‘It makes me quite emotional’

Horticulturist and community garden founder Sara Venn chooses Great Dixter in East Sussex as her favourite place in the world. To get involved in a local community Incredible Edible project visit www.incredibleedible.org.uk


The first time I went, I was in my early twenties and I was thinking about a change of career. I found myself looking at horticulture and questioning why I had not been pushed that way before. It was a real escape for me as a young mum; I used to go with my own mum who adored it and after she died, I visited all the places that we’d been to together. Great Dixter was particularly calming.

Dixter sits so well in its landscape. It’s an early Arts and Crafts garden with garden rooms and a long border; the planting in the pool garden is stunning – really full – and, leading down to the stream there are beautiful meadows with old apple and pear trees.

I save the nursery for a special treat at the end of the visit – it’s a bit like having pudding! But if I could only visit one part of Great Dixter it would be the exotic garden – at the right time of year it is enough to blow anybody’s mind.

I get really excited about the compost heaps and the Japanese method they use to build them. They create these enormous ten-foot heaps with a framework to keep it all in place – and I think they plant the occasional squash in there, too. It makes a huge, interesting addition to the garden, even if it is just a compost heap.

It’s a weird moment of feeling like you’re at home but everything has been redecorated – like when you go back to your parents and things have changed in subtle ways. I like the excitement of seeing how the planting changes from year to year.

The pot displays have very much influenced my garden. It’s a tiny urban space and you literally couldn’t swing a cat. Great Dixter has big pots, and they fill each one with one variety of something like tulips, then squeeze them all up, which makes the display looker big and full – it is small-scale block planting for people who don’t have any soil.

Words: Naomi Slade