I do love to track the Spring moving North through Britain. It travels from Cornwall to Cathness at walking speed – though I am sure Walpole my dog could outrun it. Everyone gets excited about azaleas coming into bloom around Easter but an earlier and much more magnificent herald of Spring is the magnolia. Seek it out in Woodland Gardens, often gardens associated with the great plant collectors of the nineteenth century who scoured the world for species plant to establish in their gardens back home in Britain. And, of course, there are often gardens which have survived in out of the way places, well worth a trip to visit. So I am going on a tour through Britain seeking out the best places to see these most spectacular of flowering trees.
Start at Caerhays Castle in Cornwall; the seven champion Magnolia Campbellii trees are already in full bloom there. These 80 foot tall trees are the heart of the National Collection of Magnolias at Caerhays. These trees have been putting on this display since they were planted in the 1870s.
The magnolias at Borde Hill Gardens in Sussex have survived the strong March winds as they have since these specimen trees were brought back from South East Asia for the garden 100 years ago. Now is the time to see their bright blossoms against the bare branches of other deciduous trees in the Main Garden.
The Banks family’s celebrated tree garden at Hergest Croft has magnolias planted around the house and their pink and white blossoms will be in full bloom when Spring paces into Herefordshire in April.
The sheltered gardens of Plas Newydd in Anglesey may well have magnolias out first and the views over the Menai Straits are hard to beat at any time of year.
Another National Collection of Magnolias graces the gardens at Wentworth Castle in South Yorkshire. Spring seems to have hopped up here already as the magnolias in this sheltered garden are just coming into bloom.
You might have to wait a few weeks longer in Scotland but Spring is one of the best times to be on the West Coast to make a detour to see the magnolias in the Woodland Gardens at Dunvegan Castle; rare Magnolia Wilsonii will be displaying its showy white flowers and crimson stamens to visitors in early May.
So kick off the season with the unbeatable sight of the waxy pink and white flower of the magnolia against a blue Spring sky and celebrate Britain’s long gardening history.
Don’t forget to tweet me your pictures of spring gardens