Q&A with Asa Gregers, Head Gardener at The Beth Chatto Gardens

What led you to The Beth Chatto Gardens?

My grandparents and parents were keen gardeners and I always enjoyed working outside, but after doing lots of different jobs, it wasn’t until I started helping my parents with a garden in my twenties that I decided to train in horticulture in Sweden.  I was happy to move to the UK as I had always admired English gardens and gardeners.  I came across an article on Beth Chatto and loved her ethos and philosophy.  I wanted to work with someone who knew how to put plants together and in a garden that felt personal and intimate.  I wrote to Beth and she luckily said yes to me working for her.  I’ve never left!  

What was it like working for Beth?

She had boundless energy and real focus - not a sweet granny type -  she was very driven and very inspiring.  She taught me to really look at plants and plant combinations and analyse why they’re working.  She also taught me not just to add but to take away, even if something is thriving.  For example, she liked Verbena bonariensis popping up airily rather than being in a big block – she didn’t like plants squashed together.  The elegant Japanese flower arranging, Ikebana, was also an inspiration for Beth which she translated into designing planting beds with using a triangular shape.

Tell us about how Beth chose the plants for her gravel garden?

Because of the soil she was dealing with, plants had to be drought-tolerant.  But although many of the plants such as santolina, lavender, cistus, stachys and ballota are Mediterranean, Beth was also looking at shapes, forms and leaf colours.  Bergenias, for example, are used for their large lush leaves which create a full stop in the garden and a contrast to smaller, fussier leaves. 

And how do you approach the role of Head Gardener?

I’m very hands on.  I’m out in the garden every day, weeding and working alongside my small team as I find it easier to see what needs to be done.  I love the light in the early mornings and the changing seasons.  But I don’t get much time to sit in the garden, it’s difficult to switch off when I can see there’s so much to do.  Then I catch up on my admin in the evenings.  But that’s okay because I love my job!

When is a good time to visit the garden?

The garden looks amazing in the spring with all the euphorbia, poppy and iris.  We have anemones such as A. pavonine, which have how many shades from crimson to soft salmon pink with navy blue eyes.  There are carpets of scilla, Allium hollandicum and nectaroscordum.  Beth also preferred species tulips such as Tulipa saxatilis and the gorgeous scarlet Tulipa sprengeri which she loved.  The autumn is also lovely with the ornamental grasses and tall airy perennials.