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A visit to a dear Great Park

November 10, 2011

Last week my friend, Jo, and I took a trip back to the Savill & Valley Gardens in Windsor Great Park. Having both worked there (at separate times) in our year out of studies at Writtle we were looking forward to an overdue visit. It was a lovely autumnal drive – a bit grey but lit with golden leaves fluttering through the air, raining down from increasingly bare branches. After an amazingly clear run round the M25 from Kent I arrived super early, so I popped over to a café in Sunningdale I used to frequent before meeting Jo at the Savill visitor centre. Mark Flanagan (Keeper of the Gardens ­– and font of all horticultural knowledge) took a few moments out of his busy schedule to join us for a coffee before Jo and I headed out into the gardens. It was so great to be back in the park and to see everyone again. As is the way we ended up doing a lot of chatting and catching-up with old colleagues, leaving us little time for much else. We did manage a quick loop of the gardens – it was all looking spick and span. The large New Zealand garden, which hadn’t yet been refurbished when I was there, is settling in – Jo was eyeing up the plants with interest as they have a New Zealand garden at Hyde Hall (where she now works). Cutting back of the huge herbaceous borders was underway, but what was left standing was still looking great. The roses were still going in the rose garden and major redevelopment had started in Summer Wood with new paths and beds being dug.

After a late lunch we drove into the park through Bishopsgate (with permission of course) and headed over to the Valley and Heather Gardens. I love it out there – so beautiful and peaceful and so many fine trees and shrubs. My heart is filled with many fond memories of this place. The sun was very low by this time but we had discovered earlier that, by happy coincidence, we both wanted to go and seek out a Cercidiphyllum japonicum (or Katsura tree). Turns out we both love the plant and wanted to go and sniff its autumnal candy floss scent. Bunch of oddballs us hort lot. With the sun descending we jumped out the car and made straight for a specimen that Jo could remember growing up near the car park. We smelt it before we could see it. It had already dropped all of its golden heart-shaped leaves on the floor but its burnt sugar aroma was unmistakable. With our Cercidiphyllum craving fixed we went and found the Valley Garden team under the trees rebuilding the nursery beds. Leaves crunched under our feet. We said our hellos. Everyone was all smiles. Geoff took us to see their new viewing platform, which looks over the Punch Bowl – and what a fab view it was. The Punch Bowl is known for its riot of flamboyant colour in the spring when the Kurume azaleas are out but it was still looking rather fetching with its slightly more demure autumn coat on too. Then, having escaped it all day, it started to rain. We dashed over to the Heather mess room to catch up with the team there before a quick walk around the deserted Heather Garden in the gloaming. When we returned to our cars it was dark. It was time to bid the park farewell and face the rush-hour drive home. Until the next time my dearest Great Park…

Stepping out

The beautiful, sinuous, oak roof of the visitor centre – built with local materials and designed to blend into the landscape (opened June 2006)

The herbaceous borders still looking resplendent with the trees of Spring Wood as a backdrop

Roses still going in this modern take on a rose garden, designed by Andrew Wilson (opened June 2010)

Impressive seasonal display of pumpkins and squashes in the Temperate House

Valley Gardens. Carpet of gold. Majestic trees. I am totally biased but my heart sings and soul soars in this place.

The Punch Bowl seen from the new viewing platform. The colours may be more muted but no less stunning in the autumn.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2011 12:14 am

    Wow, fabulous pictures! I’m feeling ashamed because I’ve never visited – which is ridiculous because I live in south-west London, so it’s not far away. Must make it a New Year resolution.

    • November 20, 2011 10:54 pm

      Thank you Victoria! Yes, do visit if you get a chance. It’s great at any time of year but puts on the best ‘show’ around May for all the rhododendrons, magnolias etc. There’s a fab specimen of Davidia up in the Valley Garden too and I love all the acers. Just a fantastic collection of trees and shrubs generally!

  2. November 21, 2011 7:58 pm

    Gorgeous colours: and I can’t believe it all still looks so lush in November!

  3. Rama Lopez-Rivera permalink
    January 15, 2012 7:14 am

    Great images! My name is Rama Lopez-Rivera. I was a student at Windsor the same year as Jo (give her my best!). Wish I was back there sometimes, not many chances in life to work in a place like the Park. I look forward to seeing more of your writing.

    • January 15, 2012 10:02 am

      Hi Rama! Yes, I think Jo has mentioned you before. Thanks for your comment. What are you up to now? Did you stick with gardening?

      • Rama Lopez-Rivera permalink
        January 15, 2012 11:19 am

        Yes I am still into gardening and more recently plant hunting. I am currently overwintering at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in California before heading back to London. Quarryhill is a fantastic garden nestled within the Sonoma Wine Country. It’s well worth a visit if your in California.

        I have come across your name a few times since I left Windsor. I remember Geoff spoke very highly of you.

        Really enjoying the blog. Great writing

      • January 15, 2012 1:02 pm

        Thanks Rama, that’s very kind of you. How fantastic – not a bad place to spend some time in wine country! Quarryhill looks interesting. We were in San Fran last year on holiday but didn’t have time to make it up to Napa/Sonoma – will definitely have to try to get there at some point. I’ll let Jo know that you have been in touch. I think she and the other gardeners at Windsor were wondering what you were up to now.

        Enjoy the rest of your time out there. Plant hunting sounds like great fun – what an amazing thing to have the opportunity to do!

  4. Rama Lopez-Rivera permalink
    January 19, 2012 12:54 am

    Yeah it’s been rewarding for sure. Taiwan & Central-South Japan this autumn. The only thing I hate is the snakes!



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