpernel Press. ISBN 1910258822.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ "The Garden Media Guild Awards 2019: Awards Winners". The Garden Media Guild. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  11. ^ Fitz-Hugh, Amy. "SGD Awards announces new category for 2020". Pro Landscaper. Retrieved 22 January 2020.

Other sourcesEdit

  • The Beth Chatto Gardens Guide Book: Early Beginnings
  • Buchan, Ursula (18 November 2000). "Gravel allure". The Spectator. Retrieved 14 May 2018.

External linksEdit