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The Tulip Tree

(Liriodendron tulipifera.)
Return To Joseph Gillott

Return To Eliza Brightwen

Upon, what was the south lawn, just across from The Grove house, stood a very large tulip-tree. As mentioned in the Joseph Gillott article, I believe that it was Joseph Gillott who purchased the mature tree from Jephson Gardens.

Eliza Brightwen mentions this tulip-tree in many of her books and dedicates two small chapters to it in her book `Quiet Hours With Nature,' published in 1904.

Tulip Tree in Winter c1900About a hundred years ago this old home of mine must have been occupied by some one to whom I am much indebted for having planted rare and curious trees in its grounds. They are admirably placed both for their own expansion and for artistic effect; and being sheltered by the woods and plantations which surround this place, they have, so far, attained full maturity without losing any of their main branches.

The central ornament of the south lawn is a tulip-tree, of which I am afraid I am almost sinfully proud! It is impossible to help admiring such a noble specimen of a beautiful tree. It stands alone in all its grandeur of ninety feet, and its massive trunk, which is unbranched for about ten feet, measures eleven feet in girth. The stem then divides into six pillar-like branches, each as large as an ordinary tree. The lower branches curve downwards and rest upon the ground on all sides, thus forming in summer a delightful shady tent, which is known as our green drawing-room.

The soft grasses which form the carpet are embroidered with flowers of blue and white milkwort, veronica and wild violets.

The hammock which is slung from two of the huge branches is a place to dream in through a summer's day. As one looks up into the leafy canopy, one watches the flitting of the birds to and fro, and notes the difference between the golden green of sun-lighted leaves and the deeper colouring of those in shadow; the stillness meanwhile is only broken by such soothing sounds as the hum of insects or the love-notes of the birds.

When July comes, then our tree is adorned with hundreds of curious flowers. These are borne terminally on the outer branches, which all curve upwards, bearing lily-shaped blossoms, and thus has arisen its name of Liriodendron, which means lily-tree. From the unusual form of the leaves it is sometimes called the saddle-back tree.

The flowers are of a light vivid green with a slash of rich salmon colour on each petal, the stamens being of a deep orange. The tree is a native of North America and may be met with from Canada to Florida. In our climate it seldom ripens its seed, although it produces cone-shape fruits which remain upon the tree until late in the autumn.

The North American Indians find its light firm timber suitable for making their canoes, but in England its chief use is for carriage panels; it has a fine grain, on the polished surface of which designs can be accurately painted. It is therefore in much request for heraldic decoration of vehicles.

The buds of the tulip-tree are always the latest in my garden to unfold, and their arrangement is singularly protective. Each leaf is folded in half and then bent double, and a pair of large pale green bracts enclose the leaf.

If we take away the bracts and the outer leaf we find another small leaf folded and sheltered in the same way, and beneath another leaf, and so the bud contains the entire leafage of the twig. This curious arrangement is shown in the drawing, where one leaf is represented as fully expanded, one still folded in half and some only just emerging from their protecting bracts. As each spring returns I love to watch this unfolding of the tulip-tree buds, so delicately fresh and tender are the young leaves, while the whole arrangement shows creative wisdom and design for the protection of the fragile leaves in their early stage.

When summer begins to wane, the tulip-tree is the first to show yellow tints as a sign of its coming glory. A few early frosts cause the leaves to deepen rapidly in colour until the huge tree is a blaze of golden yellow, and when the sun shines upon it, the whole garden seems to be illuminated. I have a large painting of the tulip-tree in its autumnal beauty; which, standing upon an easel in a dark corner of the drawing room, has a similar effect of lighting it up as with rays of sunshine.

I always regret the short time in which we can enjoy this glowing foliage; the first high wind or severe frost loosens the leaves and gradually a rich golden carpet is spread beneath the tree. I do not allow this to be cleared away until we have watched the various changes of colour from chrome yellow to red brown. Finally the leafy debris is removed, and the space beneath the tree becomes the feeding ground for innumerable birds throughout the winter. On a frosty day in December hundreds of rooks may be seen greedily enjoying the wheat and barley which I have had strewn there for their benefit.

Stately pheasants take their share of the good things, and a busy squabbling crew of smaller birds flit to and fro and satisfy their needs. So the grand old tree becomes a rallying-place for all my feathered friends, and, being in full view of our windows, affords us many a pleasant glimpse of nature.

Under The Tulip-Tree.

On this lovely June morning I am enjoying an hour's rest beneath the spreading branches of my ancient tulip-tree. The first day out of doors after long weeks of illness affords a pleasure scarcely to be understood by those who are favoured with uninterrupted health. Every sense is gratified; the sweet freshness of the hay-scented air; the songs of the birds, the flickering of the lights and shadows, the murmuring of bees amongst the flowers - all these minister exquisite delight, and fill the mind with happy thoughts. The mower's scythe is not allowed to disturb the luxuriant growth beneath this tulip-tree, so that he grasses and wild flowers spring up year after year at their own sweet will. Our squirrels have unwittingly sown quite a miniature forest of young trees by leaving their beech-nuts, acorns, and other woodland provender to take root and grow in the soft green moss. The winds of spring and autumn have also brought here the winged seeds, or samaras, as botanists call them, of other trees, and these are germinating and spreading their first young leaves to catch the rays of sunlight.

As I sit here I could gather specimens of eleven different seedling trees. Beech, lime, common ash, mountain ash, hornbeam, sycamore, birch, hawthorn, holly, English oak, and Turkey oak, all are here in miniature.

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Tulip Tree c1952The tree died a little while after GEC purchased The Grove and a Blue Cedar was planted in its place. The Tulip Tree is remembered to this day by a plaque which states `This tree was planted by Mr.O.W.Humphreys, Director in charge of research. The General Electric Company Limited on the 8th March 1956, it replaces a very old Tulip tree which stood on this spot when the site was aquired by the GEC in December 1949.