Q&A with John Anderson, Keeper of the Gardens of the Windsor Estate

Tell us about your career journey so far

I was a student at Kew from 1988-1991, then went on to be Head Gardener at Mount Usher Gardens (Ireland), Inverewe Gardens (Scotland) and Exbury Gardens (Hants) before moving to the Savill Gardens.  I am delighted to continue my career at one of the finest gardens and plant collections in the country within the breath-taking landscape of Windsor Great Park.  I have travelled a lot looking at plants in their natural habitats, so I was also attracted to the range of trees, shrubs and flowers from all over the world. 

Tell us about your role.

I enjoy the variety of roles from managerial roles to the horticulture.  I also take great pleasure giving private evening tours, talking about the history and highlighting particular parts of the garden, such as the replanting of the rhododendron collection in the ‘Valley Garden’.  It’s satisfying to share how subtle changes can have a huge impact, such as how removing a vigorous plant can reveal a lost vista.  We recently pruned back some very large camellia to reveal a summer-flowering magnolia with wonderful scented flowers. 

What are your favourite parts of the garden?

The Savill Gardens have evolved into all-year round gardens, all with seasonal highlights.  In the spring the 35 acres of woodland wakes up with spring flowering shrubs such as magnolias and rhododendrons and daffodils naturalised in the meadows.  Then there’s summer interest in the herbaceous borders and dry garden.  And our new ‘Winter Garden’ is already one of the finest in the country.  The ‘Golden Jubilee Rose Garden’, which is divided into ‘rooms’ with different planting styles, is interesting design-wise.  The first combines a soft pastel feel with purples, greys and pale pinks through nepeta, delphinium and asters, while the rose garden has been given a modern twist with grasses such as Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea 'Heidebraut' and Miscanthus sinensis 'Ferner Osten', which extend the season into winter when the grasses come into their own.

How much replanting and tweaking do you do?  

We aim to have a much more diverse collection, so we are doing a lot of replanting in the Valley Gardens.  We also lost quite a bit this winter due to the sheer drop in temperature from plus 12 degrees C to minus 4 in one swift move and then staying beyond freezing for over seven days, and then this cold snap repeated in January when the ice didn’t melt for over a week. Summer heat impacts on the rhododendron collection and the plants that thrive on the sandier soils.

What are your personal favourite plant combinations?

Plant combinations that work well are purple and yellow flowering or foliage plants.  Cotinus ‘Grace’ with Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’, hostas and Rodgersia podophylla with rheum and candelabra primulas in a damp soil work very well.  Personally, I only have time to tend my own garden from time to time but I have a very nice wildflower meadow and several new tree plantings that bring me joy!