New Magnolia Grove marks 125th anniversary of one of the most important plantsman & collectors’ gardens in the South East

New Magnolia Grove marks 125th anniversary of one of the most important plantsman & collectors’ gardens in the South East

Borde Hill near Haywards Heath in West Sussex was purchased in 1893 by Colonel Stephenson Robert Clarke with the express intention of creating a magnificent garden from seeds gathered by the great plant hunters of the early 1900s.
The Colonel was a horticultural pioneer and sponsored plant hunting trips to Japan, China, Burma, Tasmania and the Andes and kept correspondence from his favourite plant hunters including George Forrest, Ernest Wilson Frank Kingdon-Ward and Reginald Farrer.

He was responsible for sourcing and planting rare trees with 73 of his trees at Borde Hill now attaining ‘champion’ status including magnolias collected from China, America and Japan. These rare trees and shrubs were positioned in the best conditions and soil because for the Colonel “right plant, right place” came above design.

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the purchase of Borde Hill by the Stephenson Clarke family, Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke (current family in residence), will open the Garden in March 2018 and unveil the ‘Gardiner Grove’, a meadow planted with 48 specimen magnolia trees chosen by RHS Vice President Jim Gardiner. Jim is a magnolia specialist and was a former president of Magnolia Society International.

Eleni said: “I am sure that the Colonel himself would have approved of Jim Gardiner’s fantastic selection of magnolias. Fifty of these magnificent trees will be planted with Betula (birch) in the meadow beside the Garden of Allah.”

The plants, collections of hybrids of Magnolia acuminata and Magnolia sprengeri have been propagated and generously donated by John Ravenscroft of Cherry Tree Arboretum.

Jim Gardiner, former Director of Horticulture of the RHS, has been instrumental in selecting Magnolia acuminata (from America) and Magnolia sprengeri (from China) for their scientific and educational interest. He says: “Magnolias are very ancient plants and cover both the old and new worlds. The species selected demonstrate the flower colour differences. Both species have also been hybridized with Magnolia denudata and Magnolia liliiflora producing different results in form and colour.”

E H Wilson introduced the original Magnolia sprengeri from China and a seedling from the Caerhays plant (received by the Colonel on the 29th June 1946) flourishes at Borde Hill. The ‘Gardiner’s Grove’ will show the diversity of this amazing plant as well as the influence of Magnolia sprengeri on modern Magnolia hybrids.

The Grove will be named after Jim Gardiner and unveiled on March 22nd 2018. Jim Gardiner says: “It’s been a huge honour to be associated with this great garden and an enormous pleasure to see it develop, enabling the plant collections to be added to, that is so important for the garden. There’s a great tradition of planting magnolias and this Grove will continue in the footsteps of those who have gone before me.”

Magnolias of note at Borde Hill

Visitors will be able to see some of the fantastic champion trees in bloom when the Garden opens to the public from the 20th March and throughout April, including Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta. Introduced into cultivation by plant hunter E H Wilson in 1908, Colonel Stephenson Clarke noted in 1940 that this plant was 28ft high and carried over 100 blooms.

Visitors can also take the magnolia trail and learn about the connection of Magnolia sprengeri var. ‘Diva’ – the Goddess magnolia came from a seed collection made by EH Wilson (Wilson 688). The original plant was purchased from Harry Veitch’s famous closing down sale in 1913 by J C Williams of Caerhays. The current Goddess magnolia at Borde Hill is a seedling of the original and was planted there in 1941.
Visitors to the garden during magnolia time will also be able to learn about the relationship between Borde Hill and nearby Nyman’s when they view Magnolia officinalis, a gift from Col Messel in 1933. This magnolia is native to central China and was discovered by Augustine Henry in 1880’s. Extracts from the bark are used as a cold remedy, which could explain its rarity in its native habitats.

Borde Hill’s magnolia collection also contains specimens from famous plant hunting nurseries of the late 19th and early 20th century, including Magnolia x veitchii. This fast growing tree was first raised in the Exeter nurseries of Peter Veitch in 1907 from a cross of Magnolia denudata and Magnolia campbellii, which is over 60 feet in height at Borde Hill.
Borde Hill Garden opens to the public on 20th March 2018

Prices: Adult £8.55, Child £5.70, Concessions £7.80 pre-booked groups £7.35

Borde Hill opens in July & September free for RHS individual members. The garden is open 7 days a week from 20th March.

Opening times: 10am – 5pm weekday and 10am – 6pm at weekends

Magnolia Talk & Tour with Jim Gardiner: Thursday 22nd March – Jim Gardiner will give a presentation talk on planting and caring for magnolias followed by a tour on the magnolias at Borde Hill Garden.

Tuesday 27th March and Thursday 5th April – Borde Hill’s Head Gardener Andy Stevens will lead a tour through the gardens impressive magnolia collection.