Savill Gardens 2013

Leaving the garden behind us for Christmas in the U.K. we took the opportunity to visit The Savill Gardens for a second time.  The first time was in December last year.  This time my son and girl friend joined us for a leisurely stroll around the gardens.  Even in December there is plenty of inspiration to be had from such beautifully planned and maintained gardens.

Betula utilis var utilis

The colours of the Cornus alba and trees brightened up an extremely cloudy, winter day.  The tree in the foreground is a Betula utilis var. utilis , the bark in this specimen is red and is starting to peel slightly, so different from other pure white specimens.

Betula utilis Jacquesmontiii

I had looked for this variety of birch in our local nurseries when we were first starting the garden in France but I was unsuccessful as they did not hold any named varieties, perhaps things have improved now, especially if you were willing to order on-line.

Acer conspicuum v "Phoenix"
Acer conspicuum v “Phoenix”

I remember these Acers from last year, under planted by a dark form of Bergenia – “Eroica”.  Most forms of Bergenia are pretty heroic tough plants but these ones turn from a deep green to this red coloured leaf in the winter.

Prunus rufaAnother appealing tree is the Prunus rufa, a small Himalayan cherry tree.

Cornus rufa

The bark is very shiny and peeling at the same time giving it an appealing tufty look.

Prunus Maachii

Another Prunus that was a favourite with everyone was Prunus Maachi – “Amber Beauty”, this time it was the silky. smooth bark that was the attraction, coupled with the unusual grey/copper tone of the bark.

Cornus sanguinea, Anny's Winter Orange"
Cornus sanguinea, Anny’s Winter Orange”

Even on a dull winter’s day the colours stand out in the garden.

Mahonia edging

The Savill Garden holds the national collection of Mahonia but the Mahonia are at their best in January and February so I will have to imagine the yellow flowers on the bushes on the left against the Cornus.

Witch hazel

I did see yellow flowers of witch hazel, this is Hamamelis x Intermedia “Bernstein” – these hybrids are crosses between the Japanese witch hazel H. japonica and the Chinese witch hazel  H. mollis.  Witch hazels have always been one of my favourite plants because of their perfume and winter flowering season but I would not be as cruel to plant them in my inhospitable chalky soil.

Liana New Zealand garden

Liana, being a New Zealander was keen to visit the New Zealand Garden.

Muehlenbeckia astonii

My photograph of the Tororaro (Muehlenbeckia astonii ) doesn’t do it justice but it is a good example of how lovely even a deciduous plant can be.  It had caught water droplets on its twigs and they sparkled even in the dull light.

Lancewood, Pseudopanax crassifolius

I would have missed this insignificant little tree if Liana hadn’t pointed it out.  It is Lancewood, Horoeka (Pseudopanax crassifolius) which has the peculiarity of changing its form from this juvenile lance-shaped plant to a mature tree with a more conventional bushy top with wider leaves.  According to Wikipedia this strategy could have developed to avoid browsing of the young plants by the now extinct Moa birds.


I look for inspiration in the design of the gardens but certain features are just to be admired.

Savill lake

The woodland water feature is much beyond my garden.

Arbutus x ArachnoidesI re-visited my hybrid strawberry tree that had charmed me last year.

Arbutus barkThe bark is just as fascinating in this cross between Arbutus andrachne and Arbutus unedo.

Temperate house

The temperate house takes on a festive air at Christmas and provides a welcome break out of the cold on a winter visit.  There are lots of perfumed white narcissi and poinsettia.

Mahonia eurybracteata nitens

I had seen this Mahonia eurybracteata nitens last year and was pleased by its softer leaves but disappointed that it was not hardy, however, this year I have discovered another similar Mahonia – Mahonia eurybracteata subspecies ganpinensis”Soft Caress” which I have bought to bring home with me.

Mahonia Media Charity

There is an amazing specimen of Mahonia x Media “Charity” just outside the temperate house.  This hybrid which must be one of the most commonly seen Mahonia in the U.K. was first named “Charity” in the Savill Gardens.  It was the only Mahonia that we saw so full of flowers in the gardens.

Bombus terrestris

Despite the cold a lone bumble bee was foraging in the abundant flowers.

Buff tailed bumble bee

As she foraged she dropped clouds of yellow pollen on us as we followed her progress.

B. terrestris on bark

She retired to the trunk of the Mahonia for some grooming and we left her there.  I was unsure of its identity so I sent my pictures to iSpot.  It is a queen buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) out for a pre-Christmas nectar drink.


Last week my husband bought a new chain saw, the old one having given up the ghost after years of rough treatment.  Inspired by his new possession he attacked the trees and branches on the left side of the garden that had left too much of the sides in heavy shade.

Collecting the ash

I had no sooner finished collecting the ash from the last bonfire than new cut branches were starting to accumulate.

Clearing the back wood

We are also trying to clear the very bottom of the garden of straggly growth that allows only sufficient light for ivy to grow.

Old willow cut

Trees have a remarkable ability for regeneration but we have left them untended for too long and judicious pruning and loping is required.  I want to protect the willows as they are alive with bees in the spring.

MistletoeA lot of mistletoe grows in this area of France and it was handy that some of the fallen branches supplied us with good bunches of mistletoe for Christmas.

Plum tree rebalanced

The large plum tree, another firm favourite of the bees, has had some lower branches removed .

Bee hotel in place

The bee hotel stayed undisturbed on it perch.

Christmas tree standing

But I had my eyes set on the ex-Christmas tree left by the house’s previous owners.  We had inherited three ex-Christmas trees with the house, planted in a straight row – baby tree, Mummy tree and Daddy tree.  Baby tree was cut to join us celebrating Christmas the first year we bought the house while we were still in the U.K.  Mummy tree was cut some years later but Daddy tree just grew too big.  I think there must be a moral in this story about people who don’t knew much about gardening being careful about where and how they plant trees in their garden.  I know we certainly have made many miscalculations and I am astonished at how quickly trees grow, especially if you are not watching them.


Armed with his new (but not shiny any more) chain saw my husband complied with my wishes and cut down the last Christmas tree.

Fallen tree

This left a lot of leaves and branches to be cleared.

Bedding area exposed

The objective is to give more light to the bedding area to the right of the tree stump.


However, some of the plants are shade loving.  I have grown this fragrant Skimmia from a tiny cutting that broke off as I passed it in the Aberdeen Botanical Gardens.  I loved walking there and it has taken me nine years to grow my cutting to a reasonable size.  I fear that if I do not move it that the sun will scorch this shade-loving plant.

Seating area exposed

It will also leave our sitting area more exposed so I am considering some alternative lower planting or short “hedge”.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

Strawberry tree

Despite low temperatures morning and evening we’ve been enjoying some sunshine and the honey bees have been visiting the strawberry tree.

bee on gorse

I was surprised to see the honey bees were busy and gathering lots of pollen on the gorse which seems quite happy to flower in these conditions.

Tip toes

I watched as one spent considerable effort to enter a flower that was not quite open.  I wonder if the first-come gets more nectar?

Take off

She’ll need plenty of energy to carry those pollen sacs back to the hive!

Wasp on hand

Apart from the gorse, the medlars were ripening and we were snacking on the fruit while watching the bees.  Medlars are sticky things to eat and I had difficulty in persuading this wasp to go and find its own medlar rather than expecting me to hand feed it on the remains of the one I had just finished.

December is a time of sharp contrast here.  Frosts and low temperatures mornings and evenings but sometimes blue skies and warm afternoon sun.