a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

The Savill Garden December 2015


I first visited The Savill Garden in December 2012 (Free in December).  I admit the absence of an entrance fee attracted me to visit but it has become one of my favourite gardens.  For me to really appreciate a garden I need to get to know it and I look forward to seeing some of my favourite trees as I would old friends.

Long view

There is plenty to see even in the winter and I was interested to see the differences this exceptionally mild winter might show.


I was impressed that by covering the Gunnera plants with their leaves in such regular pyramids that it transformed the bed into an attractive feature for the winter.

Arch with Camelia

The arch leading into the spring garden was already sprinkled with flowering pink Camellias, judging by the label Camellia Japponica “Lady Clare”.

Rhododendron kiusianum

Rhododendron kiusianum or Kyushu Azalea, a native of southern Japan, was also in flower.

Start of green roof

Heading to the Temperate House I was disappointed that the large Mahonia “Charity” was no longer in flower, I think the mild autumn encouraged it to flower earlier than usual.  However, I noticed the beginnings of a green roof which I will be interested to watch progress in future visits.

Acacia Pravisima

The Acacia pravissima was flowering brightly against the wall.  This plant is a native of Australia and would usually flower a month after Acacia dealbata in France.  Acacia dealbata is also a native of Australia but is very commonly grown in parts of France including our region and flowers from January onwards.  I have not planted any Mimosa in our garden, despite the attractive perfume of the flowers, as it is very vigorous and invasive and will push up shoots around the main trunk.

Chamaecyparis obtus “Leprechaun”

Nearby, we could not help but be amused at this little plant which is so well-named – Chamaecyparis obtusa “Leprechaun”.   It has an expected height of  thirty centimetres.

Raolia lutescens

At the same raised bed I was attracted to what I took for an algal mat.  Wikipedia tells us that it is in the “pussy’s-toes-tribe” and is a native New Zealand plant which when covered by its little white flowers can resemble flocks of sheep when viewed from afar – leading to its common name of Vegetable Sheep!

Hamamelia japponica Pallida

Coming back to more mundane plants, this was a time to see the wonderful varieties of Witchhazel that grow throughout the gardens, like this Hamamelia japponica Pallida.

Hamamelis intermedia Pallida

Or the very similar Hamamelia intermedia Pallida.

Hamamelis Intermedia Orange Peel

I liked the Hamamelis Intermedia “Orange Peel” as the petals were a deep, bright yellow and did look like orange peel.

Mahonia Bokrafoot

I was disappointed not to see the huge Mahonia “Charity” in flower but it did bring my attention to other Mahonias that can be grown like this Mahonia Bokrafoot.  This is a very compact hybrid of M. repens and will only reach 60cm in height.

Mahonia wagneri 'Aldenhamensis'

A patch had been planted out with several Mahonia wagneri ‘Aldenhamensis’ which were flowering bravely, despite being still in the seedling stage.  It will probably take about ten years for these plants to reach a maximum height of one and half metres and it is comforting for me to be aware that even in these beautiful mature gardens there is a lot of renewal and beginnings amongst the stunning focal points.

Green parrot

One thing we could not ignore was the noisy groups of green parrots calling from high in the trees.  These are the rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri), also known as the ring-necked parakeet.  These birds have most likely escaped from captivity having been imported from Africa or Asia as pets.  Large flocks of parakeets have established themselves in the Greater London area and are not always welcome as they can be very noisy additions to the neighbourhood.

Iris reticulata Katherine Hodgkin

There was so much to see like these Iris reticulata “Katherine Hodgkin”.

Hellebore bumble

And I still managed to see some bumble bees in the Hellebores

Bumble in Arbetus

and Arbutus arachnoides.




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.

