Anything But Magnolia

It’s been a cruel winter for spring flowering shrubs and trees. Today at Trewidden in Cornwall we witnessed the impact of subzero temperatures and six inches of snow on gardens that rarely experience such harshness. Rhodendron buds and tree fern fronds stood blackened and lifeless against a benign blue sky. Yet beneath the burnt and scuttled shoots rose carpets of bluebells and pale pink erythroniums, reminding us that all is not lost.

Trewidden is one of Cornwall’s oldest and most established gardens, home to countless champion trees and over 300 varieties of camellia. Despite the savage start to 2018, the garden’s largest magnolia, a 98 year old Magnolia x veitchii ‘Peter Veitch’, is now in bloom. Magnolia x veitchii is a hybrid created in 1907 by Peter Veitch at his famous nursery in Exeter. Its exquisite, pink-flushed, goblet-shaped flowers are the result of Veitch’s attempt to create a magnolia as beautiful as its parents; hardier and with an extended blooming season. To create this hybrid, Veitch crossed Magnolia denudata with Magnolia campbellii. The result was the first recorded hybrid of M. campbellii and a tree that exhibited the best traits of both parents – the large pink flowers of Magnolia campbellii with the upright tepals and almost pure-white flowers of Magnolia denudata. Other improvements were the upright growth habit of M. campbellii combined with an earlier and longer bloom season. A further sibling hybrid from that cross, Magnolia x veitchii ‘Isca’, grows lower down the garden at Trewidden and bears pure white flowers. It is also magnificent.

Branching extravagantly from the base, Magnolia x veitchii ‘Peter Veitch’ reaches to the sky in every direction, filling the air with dark, contorted branches tipped with chalices of pale pink. The effect is beautiful, uplifting, other-worldly. We spurn magnolia, a bland off-white paint colour associated with cheap makeovers on unsaleable houses. The reality is that magnolias are anything but dull or ordinary. Magnolias are fine, vigorous, majestic trees that send their exquisite flowers to flirt with the heavens. Their flowers are pink, blush, cream, white, puce or yellow, but never, ever, magnolia. TFG.

Trewidden Garden is open 10.30am to 5.30pm daily, and also has one of the oldest and most impressive stands of tree ferns in the Northern Hemisphere. You will find yourself lost among some of Britain’s finest and most exotic trees, so do pay a visit.