The handkerchief tree at Robin Hill. Picture by Peter Boam.
GARDENING is all about planting for the future with the best results often seen after the planter has passed away.
Robin Hill Country Park at Downend has one example of this — a fine specimen of the uncommon handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata), which is native to China and was once considered to be the Holy Grail of exotic flora.
Seeds were first sent to England by the legendary botanist Ernest Wilson in 1901.
The handkerchief tree is deciduous and best known for its striking display of floral bracts in late spring.
Its small, reddish purple flower heads are surrounded by a pair of large, white bracts up to 30cm long, which are said to resemble dangling handkerchiefs or doves resting on the branches.
The tree at Robin Hill is quite a stunning mature specimen, more than 50 years old, and among the best examples on the Island.
Robin Hill is very much planning — and has planted for — the future over the past decade.
The phased planting at Robin Hill started in 2004 when a large area of lawn was broken up to create what is now the half round patio and path that lead down to the treehouse, also constructed at this time.
Old scrub was also cleared away and new pathways, bordered with plants, were created leading to new themed gardens, each linked in some way to the Island — Henry’s Garden, the Victorian Garden, the White Garden and Chimneys.
The Victorians were keen on rhododendrons and azaleas, and this is the theme for the garden which surrounds the treehouse, creating a mass of beautiful colour.
Henry’s Garden is named after Henry VIII as it is believed Hal used to hunt on the Island, so this garden is more of a woodland glade with ferns, laurels, varieties of hosta, iris and large ornamental gunnera (giant rhubarb) with its huge leaves.
The White Garden is a lovely 'secret’ garden, furnished with ornamental arbour and planted with 90 per cent white flowers, including clematis, scented roses, fuschias, hebe and viburnum.
This leads down to Chimneys, which was created in memory of Valentine Gray, the young chimney-climbing boy. Smoking chimney pots have been hidden among the tree ferns, planted to depict chimney brushes, characterises this garden.
More recently, in 2007, the gardens and ponds in the 'woodland ponds’ area of the park were created among already established shrubs.
Oriental bridges across the ponds link the beautiful gardens planted with large, colourful rhododendrons and azaleas.
Visitors will know throughout the park fine specimen trees, including giant redwoods, recently planted Chinese firs and Japanese cedar with 'firework’-like leaves, jostle with sculptures.