Legend has it that the seeds of the Handkerchief tree, a plant rarely seen in the UK were smuggled here by a former lady of the castle, Alys Luttrell, in her handbag from South Africa.
The plant, which originates from Central China was planted by keen gardener, Alys, at the castle in the mid 1900s and can still be seen growing next to the Watermill. When fluttering in the breeze, the flowers look like a collection of hankies or white birds ruffling their feathers, meaning it’s sometimes known as the Dove Tree or Davidia involucrate.
Native to central China this species was discovered in 1868 by French missionary and naturalist Père Armand David, after whom it was named. However, the plant's introduction to western gardens in 1904 was down to nursery owner Sir Harry Veitch, and his plant collector, Kew-trained Ernest "Chinese" Wilson. The survival of the tree at Dunster Castle is testament to the skills shown by Alys Luttrell in being able to bring this plant to Dunster Castle and the safe-keeping of the plant by our team National Trust gardeners and volunteers.
Alys loved flowers, took pride in the garden and was an avid plant collector, so when she knew that she was heading for the British Isles, she insisted on bringing some plants with her. Alys also collected many plants that came from many different holiday trips. These can be seen in the river gardens and throughout the property.