December 17, 2018

Caroline’s Garden Diaries: 1 February 2017: Handkerchiefs waving

I was showing a visitor round Ray Wood the other day, to see the beautiful witchhazels in flower. A lovely experience; they’re so tall, you can walk under them, and you’re surrounded by their flowering branches, and their exquisite smell. But round the corner and up the hill, there was an even more exciting thing – Davidia, the handkerchief tree, was laden with fruit. I had noticed last summer that it had been covered with flowery handkerchiefs, and now here was the outcome – they’d waved goodbye and turned into plums.

Strangely, I now have three Davidia fruits sitting by the sink – dull brown lumps, but they say so much. I’ve already told you about the plant-hunter, Ernest Wilson (“Chinese Wilson”) and how he brought back seeds of Davidia; he had a truly dreadful trip to find this tree he’d been instructed to visit but when he got there, it had been cut down a few days earlier. Later he found some more, and all was well; indeed, several thousand Davidia seedlings were produced by the nursery that sent him.

I often try to imagine what it might have been like to be Wilson finding the tree that became his favourite (mine too) and it makes the fruit sitting on my sink so special. They’re here because of him, and so they carry in them such a story (not only the grim details of finding more trees, but then waiting out there for them to produce fruit, climbing to collect them etc etc). Not only that, these fruits on my sink carry another challenge for me – how do I get the seeds to germinate?
And of course, they carry the potential to be trees, 50 foot high or more. If I succeed, they’ll be covered in pocket-handkerchiefs waving hello.