En route Posted on April 25, 2016

A Banks seedling, as yet unnamed, a cross between Magnolia sargentiana robusta and M. campbellii

Hergest Croft must be the only garden I have known virtually all my garden-conscious life. Originally it was a Rugby School connection: the Banks family (all Rugbeians) have been gardening here on the Welsh border for five generations; we have been friends with three. The gene for botany (or horticultural botany, which is not quite the same thing) is so powerful chez Banks that each generation has enlarged, focussed and documented what is one of the best collections, of woody plants especially, on this island. The rarest plants grow among the biggest, and many of the trees are both.

Herefordshire lies on our route to North Wales. Hergest Croft is bang on the border in the little town of Kington. I know my way round the garden now, across the lawn where a dozen magnolias compete with a vast view, through a belt of huge beeches to the domestic garden, or so I think of it, a sort of walled garden without walls. Long borders of (just now) spring flowers, brilliant with tulips, lead on to beds busy with produce, to greenhouses and fruit trees, all workmanlike and all the more effective because effect is not the aim.

In fact that is the secret of the whole garden, as you walk on across an orchard to the ornamental garden around the family’s former, deeply last-decade-of-Victorian, red-tiled house. If there was a plan to the garden, besides enjoying the views, the old trees in the surrounding parkland, the croquet lawn and tennis court, conservatory and rockery, and the company you can still feel lingering in long frocks and blazers, any formal plan has long gone in the indulgence of a passion for plants.

Magnolias and camellias may be most prominent just now (the Bankses, by the way, grow trees, magnolias in particular, from seed in the congenial spirit of enquiry that leads to many happy results). But your eyes swivel from carpets of long-established narcissi, still betraying eyes adept at blending colours, to a rare Lindera sketching spring in a burst of pale yellow, to the biggest Cercidiphyllum in Britain filling the sky with tiny purplish leaves beside the British champion red fir towering up 150 feet. Hergest Croft is at once spectacular and comfortable, a botanical garden in content, and Eden in spirit.

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