Saturday, May 2, 2009

My Brush With Greatness

Living in Naples, at times, had its perks. One was a fortuitous
opportunity to meet Christo.
I think about Christopher Lloyd all of the time. No, not the actor, I'm speaking of Christopher the Master gardener of Great Dixter. Perhaps he, more than any other person I have ever known of, or personally known, has been the reason I have wanted to garden most of my adult life. He toured all over the United States for quite a few years giving lectures to fellow gardeners. I happened to be on the floor of my outfitter the day he walked in looking for something to combat the hot Florida sun. He had been staying at the Ritz Carlton on the shore- and there was not a lot of shade. I had also heard through the grapevine that he was helping the Ritz to tend to their rose garden which seemed to be growing in popularity very quickly. A lot of afternoon teas were held there and this probably helped to contribute to its fame. Knowing what I know now about Mr. Lloyd, he most likely found roses in Naples even more finicky than roses in England. I knew him immediately when he walked through the door, though I was too embarrassed to admit it to his face the entire time we talked, lest he think me some kind of neurotic garden groupie...if he only knew. The thing about Christo is this. He seemed to love young people. As long as you were serious about your interest, which I was, he would talk to you and answer questions until he had to leave to be somewhere else. I was completely mesmerized, and likewise, he seemed to draw energy from being in a shop full of young outdoors people. Since that chance meeting more than ten years ago, I have come to know more about Christopher Lloyd through his books. His Gardener Cook book is one that I have read time and again. Something in his words keeps me grounded. He had a deep and abiding love for friends who were always coming to visit him at Great Dixter. He had a profound gratefulness for the opportunity he had through family to remain at Dixter the rest of his life. He had the kind of working relationship with Fergus Garrett that may come only once or twice in a lifetime. He was just a no nonsense kind of man and it is this that I loved most about him. His passion for dahlias has infected me. The thought of digging them up every year and over wintering them is the only thing that has kept me quelled. It will be both interesting and exciting to see Great Dixter evolve in the absence of its owner, but I would hedge bets that a lot of the Christo spirit is alive and well in Fergus. Fergus recently said in an interview that he remains true to Christopher's vision but is not afraid to move plants around and try new types of plants not grown at Dixter before. I find this fitting. I don't think Mr. Lloyd would have wanted Great Dixter to become a shrine to himself. More importantly, he seemed to value other people's opinions and talents to such a degree that I do not believe he would have wanted Fergus to waste his gift just maintaining what they had done together in the gardens. Someplace as special as Great Dixter, for all that it has been since the 15Th century, is living proof that a great person never really dies. What is shared and learned in a place of such great beauty is simply passed on, hand to hand.

Above photo of Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter by Jonathan Buckley.

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