What a Diva!


Impossibly beautiful, fabulously elegant, deep rose-pink from head to toe and with a sensational presence which effortlessly dominated the garden – this was quite an encounter!

I’m sure you all have had  moments when visiting a garden when you knew you had come on something supremely special, be it brilliant design, captivating plant association or, as with me today, a single plant which simply took your breath away.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' (1)
First glimpse – interesting! 

We entered the garden at Lismore Castle and caught a glimpse of colour at the far end of the Lower Garden, near the Berlin Wall, which immediately drew us along to investigate. It was obviously a magnolia but, my goodness, what a colour!

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' (3)
Looking more and more promising! 

We moved along, giving little attention to other plants along the way and our rush along was well worthwhile.

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' (5)
It all its glory and looking fabulous – Magnolia sprengeri var. diva!

The first view of the entire tree was breathtaking; this was a truly outstanding magnolia and one of the most beautiful I have ever seen – Magnolia sprengeri var. diva!

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' (6)
Pink blossom against a blue sky are a perfect colour combination. 
Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' (11)
Magnolia sprengeri var. diva 
Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' (10)
Magnolia sprengeri var. diva 

The plant hunter, Ernest Henry Wilson (1876 – 1930) collected magnolia seed while on his first plant hunting expedition, on behalf of the famous Veitch Nurseries, in south-western China in the autumn of 1900. Plants raised from this collection were put up for sale in 1913 and one was bought by J. C. Williams of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall. When it flowered in 1919 it turned out to have very attractive deep rose-pink flowers while all the other plants produced white flowers. J. C. Williams’ specimen was named Magnolia sprengeri var. diva while the others had Magnolias sprengeri var. elongata. It was named, by the way for the German botanist, Carl Ludwig Sprenger (1846 – 1917) who was a partner in the Dammann & Co. Nursery of San Giovanni a Teduccio, Naples.

As well as its large and beautifully coloured flowers, Magnolia sprengeri var. diva is also strongly fragrant and this gathered wonderfully around the tree in the Lower Garden at Lismore Castle as it is planted in a natural hollow which escapes the breeze and allows the fragrance to linger. What a tree!

Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' (13)

There were other plants and areas of interest in the gardens at Lismore Castle and here is a short slideshow to give you a flavour of our day out. It is worthwhile visiting the gardens right through the year so make your way there at some stage.

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Paddy Tobin

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