|The Great Barn, Great Dixter|
The white cowls of the Oast House pivot with the wind and are a reminder of this garden's past as a working farm. The medieval farmer who sheltered his beasts in the barn over winter and the 19th and 20th century hop workers processing the season's harvest probably wouldn't recognize the garden today, but they would know that structure without a shadow of a doubt.
|South face of the Oast House|
Don't get me wrong, I've been to plenty of gardens with fancy stable blocks converted to tea rooms and gift shops and, for the most part, all have been well done and they work for those gardens but covering the interior of Dixter's wonderful old barn with sheet rock and plunking in a lino service counter burdened with cakes and packaged sandwiches just isn't Dixter. Christopher Lloyd was adamant that the place not be mothballed and sealed in aspic when he died, nor that it become too commercialized or institutionalized. Head gardener and Trust CEO Fergus Garrett is determined that Christo's wishes be honored and the character of Great Dixter be respected in every aspect of managing the gardens, right down to the care of these magnificent old buildings. The world needs more like Fergus, I say.
Fergus called the restoration of the barn "the icing on the cake" of a multi-million pound restoration scheme focused on the buildings that has been ongoing since Christo's death in 2006, including the acquisition of Dixter Farm down the track, which was restored and made into an education center and student accommodations. Now there's a worthy conversion for you. With a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and donations from friends and private contributors, the barn project began in late 2011. I was fortunate enough to be there to see it before work began, then to visit as it was ongoing, and finally to see the fabulous new restoration opened to the public.
|Opening of the Great Barn 3 Sept 2012|
|The Great Barn and Oast House in Spring 2011 before restoration began|
|Brimstone would have been kept in the curved niches to feed the fire (middle door) under the drying floor|
The restored hop press. Dried hops were pressed into bags hanging from below.
Hop workers wrote the start date of hops harvest on the joists, which have been preserved.
|Fergus addresses the crowd on opening day 3 Sept 2012|
|Exterior of the barn and oast before restoration, Spring 2011|
|September 2012, seen from the Solar Garden|
|The garden side of the barn offers shelter for visitors and a mess room for the gardeners. Fergus shares a moment with Rachael and James, the first two Christopher Lloyd Scholars (notice they're all wearing primary colors. I love that!)|
Links to videos of the project can be found here and here. Watch them. But be warned, you just might fall in love with the place.