Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter

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Tags: christopher lloyd , gardening , gardening books. Comments coughingbear. Christopher Lloyd for me started with the columns in the Guardian - I think the very first one I read was about dogwoods - and even I who had only a tiny garden could still think 'oh, yes, I can see how that would work, it would be fun to try that! A lovely and very interesting post and a book worth reading it seems. I like your photos :. I had the pleasure of meeting both Mr. I was so in awe to be meeting them both.

A group picture depicts her proudly showing off her five good-looking schoolboy sons and single daughter. There are studies of mutual adoration of her with Christo, her 'baby' and clearly her favourite. So we settle down to enjoy an idyll of traditional English family life in an ideal setting. But there was a serpent in this Eden and it was Mother. Stephen Anderton was invited by Christopher Lloyd to be his biographer, having been his friend for 20 years and being himself a distinguished gardening writer.

He did not know Daisy, but he was presented with the family archive, a huge untidy store of letters and documents, rolled up and stuffed into drawers, going back for nearly a century. A large proportion were the letters of Daisy, who wrote copiously to her offspring when they were away from home - but not beyond her reach. Daisy was a matriarch in the Edwardian tradition, a perfect model for an E.

Great Dixter gardener Fergus Garrett heading to New Zealand - thisNZlife

Forster character who leaves the reader with a shudder. She was, she believed, descended from Oliver Cromwell, and his portrait hung over her bed. On special occasions she would appear in a long grey puritan dress with wide white collar and a lace mob cap. Motherhood to her was a kind of war.

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Cromwellian authority and unremitting effort were basic to her. Not a moment could be wasted, nor an order questioned.

Like her ancestor, the Lady Protector was always right about everything. Stifling would be a mild word to describe her mothering, for which she expected total devotion and admiration in return. It was the kind of devouring love from which many a boy would pine to escape - and most of them did.

Naturally, Daisy disapproved violently of their wives, and even more sharply of her only daughter, Letitia. Here was a battle of wills. She badgered the girl for being plump or disobedient or untidy or insubordinate. To Christo, away at Rugby School, Daisy wrote continuous letters complaining of his sister, to whom of all of the family he was closest. Letitia's first escape was to train as a nurse in Cambridge.

Great Dixter House and Gardens

Daisy wrote: 'She is glad to be rid of me as I cramp her style when she is making up her face. We all, as a family, dislike it. I persuaded her to rub off her lipstick for her interview with matron. The letters of reproof continued. Letitia's Cambridge life was 'full of dissipation and young men. Will she ever settle down seriously to her job?

But for Christo, who was shy and nervous of the outside world, there was no escape. From college and the Army he came home to the nursery bedroom - and his role as confidante and substitute male partner who always agreed with his mother. They were alike. They gardened together, they did embroidery together, they worried together about financing Dixter. Every evening she ran his bath for him, even when he was middle-aged. His one close friend on whom he had a crush, probably mutual, was his music teacher at Rugby, who was welcomed as a house guest by Daisy.

Inevitably Christo became a hugely repressed homosexual.

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Daisy allowed no such thing as sentiment, so it was never openly expressed. It is a rollicking and compulsive read. His words dance around these with feline agility. She was descended, somewhat distantly, from Oliver Cromwell, a fact of which she was proud. His portrait hung over her bed.


In deference to her ancestry, she adopted ostentatiously simple clothing: a dirndl for everyday wear, and full-blown Puritan dress for special occasions. She espoused diligence, duty and motherhood with gusto. Her micromanagement of her offspring was complete: no pie was too small to stick her finger into. If she was away from home, she issued several daily letters to an assortment of family members, charging each with various duties relating to the others.


As her children began to fan out from the fold, her letter-writing took on the features of both a news service and a command post. She corresponded not just with her children, but with their teachers and friends. She regularly forwarded letters that she had received, or she transcribed selected passages into her dispatches. Daisy had particular ideas as to how people should lead their lives and comport themselves, and she was lavishly critical when anyone stepped out of line — which was much of the time. Even Queen Mary, who had been prevailed upon to visit Great Dixter, was lacking. The royal shortcomings were many, and included bulging ankles, ugly shoes and bad manners. When he was a young man, she set about finding him a wife, and light-heartedly picked out a suitable nominee.