Priory Trees: The Tulip Tree

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.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (5)

Someone, a long time ago, planted a small tulip tree, a Liriodendron tulipifera, close by the northwestern corner of the house;

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (1)

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.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (2)

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.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (6)

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.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (4)

That brilliant canopy towering above the rooftops dominates The Priory and garden; but not in a brutish, show-off way.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (3)

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.

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (7)

Most years, I watch the dropping leaves fall slowly to earth for about ten days, heartened by the sight whilst it lasts;

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (8)

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).

Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera (9)

November 2013

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.

A Tidy Up

Now that we’ve finally had a couple of frosts at the Priory,


The Priory tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

I feel that I have permission to start tidying away.


So I’ve been carting stuff off to the compost bins or bonfire site.


Bishop of Llandaff – weary

In the topical border, the freezing temperatures have collapsed the tender plants


into a soggy, exhausted (and, if you ask me, melodramatic) heap.

DSM_7908I needn’t have waited for the first frost to start hacking back the growth but it seemed ungrateful somehow, impolite even, to cut down still-flowering dahlias.

DSM_7891Some plants such as this Persicaria filiformis had barely begun to flower when the first frost struck.


And this toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta) only had time to flower because I moved its pot indoors.


Tender fuchsias, dahlias and Colocasia esculenta

Many of the plants, including fuchsias (F. ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’) and the colocasia won’t survive hard frosts and I have transplanted them to the heated greenhouses.  I’ve left most of the dahlias in the ground but a few – which I wanted to re-site – I have lifted for drying and storing.

DSM_8011A thick mulch of my excellent (if I do say so myself) garden compost will keep the dahlias and


other plants left in the bed (marked with canes) warm and toasty.  (The ‘straw cages’ protect the stems of Musa basjoo).

DSM_8004The larger of the two red bananas (Ensete maurelii) was very, very heavy – even with all its leaves removed.  I needed help to manhandle it into a barrow and plant it in the greenhouse.

DSM_7924Speaking of planting – not all the gardening at the moment is about cutting back and digging up.  My bulb order has arrived and I have been caressing my box of promise – though I ought to stop that and crack on with planting them.

DSM_7875Speaking of cracking – we’ve had some fierce storms down here in Sussex.  Thankfully, we escaped lightly and only lost one small tree, a copper beech which we had decided to fell anyway.


It sat squeezed between two large oaks, you see and would always have been stunted by them.  I removed it with the chainsaw.


September 2013

Speaking of chainsaws – the tree surgeons have been again.  You might remember that the main island on the west pond had become congested and that seven alders were crowding out the one weeping willow.

DSM_8040Well, those alders are gone now and, unlike the copper beech, the willow now has the space and light it needs.


I’ll leave you with another shot of the tulip tree.  It isn’t a display that lasts very long (soon I’ll be raking up each of those leaves), so let’s make the most of it.