a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

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.

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

31 thoughts on “Savill Gardens 2013

  1. Beautiful! The mahonias are beautiful here, also, this time of the year!


  2. One can never be sure them Moas are not going to make a comeback.

    Nice walk through the gardens, and nice photos.


  3. You were lucky to see the bumble bee, the weather is so cold that I can’t imagine that many bees are about. I hope you have a lovely Christmas with your family in the UK.


  4. You must have brought this stormy weather over with you Amelia! Lovely photos as always. Merry Christmas!


  5. Great photos. Live in the UK but have never heard of here! Might have to visit sometime.


  6. Thanks for a great post! I love seeing the bark of trees in the winter and that on the cross between Arbutus andrachne and Arbutus unedo is really beautiful. I don’t know if I’d call the Tororaro beautiful but it is really interesting. I think I’d grow it in my garden, just because it is so different. Have a Merry Christmas!


  7. Loved all the different types of bark and the New Zealand garden (of course!). And it made me smile that you found a bumblebee 🙂


  8. Those gardens really are beautiful in winter! The different colours and textures of the barks are amazing – have never seen planting that reflects that so well. The cornus and mahonia must look stunning in combination. Glad you found a bee too!


    • I’ve always loved the tree barks and have had my favourite trees in gardens. There is a Prunus serrula in Drum Castle gardens, Aberdeenshire that everybody loves to go and stroke the bark is so beautiful. Amelia


  9. Someone with a real eye and love for winter gardens has been in charge of planting it is clear. A real benchmark of what you can do if you know enough about plants.


  10. We used to live very close. It is always a great place to go in winter. Merry Christmas. 🙂


  11. A queen bumblebee, what a find. Enjoy your UK Christmas, hope you’re coping with the wind and rain being thrown us at all.


  12. The bark on the birch, cherry, Cornus and strawberry trees are amazing! Beautiful bee captures too!


  13. A nice garden even in winter, and you are good in seeing the highlights of course. Merry Christmas, Amelia!


  14. I have never been to the Savill Gardens in winter but it is clearly worth the effort. The bark on those trees is wonderful. I specially liked the Arbutus. Lovely photos.


  15. What a lovely garden and the interest created with unusual bark was pretty amazing; great photos.


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