The Savill garden: redefining the winter frontier

Carex oshimensis Evergold wrapping around a Daphne bohlua Jacqueline Postiill
Carex oshimensis Evergold wrapping around a Daphne bohlua Jacqueline Postiill

January 2020 – Winter was once the final frontier for garden folks. The cold season just meant leafless shrubs, perennials cut back to the ground, and muddy borders. Of course you could always count on holly, yew and various conifers for greenery and structure. The odd Christmas rose would bring a bit of colour until the first snowdrops popped up, along with winter aconites, followed by crocuses heralding the imminence of spring and a return to floriferous times. But mostly, in winter, gardens went into hibernation.

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Marks Hall: bright barks and ancient trees

Araucaria in Gondwanaland, Marks Hall, Essex
Gondwanaland, a piece of ancestral Oceania in Essex

February 2019 — A sharp breeze sweeps across the hill, ruffling the silver-green eucalyptus grove in the distance. It forcefully combs the grasses and buffers the young monkey-puzzle trees that are dotted around the meadow. The air is crisp and the sky is clear. Apart from the hissing of the wind in the branches, there is barely a sound. Gondwanaland, on the western fringe of the Marks Hall estate, feels a bit otherworldly.

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Anglesey Abbey: kingdom of stems and scents

The main path at Anglesey Abbey, lined with Cornus, grasses, Prunus serrula, Sarcococca and Rubus
The main path, lined with cornus, prunus serrula, hamamelis, sarcococca and other winter favourites

February 2019 — Search for ‘Betula jacquemontii’ on the internet and the chances are the first page of results will include several pictures of the white birch grove at Anglesey Abbey. It’s a testament to the garden design team that, despite the internet’s ability to warp our perception and unrealistically heighten our expectations, this should still be a striking sight when you eventually see it in real life. Continue reading “Anglesey Abbey: kingdom of stems and scents”

Last days of autumn in the Japanese garden

View over the lake in Maulevrier's Japanese gardens
View over the lake in Maulevrier’s Japanese gardens

March 2019 – In less than a month, it will be hanami, cherry-blossom time, at Europe’s largest Japanese garden. My last visit to the oriental park at Maulévrier, near Cholet, in France’s Anjou region, dates back to mid-November, on the last day of their autumn season. In the woodland, the nearly bare branches of deciduous trees are holding on to the last gasps of fieriness.  Continue reading “Last days of autumn in the Japanese garden”

A cabinet of curiosity for the people

Joseph Denais museum: the cabinet of curiosity that survived the passage of time
Joseph Denais museum: the cabinet of curiosity that survived the passage of time

Beaufort-en-Vallée, September 2016 — Beaufort’s Joseph Denais museum, in western France’s Anjou, is a survivor. Built in 1905, it has the proud resplendence of a turn-of-the century post-industrial-revolution institution whose ambition was to enlighten the local community.  These days, with its collection of stuffed animals, Egyptian sarcophagi, Japanese porcelain and impressionist paintings, it has the charming incongruity of a life-size cabinet of curiosity that has miraculously made it into the 21st century.   Continue reading “A cabinet of curiosity for the people”

Fit for a king: skiing the Hochkönig area

View from a ridge: hot air balloons floating over Dienten
View from a ridge: hot air balloons floating over Dienten

Maria Alm, Feb. 2015 – The western face of the Hochkönig is a steep expanse of snow and rock. “The refuge is up there on the right,” says the waiter pointing to the ridge of the peak that gives its name to the ski area south of Salzburg. We frown and squint through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling window but all we can see is a vertiginous cliff face. Continue reading “Fit for a king: skiing the Hochkönig area”

Innsbruck: a walk down the hillside

Theresien Kirche: the balcony on the clock tower
Theresien Kirche: the balcony on the clock tower

Innsbruck, October 2015 – The tiny balcony protruding on the west side of the Theresien Kirche, in Innsbruck’s Hungerburg suburb, is one of the few external ornaments on the austere 1930s church. Its shadow, already long at nearly 4pm, gives fleeting depth to the plain off-white wall. Inside, the afternoon sun glides over the simple benches and lights up the post-war frescoes painted by Austrian artist Max Weiler in 1945.

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White and gold: autumn days and first snowfalls in Val d’Isère

Above the Piste L in the Laisinant
Above the Piste L in the Laisinant

Val d’Isère, Oct. 2015 — We’ve been walking up the trail above the L piste towards the Ouillette lake, just up from the Laisinant, for nearly two hours. On a summer’s day, this takes no longer than an hour. But the snow that fell for nearly 24 hours yesterday is making our progress much slower on this Autumn afternoon.

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