Pick Plants That Fit Natural Conditions

BETH CHATTO is the author of two gardening books that have become classics: ``The Dry Garden'' (1978) and ``The Damp Garden'' (1982). Both continue in print in Britain, published by J.M. Bent, London, and are available in paperback editions. They describe her experiences tackling the problems of her own garden in Essex, where she has, over a period of 30 years, turned extraordinary disadvantages like arid gravel and cool boggy silt into startlingly productive advantages. Mrs. Chatto's basic philosophy is: Why fight conditions? The world is full of wonderful native plants that have adapted to no less impossible circumstances - so grow them. She has magnificently shown in her garden, and in these two books, how this can be done.

Chatto has sought out drought-loving Mediterranean plants for the hot gravel - and other plants that like these conditions from all over the world - and her water garden has meant she can grow plants that usually flourish in the damp north and west of Britain rather than in the dry southeast.

In addition to their instructive biographical narratives, her books provide extensive alphabetical lists of the kinds of plants Chatto has found suitable to her dry and damp conditions. It is these lists, and the helpful details she gives on each plant, that are of greatest interest to already-keen gardeners.

Chatto's love of such rewarding foliage plants for dry conditions as the Bergenias is catching. She also sings the praises of such once-ignored plants as Carex or sedge - which like moist soil - and which she uses as eye-catching clumps of spiraling or fountaining stems that are ``buff and bright pinky-copper'' in color or ``bright yellow with narrow green margins,'' planting them in key places in her garden.

Her delight in such plants is original. The standard ``Dictionary of Garden Plants,'' first published in 1969 by the Royal Horticultural Society, England, didn't even mention Carex. And an earlier, much respected, late-Victorian volume, ``The English Flower Garden,'' by W. Robinson, says of this species: ``[F]ew have a place in the garden.'' Chatto disagrees.

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