Jacqueline Duncan OBE, Dean reflects on the use of large trees in garden design on her visit to Audley End, Essex.
Last weekend I took the opportunity to re-visit the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) at Audley End and found it, handsome as ever and still in flower.
Audley End is one of the most extraordinary of the great English mansions. Once a monastic foundation more than twice its present size, it has served as a royal palace and latterly as a private home. There is much to admire in the house, but surely the pride of the estate must be the magical parkland setting with a rich variety of specimen trees; and included in this collection is a magnificent tulip tree. Find it to the left of the restaurant area as you look at the front elevation; not yet at its peak it is the perfect size and spread, the curious rather fat leaves giving the plant a particularly attractive texture. It is presently in the midst of flowering, the pretty bell shaped blooms with golden petals and orange stamens, the tree still covered in buds.
Through this exceptional parkland flows the Cam, with a small tributary running alongside the Walled gardens featuring a fine double herbaceous border and some interesting orchard planting which will look magnificent in maturity.
Last year I planted a handkerchief tree (Davidia) purchased from Landford Trees and must wait some years for it to flourish the remarkable white sepals that appear in the late spring – here in Eccleston Square is a well established specimen that emphasizes the drama and the joy of trees. This autumn I shall order a tulip tree from the same nursery and hope that some future guardian will benefit from its mature beauty.
If you find the notion of such a major tree in your garden overwhelming, then look at Cornus Eddie’s White Wonder, a beautiful plant of more modest size but offering a spectacular and long lasting flowering in the late Spring.
And go to Audley End – it is so worth a visit.