In the garden news

March 2019

One of the most wonderful things at Gravetye is to be amongst some beautiful mature trees, planted over a century ago. There are so many specimens to enjoy and possibly the most striking is our Magnolia campbellii, which has just come into flower. It is a very early blooming magnolia, and a cold spring will turn its stunning big pink flowers into brown mush. Last year it didn’t stand a chance against the “beast from the east”, so I was especially excited when I saw its fury buds starting to open last week. The first few flowers really mark the start of spring for us and every morning I have started the day by checking on how its buds are opening. You could imagine my distress over the weekend while we were being pounded by rain and high wind. But on Monday I was overjoyed to see the tree in its full glory, only a little dishevelled by the gales.

This beautiful tree was first collected in the Himalayas by Wilson and was planted at Gravetye as soon as William Robinson could get his hands on seedlings of the tree. If we are lucky, with gentle weather, the tree on the south side of the manor will flower for another 2-3 weeks and trees in the cooler location of the east garden will flower later, giving us a display throughout March.

Magnolias seem to grow well at Gravetye, favouring our slightly acidic clay soil and south facing slope and we are lucky to have such a beautiful collection, planted over the generations. Drifts of delicate M. stellata will soon open, flowering above carpets of Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’, and the lovely Magnolia soulangeana will flower into late June. But my favourite of them all is still M. campbellii. The problem with it is that it is tricky to get established and of course in our unpredictable weather you can never be sure if you will get any flowers. The hybrid ‘Star War’ is probably the best reliable alternative. It has been crossed with M. liliiflora and is more vigorous and flowers later. We have planted several of these around the estate and although they are beautiful it is nothing compared to pure M. campbellii. So to make sure that we continue the legacy of this lovely tree at Gravetye we have just planted a new tree, for the next generation to enjoy.





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