A Conversation with Dean Charlton

Q: So, Dean, I have to admit that Rotherham does not spring to mind as an area particularly associated with gardening so how old were you when you started to get interested in gardening and who encouraged and influenced you?

Well I started getting into gardening when I was knee high to a grasshopper really. My dad is a keen gardener and me and my sister were surrounded by huge hanging baskets, standard fuschias and carpets of annual bedding. I remember my dad would prick out the marigolds and discard the rest outside the greenhouse. I would secretly pot them up and grow them on.

I was also luckily enough to have two grandads with two different gardening styles. The first was immaculate lawns, roses and wallflowers. The other had a wilder approach with an orchard, long meadow grass and a stream where me and my sister would collect sticklebacks.

The opportunity to have gardens and family members enthused by them make childhood memories to cherish.

Q: Where did you study, and how did you get started in the world of work?

Gardening has always been with me but I took the Fine Art path first (As I have found many do) and studied printmaking in Newcastle. After graduating I worked at a community farm and decided I wanted a qualification in Horticulture so did my Level 3 at Newcastle college. It was my tutor there that recommended I should apply for a studentship at a place called Great Dixter after reading about Christopher LLoyd.

Q: When did you arrive at Great Dixter and how did that all start?

The “Well Tempered Garden” and “Succession planting for adventurous Gardeners” were the books that really inspired me to apply. I waited over a year for a placement due to its reputation and started a six week studentship in January 2016. I worked with gardeners from all over the world who all had a passion for plants. It was a melting pot of ideas. Once my studentship had finished I then studied at Beth Chatto gardens and stayed for 6 months. Again there were some incredible people I worked with and both places had the same spirit. I returned to Great Dixter after Beth Chattos and haven’t left since.

Q: What are your favourite plants/flowers and why?

When I think of a plant I always think how it connects to its neighbour and its setting. A snowdrop (that I do have a weak spot for) will look spectacular and take centre stage in February. But waiting in the wings are other beauties that keep the show going for most of the season. When you look at your garden it is a specific snap shot of the year. It constantly changes and so you are reminded in each shot your favourite plants to remind you.

Q: What is your favourite part of the garden to work in, and do you have a least favourite?

Each room within the garden has it’s own tapestry and these rooms are constantly changing. I do love working on the Long Border. This mixed border has everything from trees and shrubs, perennials, annuals, biannuals, climbers and bulbs. The bedding pockets that drift through the border (about 7 of them) keep the border dynamic and extend the flowering season. And the tasks will depend entirely on the time of year, whether it be pruning, topdressing and editing the self sowers at the start of the year. Or staking, replanting and deadheading later into the season. A gardeners work is never done.

As gardeners we never stop learning. But if we can pass on what we have learnt that knowledge is priceless. This generosity is at the core of Great Dixter. Fergus Garrett once said…..

“Be generous in the way that you garden, and the way you share it with other people”