Visiting gardens is something I have become obsessed with over the past decade. I find it endlessly interesting to discover gardens known for their role in garden history or their recent innovation. Strolling through a portion of nature shaped by human ideas of beauty is the most pleasant, relaxing and invigorating experience for me. Luckily, my Englishman enjoys it just as much and in normal years we visit at least a dozen of the great English gardens, unfortunately this year we haven’t – yet.
Just as the spring season was about to start, lockdown required all public gardens to close. By the time they reopened in July I was back in Düsseldorf. When I returned to London in mid August, a trip to a garden was overdue.
However, visiting a garden is weather dependent, at least it is for me. I do not enjoy walking along borders in rain or high winds, no matter how good the planting. This is where the unpredictable English weather complicates things. Therefore, to ensure maximum enjoyment, our garden visits have to always been spontaneous.
Unfortunately the current social distancing measures have made this a lot harder. Spontaneously finding a great garden to visit is as difficult as getting a table at short notice in a critically-acclaimed restaurant in pre-covid19—times. But there were always the well-established restaurants that quietly remained excellent long after they had been the talk of the town and could usually be booked instantly. The Savill Garden is the horticultural equivalent – and one of our favourites.
My Englishman and I arrive early; it is going to be a very hot day. Once we have collected our pre-booked tickets we remove our face masks and the garden feels as it always has: spacious, grand and instantly relaxing.
We rush to the herbaceous borders, the season’s main attraction. Laid out on a grand scale they run either side of a neatly trimmed lawn the width of a dual-carriageway. Each border is filled with masses of perennial plants sloping in height from 2.5 metres at the back right down to the ground at the front.
All plants are carefully placed for maximum flower visibility. Here everything is about colour. From afar the borders look like rainbows, gently progressing from yellows through oranges to reds and purples. This lavish quantity of plants is a glorious celebration of the great English invention: the perennial flower border.
Emerging in early Victorian times, it was Gertrude Jekyll who perfected the idea at the beginning of the 20th century. Precisely graded colours were the defining feature. Jekyll’s borders formed abstract pictures painted with flowers. She used plants like the coloured dots of an impressionist painting.
Here at the Savill Garden the concept has been enlarged in every way. Even the dots of colour are more like splashes made up of not just 2 or 3 plants but 10 or 20. The vast space inbetween the borders feels like an open air cathedral dedicated to the enjoyment of flowering plants.
Up close, the skill of carefully selecting the perfect cultivars for colour and height becomes apparent. Flowers of similar, harmoniously coordinated shades are placed beside each other. Also, there are groups of different plants with identically coloured flowers. Canna ‘Black Knight’, Dahlia ‘Bednall Beauty’ and Ricinus communis ‘New Zealand Purple’, appear as one complex unit because their leaf-colour is identical too.
We slowly stroll along this fantastic display of flowering plants, luxuriating in its vastness and perfection. And there is more. As dominating as the main herbaceous borders are at this time of year, there are many other gardens within the Savill garden.
Another formal border starts around the corner. Smaller than the main ones, but still impressive in size, this is a showcase for Agapanthus. Between different varieties with flower colours ranging from ultramarine to white, fiery orange Kniphofia stand in brilliant complimentary contrast. Evergreen yuccas are masterly combined with the strap-shaped Agapanthus leaves. Unfortunately the border is about a week past its prime. Still, the impact the plant arrangement achieves in front of dark yew hedges is impressive.
In the dry garden, things look less restrained. As we walk down the narrow, winding paths we come across verbascum plants standing in the gravel as if they self-seeded randomly. We discover unusual plants, like Colutea arborescens, a shrubby tree with bright orange flowers and large, puffed-up seed pods or a remarkably delicate variety of euphorbia (Euphorbia seguieriana).
Further down the valley, under the cover of trees, everything is suddenly green and lush. The ‘Hidden Gardens’ were a delight when we saw them in spring last year. Now, in the heat of summer, the area has the feel of an oasis in dappled shade. All the beds are covered in a dense layer of foliage. Flowers are less prominent, but one combination stands out: the yellow elongated flower-cones of Ligularia ‘Savill Spire’ compliment the similarly-shaped pale purple flowers of Astilbe (Thunbergii Hybrid) ‘Ostrich Plume’ beautifully. I love such precision in garden design.
Before the heat gets too unbearable we are back in the car. It has been a wonderful morning, a refreshing bathe in horticultural excellence. A visit here poses no danger of having to endure failed experiments or other shortcomings. The Savill Garden is always pure indulgence.
Address: Savill Garden, Wick Ln, Englefield Green, Egham TW20 0UJ, UK
For opening times and other information please check: windsorgreatpark.co.uk