Day out: Great Dixter, East Sussex

TV Presenter and garden designer Danny Clarke enjoys a lazy day out at one of Britain’s most famous gardens, where clever planting extends the visiting season well into the autumn months

Garden and country house

There is no more lovely way to spend a Sunday, that I can think of, than a leisurely drive to one of England’s many famous gardens. 

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I’m rarely in a hurry, as the whole experience is to be savoured and starts from the second I leave my front door. I am not a person to take the most direct route, often grasping the opportunity to explore and absorb the beauty of the countryside on the way, perhaps stopping at a gastropub for lunch. Consequently, a trip may take much longer than anticipated, but who cares?

Red flower in garden
Cannas are one of the late-summer highlights at Great Dixter/Credit: Getty

Great Dixter design

For me, there is no better day out than a visit to Great Dixter in East Sussex, a garden once owned by the late, great plantsman Christopher Lloyd and now looked after by head gardener Fergus Garrett and the Great Dixter Charitable Trust. Its fabulous borders are exciting at any time of year due to clever succession planting giving ever-changing displays. The garden is divided into ‘rooms’, with each area having its own distinct character. 

Late summer at Great Dixter

One area of the garden that always gives me great inspiration and pleasure is the Exotic Garden, planted where the Edwardian rose garden used to be. Designed by Edwin Lutyens, the rose garden remained unchanged for nearly 80 years. In 1993, to the horror of many gardening folk, the roses were taken out and replaced with bold-foliage palms, such as cannas and bananas. These were partnered with mauve verbena, bright dahlias and annual climbers to give late-summer interest.

The narrow paths force you to get up-close and personal with the lush planting, which sometimes spills over the borders, giving me a feeling of intimacy and security. This part of the property, more than any other, truly wraps itself around me.

Once I’ve had my fix, it’s time to head home, perhaps stopping off at another eating establishment on the way. After all, it would be rude not to. 

Visiting Great Dixter

Visitor info: On-site parking and toilets (disabled), café, shop. Autumn events: Basket Weaving Demonstration (25-26 Sept); The 20th Great Dixter Plant Fair (2-3 Oct);  Behind the Scenes (4 Oct); Pottery Demonstration (9-10 Oct); Integrating and Using Bulbs (11 Oct); Behind the Scenes (1 Nov); Getting the Garden Ready (8 Nov); Good Planting (22 Nov); Getting the Garden Ready (29 Nov). Open 11am–5pm, Tues–Sun. £11.50 per adult. greatdixter.co.uk

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Words: Danny Clarke is a TV presenter and garden designer: instagram.com/theblackgardener