getting lucky in the garden

In gardening, as in life, chance and luck play a huge part in how any garden is able to develop.

In the spring of 2009 I spent 3 days digging pits a metre deep and wide to take 3 mature clipped hornbeam trees I’d bought on a whim from a nursery in Norfolk. It nearly finished me off. 2 of the pits were in our gravel driveway and I had to hack away at the compounded base until I got through to the solid clay beneath.

Around this time, I had good help with lawns and hedges, but I was doing all the real gardening myself. On a steep 3 acre site, in an immature garden, it was all becoming too much for me. The Fairlight End project was in danger of becoming a joyless slog- another year or two like that and I might have given up completely.

Just as I finished digging the third hornbeam pit, I was visited by a remarkable young man, William Hurton, who happened to be looking for gardening work in the district. He’s 3 inches taller than I am, strongly built, and 37 years my junior. On the spot, I took him on for a day a week for 3 months. 8 years later, he’s still here, working 2 days a week now, and the garden keeps going from strength to strength.

On leaving school, William spent the next 10 years at Great Dixter, while Christopher Lloyd was still alive. He had a great training and amassed a wealth of gardening experience.

5 years earlier my wife Robin enrolled on a photography course at Hastings College. By chance, on the same course, was Tara Culley, an RHS trained gardener at Great Dixter. I met Tara, asked her to design a kitchen garden I planned to lay out and landscape as my first project at Fairlight End in the winter and spring of 2004/5.

Tara went on to design and execute planting schemes for us in the decorative garden around the house, and often worked with me as it began to develop. Then her 2 sons were born, and while she was available occasionally, she could no longer work regularly in the garden. So I struggled along for a couple of years until Tara put me in touch with William.

Tara remains part of our team at Fairlight End. This winter she has designed the planting and laid out an entirely new garden at the front of the house. It features 4 witch hazels, irregularly shaped forms of yew, holly, hornbeam and hawthorn, with hellebores, brunnera, euphorbia, pulmonaria and so on at ground level.

It was pure luck that Robin met Tara at Hastings College, and that William became available at the time I needed skilled help so desperately. Without these strokes of luck, the garden at Fairlight End could not have developed as it has.

Chris Hutt

making mistakes in our garden

I started digging at Fairlight End in spring 2005 and started making mistakes. I began by getting the orientation of the greenhouse wrong. I was in a hurry. Here I was in my own country garden for the first time in my life. I wanted the greenhouse delivered and erected so I could start sowing seeds. I looked at where it might fit into the space available and arranged for the concrete base to be put in on a north-south axis. Wrong choice. Light and warmth levels are better for longer if an east-west axis is chosen.


I decided to enclose the kitchen garden to provide a much needed windbreak. It faces into the prevailing southwesterly wind and we are on high ground a mile from the sea. Years later, when the yew hedge had grown to over two metres, I began to resent it. I might be working in the kitchen garden on a summer evening, and I could hear voices, the chinking of glasses, children laughing. I could hear the sound of bat on ball, but I couldn’t see the batsman or the bowler. So, in a couple of places I cut the yew hedge down to a metre and accepted more wind on the sweet peas and runner beans in exchange for views of family life and the countryside beyond.


I made another mistake with yew. It looks fine here where it divides sections of the garden from each other, but I planted it also to mark the boundary of the garden from the countryside beyond, a panorama of rolling hills, windswept trees, wild hedges. It just never looked right, so a few years later I pulled out the yews and planted a hedge of mixed native plants instead. The replacement hedge cost a tiny fraction of the original and looks far more natural and relaxed. Why couldn’t I see that straight away and save myself cost, time and heartache?


I wanted to plant an orchard and ordered thirty trees-apples, pears, plums, cherries. I planted them in three rows of ten, in a position where a local farmer told me they would never thrive-site too windy, soil too poor. Here I made two mistakes for the price of one. The geometrical planting looked wrong in a landscape of billowing shapes and curves. And the farmer was right.


There are mistakes and mistakes in developing a garden. Some you have to live with (too expensive to move the greenhouse), some are expensive to put right but you bite the bullet anyway (swapping the yew hedge for mixed native). Some mistakes (the solid yew hedge making the kitchen garden a lonely place) only become apparent with the passage of time and there is a compromise to be made.


I have shelves full of gardening books. They are full of the triumphs of one author, the successes of another. I wonder what they do with their mistakes. Do they bury them in the garden?

Chris Hutt