The Savill Garden, considered the most important natural garden created in England in the twentieth century, comprises 35 acres in Windsor Great Park. On my recent tour, it was the garden that most distinguished itself by its plants. Not only was the quality of horticulture exceptionally high, the plants were showcased with both originality and style.
In the early 1930s, Eric Savill, then the Deputy Surveyor at Windsor, fashioned a remarkable landscape despite the site’s low rainfall by making the most of good soil and natural springs. Today, the garden is a testament to Savill, as well as those who continue to nurture and refine it. In fact, much has been done to enhance the garden in just the last few decades.
In 1995, the Queen Elizabeth Temperate House (named for the Queen Mother) opened as a shelter for tender plants, while the Golden Jubilee Garden marked the 50th anniversary of the accession of the current monarch in 2002. The stunning Savill Building, featuring a gift shop and café under an undulating, leaf-shaped roof, was opened in 2006. And more recently, the Rose Garden was redesigned to feature these prized shrubs in an innovative display.
In the new garden, roses are planted in a swirling pattern, with color and scent concentrated as visitors move towards its center. Pale flowers, including my favorite of the day, ‘Pearl Drift’, give way to pinks such as ‘Ballerina’, while reds like ‘Munstead Wood’ provide a crescendo at the center of the scheme. A raised walkway, angled upwards and jutting towards the heart of the garden, provides a unique view and allows the design to be seen to best advantage.
I have to admit, however, it was the Golden Jubilee Garden which really made my heart leap. A modern interpretation of the much-loved cottage garden, this space is designed as an enclosed, sunny area that intensifies the fragrance of flowers and encourages visitors to linger on a nearby bench. Concentric rings, mainly of yew and boxwood, create a contemplative mood and provide a foil for the brightly-colored flowers.
Between paths and enclosing hedges, large beds are planted in the prairie-style popularized by Dutch garden designer Pete Oudolf. Bold sweeps of perennials, created with hundreds of harmonizing plants, are arranged in a color wave that progresses from one bed to the next. In early September, I found a planting of purple geraniums, salvias, and veronicas, offset by a weathered teak bench, to be especially lovely.
A big part of the excitement of touring a garden, though, is finding a new plant. Here are a few that that caught my eye on that fabulous, late-summer morning in the Savill Garden.
Hypericum x inodorum ‘Magical Pumpkin’: Growing to roughly 30-inches tall and wide, this small shrub offers the familiar yellow flowers of St. John’s wort in summer, followed by pea-sized, coral berries in autumn that turn black as the season wears on.
Echinacea purpurea ‘Virgin’: An introduction from Pete Oudolf, this new coneflower grows in compact clumps featuring 4-inch wide flowers distinguished with a prominent green cone and brilliant white petals which are fringed on their tips.
Veronica spicata ‘Purpleicious’: A major component of the purple bed in the Golden Jubilee Garden, this spike speedwell offers intense purple flowers and dark green foliage on a vigorous cultivar that grows to 20-inches tall and wide.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’: More compact than many of its kin, this introduction from the esteemed German nurseryman Ernst Pagels reaches just 5-feet tall and provides a jolt of color with deep burgundy flower heads in late summer. In the Savill Garden, the grass was planted in drifts among the outer borders of the rose garden, where it complimented a variety of soft pink flowers.
Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix’: It’s not often that a tree stands out from the crowd in a garden of exceptional plants, but this unusual maple lives up to its cultivar name with orange bark that becomes more vivid in cold weather. A hybrid between the American Acer pensylvanicum and the Chinese Acer davidii, the small tree grows 20-feet tall and nearly as wide and will brighten the garden in fall with gold foliage.