For a short while, it is the garden’s signature tree. For most of the year it holds either naked branches against sky; or else a wrap of unremarkable green – like so many other large trees at The Priory. It isn’t quite the biggest tree and it isn’t quite my favourite. But for a few days in autumn, it is the signature tree. To me.
Someone, a long time ago, planted a small tulip tree, a Liriodendron tulipifera, close by the northwestern corner of the house;
and, when he or she planted it a little too close against the walls, they did so without a thought for a gardener – with no head for heights – having to clear its leaves from giddy-height guttering. The tree is small no more.
Its unremarkable summer-green morphs – almost over-night – into a golden sensation. Generally in November, especially in morning or late afternoon low sun, the tree shines; changing colour as I move around the garden.
Every year, I hope the short-lived spectacle will last a little longer, the after-party raking up put off. It rarely does. Some years, strong winds rip away the Lothlórien gold within a day or so; some years, the leaves are ripped away before they gleam even. And I am cheated.
That brilliant canopy towering above the rooftops dominates The Priory and garden; but not in a brutish, show-off way.
Rather, I think of the tulip tree as a coy, self-effacing type; murmuring bashfully to itself, “Oh my word, look what’s happened to me. Good gracious. How terribly ostentatious. I didn’t intend … ,” before trailing off in embarrassment.
Most years, I watch the dropping leaves fall slowly to earth for about ten days, heartened by the sight whilst it lasts;
always aware that it is a short-lived pleasure.
It’s called the tulip tree because of its flowers, of course. I rarely see these lofty, upward-facing, tulip-y flowers and in all the years of our acquaintance, it’s never occurred to me to photograph one.
But that needn’t stop me showing you, privately, how pretty they are. (Thanks to Wikipedia for this image).
This remarkable leaf-colour event, marking the tailspin of the year, always puts me to wondering what life will hold for me the next time I see it; the next time I rake up the aftermath. I’ve seen the tulip tree’s autumn performance ten times and I can’t help but ponder how often I’ll see it again before I leap the fence to pastures new.
But it isn’t my favourite tree in the garden. No … there is another.