Trengwainton's Jubilee Garden, fit for a queen

Seed pod of the magnolia 'Kew's Surprise' © National Trust/Marina Rule

Seed pod of the magnolia 'Kew's Surprise'

To mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the gardeners at Trengwainton Garden set to work on an indistinct patch of woodland and transformed it into a sheltered corner of exotic plants known as the Jubilee Garden.

A surprise in store

The area was planted with acanthus, yuccas, crinums and lilies but the star attraction is a fabulous example of a magnolia campbellii 'Kew's surprise'. 

Elegant pink blooms give a glorious display in spring, but visit in October and you’ll be intrigued by the contrasting sight of its gnarled, red seed pods.

A shocking experience - busy lizzies

The magnolia campbellii isn’t the only plant that holds a surprise; directly opposite it is a giant busy lizzie (Impatiens tinctoria). This species has developed an ingenious way to self-propogate. When seed pods are ripe, the lightest touch will cause them to ‘explode’ and shoot seeds in every direction in the garden.

With the seed pods looking like plump, green caterpillars, they’ve no doubt surprised many an unsuspecting bird.

An unusual history - phormiums

From the unusual to the useful. This section of the garden also contains phormiums, also known as New Zealand flax.

For thousands of years, New Zealand Maoris have used this plant in every aspect of daily life: weaving the long, sword-shaped leaves into baskets, mats and long fishing nets and the plant fibres into ropes, waterproof capes, skirts, sandals and cooking utensils. Maori warriors even wore armour made from plaited leaves.

The leaf sap and root juice have many uses, including cures for constipation, toothache and rheumatism, plus healing burns and bayonet wounds.