Now, as the almond burns its smoking wick, dropping small flames to light the candled grass; now, as my low blood scales its second chance, if ever world were blessed, now it is.”
The lines above by Laurie Lee, from his poem ‘April Rise’ perfectly sum up this time of year for me. Although Lee refers to the fallen petals of almonds as “small flames” lighting the grass, for me the magnolias might fit the bill with more elegance.
At Hodnet Hall Gardens we have an enviable collection established from the 1950s onwards. The heart of the collection is concentrated on the ‘Magnolia Walk’, a series of terraced areas joined by gravel paths and stone staircases.
Magnolia is a genus of about 300 species found mainly in Asia and the Americas from tropical to temperate climates. Although in Britain it is the hardy magnolias that are most frequently encountered they are perhaps the most flamboyant of woody plants. In fact the magnolia is one of the most ancient of plant lineages dating back in the fossil record up to 65 million years when they seem to have been much more widely distributed. Global cooling and glaciation drove them to extinction in Europe but they remained in the Americas and Asia from where they were to make a spectacular re-emergence in the nineteenth and especially the twentieth centuries.
Unusually in a plant family, the species of magnolia are often just as showy as the products of the hybridizers’ efforts. But it is a hybrid magnolia that is stealing the show at the moment. Magnolia ‘Athene’ is a Jury hybrid. Mark and Abbie Jury from New Zealand have bred a spectacular range of hybrids based upon crosses of Magnolia campbellii subsp. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’. ‘Athene’ is a strong growing medium sized tree flowering usually in mid -April. The flowers which can be up to 30cm across are pink at the base and white on the outside and within. If that were not enough there is also a strong sweet scent.
A word to the wise though, the flowers are very weather resistant but strong winds in an exposed position will damage them so some shelter is needed to keep such large blooms intact. Even if you do not have room for a magnolia yourself come and enjoy them here. The blooms may only last a fortnight or so but what a fortnight.