Valley Gardens. 04.06.13

The Valley Gardens in Windsor Great Park have been developed in a number of phases, starting in the early 1700's when the first Scots Pines were planted. The current arrangement of large collections of shrubs grouped in the valleys leading down to Virginia Water dates from work done in the 1940's by Sir Eric Savill and Hope Findlay.

The open woodland slowly evolves into more intensive plantings as the ground starts to undulate.The tree cover becomes denser and the sense of drama increases.

This Rhododendron 'Fuselier' is a strident scarlet that glows under the woodland. The name Rhododendron means 'red tree' and so it is surprising that there aren't a great many more hybrids in these shocking shades rather than the purples and pastels we are so familiar with as a consequence of the monster, Rhododendron ponticum.

This is the first time I have visited this corner of the gardens. The winter garden nestles at the top of a shallow valley and is surrounded by a horseshoe of Hamamelis that would be a delightful destination during a winter visit. At this season it was wonderfully tranquil. Complete and self-contained without being irritatingly perfect. The lawn undulates, the Rhododendron are irregular and the seat is off centre. Wonderfully not perfect.

Enkianthus campanulatus growing as large as I have ever seen it, making large shrubs and small trees throughout the gardens. It flowers here with an enthusiasm that detracts from its delicate charm. It has come to resemble the beautiful dance of a Prima Ballerina at the end of a long tour of the provinces. Technically exact but heavy and pained and joyless, relentlessly night after night.

The azalea Punch Bowl was designed to be a spectacle of painted colour through May but a slow, cold spring and a sudden leap to summer has left it both coming and going at the same time. It has possibly matured beyond the point that it can be saved by a splash of bright colour and kindly lighting.

The great wonder of the visit was this Davidia involucrata. A Handkerchief Tree flowering with the full power and majesty of maturity. I was transported with rapture and Gloria stumbled about under the branches for several minutes with her camera muttering '...little balls of darkness, little balls of darkness...". She sees things with a quite unique eye.

As the evening light faded and the colours started to chill, we were happy to make our way down the hill. On the journey home we stopped for supper at a country inn that promised 'pie and chips' without the need to specify the inner identity of the pie in question. It was a heavy but tasty affair which I almost ate and Gloria almost didn't but we both enjoyed the whimsical courage of the chef that led to it being presented on a plate with a paper doily.

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