32 thoughts on “The Savill Garden December 2015

  1. I’ve been seeing lots of bumbles this winter! Colder weather is due next week, hope they’ll be ok.


    • I would imagine it would be good for the queen bumbles to get out for a top up especially as there seems plenty around for them this year. They should be fat enough to hunker down and hibernate if it gets cold now. Amelia


  2. I enjoyed your winter tour Amelia, it looks as if you had some wonderful warm sunny weather – temperatures are finally due to drop here next week, although I am quite looking forward to a decent frost. I really like the way Gunnera plants are covered too, they are almost alien like.


  3. Great images. I would love to be there right now!


  4. I like the color of the orange peel witch hazel. I wonder if it’s a fall or spring bloomer.


  5. Do the bees like the witch hazel? It blooms here in fall and I wonder if it would be a late season bloom for the bees.


  6. I have read about The Savill Garden but have never visited. Thank you for the tour.


  7. Camellias have been very beautiful this year in the southern UK because of the lack of frosts and I have seen the occasional bumblebee on them. Your pictures of hamamelis were very good.


  8. I went to the Savill garden for the first time nearly forty years ago(!) in late spring when the rhododendrons and azaleas were flowering. I have never forgotten how wonderful it was. Thank you for reminding me, and for posting the lovely photographs. I especially like the witch hazel, one of those plants that we natural medicine users often turn to.


  9. By the way, I brought some acacia seeds all the way from the Abbey Gardens on Tresco, Isles of Scilly to Egypt to try raising them in my garden in New Cairo. Total failure… But you do see acacias growing in the desert here.


    • My husband is an incalcitrant seed collector (we have three baby trees in pots I don’t know what he will do with) but he collected seed from an acacia tree in a car park in Guildford and now has a tree growing happily outside our house. It flowered last year so perhaps you were just unlucky. At least acacia trees grow quickly, one of his baby trees is a black walnut! Amelia


    • Most acacia seeds need heat treatment to germinate as one way of cracking the hard black seed coat. (Wattles in Australia are the first plants to germinate after bushfire…) Different species have different germination requirements, but I’ve had success with both boiling water and lukewarm water soaking for 24 hours. Some also need smoking! Some people sandpaper the seedcoat. Good luck – we wouldn’t be without wattles in Australia – the golden wattle is our emblem.


      • The Acacias we have in Europe are a bit different. We have a lot in the woods around here and they have white, highly perfumed flowers and the bees love them!


      • This is fascinating: I have read that some seeds need fire in order to germinate, and this throws really interesting light on a mystery of nature. I’ll go back to the seeds from Tresco and try a couple of the techniques you suggest. I have seen acacias growing in the wild in Egypt, in otherwise inhospitable desert, but perhaps they were originally introduced by human interference.


        • There are 163 different species of Acacia so I see no reason why the ones you have seen should not be native species. Good luck with the the germination, it is a good idea to try different methods in the hope that at least one could strike it right.


  10. Even though we used to live relatively close to Savill gardens it isn’t a garden I know very well, I think it has been much improved in recent years, I very much enjoyed the description of your visit.


  11. I must keep an eye out for vegetable sheep. 🙂 I was very surprised to see the parakeet. I always think of them as tropical birds. Hard to imagine they have adjusted so/too well to colder climes.


    • The vegetable sheep are found in the rocky, alpine areas and are hard to the touch, not woolly as their appearance from a distance gives you to believe. The parakeets look very incongruous in an English garden but flocks of them can be found all round the South East. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

  12. A great tour Amelia – in some winter sunshine too. The fascinating woolly sheep plant was intriguing – maybe you can plan a revisit when the sheep are grazing? We heard/saw the parakeet flocks once at Kew, and I have to say I’d have really been annoyed by them if they roosted, fed in our garden – as you say a bit incongruous for the UK. I wonder if the UK warms up, whether like the Tree Bumblebee, they’ll gradually migrate over to the West of the country. But most likely they wouldn’t like all the rain!
    Best wishes


  13. Parakeets! in London! Wow. I love these old gardens and miss them terribly now that i am no longer living in the UK.. The light there is perfect for garden photography.. c


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