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Magnolia Hunter

March 23, 2020

No group of trees and shrubs is more favourably known or more highly appreciated in gardens than magnolias and no group produces larger or more abundant blossoms”. Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930). History’s botanists have had quite the love affair with this ancient species which is now known to have been the planet’s first flowering plant, with fossil records dating back 140 million years.

The genus of around 200 species was affectionately named by Swedish naturist Carl Linnaeus in 1737 in honour of one of his predecessors, the French botanist Pierre Magnol.

The earliest examples of magnolia were brought to the British Isles by clergyman and botanist John Bannister in 1688 and famous patron of the natural sciences, Sir Joseph Banks in 1780.

However it was Ernest Henry Wilson who earned the nickname of the “magnolia hunter” after his fondness for the tree saw him introduce no fewer than 8 species of magnolia to Britain. Wilson trawled Asia for exotic plants and was responsible for cultivating around 2,000 species in the West.

The magnolia is now a stalwart feature of English country gardens - which are an inspiration behind the Broken Clock story and recipe - and this month these eye-catching trees are in full bloom with their graceful, fragrant flowers.