Until last week, I’d never seen a Liriodendron tulipifera in flower before. I’d seen photographs of the Tulip tree’s curious flowers in various gardening books of course, but it’s not quite the same as seeing them in the flesh. And I can’t say I was especially excited by what I’d seen in my books: the flowers are not charming like the Amelanchier’s, or beautiful in the way that some apple and cherry blossom is. But I have to admit that I did a double-take worthy of You’ve Been Framed as I strolled under the vast branches of the 175-year-old Tulip tree at Glendurgan Garden.
I’d approached the tree from the shadier side, which gives an amazing view of its immense gnarled trunk and lower branches, but no hint of the flowers nestling amongst the foliage on the sunnier side. But once you pass under that great limb in the photograph above, the branches beyond are filled with green and apricot tulip-shaped flowers.
The petals are quite rigid and fleshy, and with the bracts* at their base opened out they reminded me of tiny plastic tea cups – the sort of thing I used to trip over all the time in the girls’ bedroom once the lights were out.
Having seen this magnificent tree at Glendurgan, I was curious to see how the one at the Bristol Botanic Gardens was doing. I had planned to photograph it yesterday, but when the sun came out at lunchtime I found myself sitting by the lake admiring the medlar instead – next week perhaps.
Although people come from all over the world to see the garden’s camellias and rhododendrons, the maze below is another big draw, for adults and children alike. As we walked further into the garden, below the Tulip tree, the valley was filled with shrieks of delight as children leapt out at one another from behind bends in the maze. Parents stood at various vantage points around the maze and shouted directions to their lost offspring, whose bobbing heads could be seen moving with increasing urgency up and down, back and round between the neatly clipped hedges. A couple of children, my own included, ended up simply vaulting over at various points as they raced each other to the little thatched hut in the centre.
As you can see, despite the gorgeous weather, there really weren’t many people about, and at times we found ourselves completely alone. However the beach at the bottom of the garden was packed, not with people sunbathing or swimming, but with paddling garden enthusiasts – no one had thought to bring their swimming things.
* I’m assuming they are bracts, they may not be but I can’t seem to find anything detailed enough to confirm one way or another, though an article on Wikipedia does note that the petals are actually tepals.