Yesterday we visited the National Trust property of Knighthayes in Devon, and although we have visited many times before, this was the first time we managed to catch magnolias in their glory. There are several magnolia trees in our village, smallish, between five and fifteen foot high, maybe some a little bigger, and I love their glorious display, the soft, velvety flowers, the pure colours, which are so striking against the leafless dark wood of the tree.

The magnolias at Knighthayes were extraordinary; as well as the smaller varieties we knew there were huge, wonderful trees with enormous plate-sized flowers, petals bigger than my hand and of fabulous colour. The day wasn’t brilliant, the weather wasn’t perfect, but the blossoms were.

Most of the trees we see now are hybrids, but these ancient trees have been on this plant for millions upon millions of years, before there were even bees – originally they were pollinated by beetles, which accounts for their massive and distinctive flowers. Fossilised magnolias have been found which are older than twenty million years, and related plants are even older, going back to nearly one hundred million years ago!

I’ve learned a new phrase,  ‘disjunct distribution’, which means  a distribution ”that has two or more groups that are related but widely separated from each other geographically’ so magnolias can be found naturally mainly in east and southeast Asia, but also in eastern North America, Central America, the West Indies, and  South America.

Their name was first given to them in 1703, in Martinique, where Charles Plumier named the trees he found after the famous botanist Pierre Magnol. as with most natural things, the tree has other uses than being spectacularly attractive, Chinese and Japanese medicine, as timber, the leaves as food wrapping, and the flowers are state symbols for Mississippi and Louisiana, and the national flower of North Korea.

As you might imagine there are many artistic connections, the films ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Steel magnolias’, and songs by The Grateful Dead and JJ Cale. However, perhaps the most famous, moving and tragic song which mentions magnolias is Billie Holidays ‘Strange Fruit’ which mentions the scent of magnolias – the trees from which many lynchings took place…

Off to Knightshayes

The weather isn’t splendid but that doesn’t deter us, we are off to the National Trust property, Knightshayes. This magnificent building, and all its lovely grounds was originally owned by the Heathcoat-Amery family.

John Heathcoat was born in Derbyshire  in 1783, and his family were farmers; however, he was one of the many scientists and inventors of the time he changed the world through an industrial not social revolution; he designed and patented a machine to produce lace, which had previously been made by individuals on pillows and cushions with pins and patterns, slow intricate work, often done as piece work in the lacemakers’ own homes. His ‘manufactury’ – or factory which was near Loughborough became a victim of a different revolution, the Luddite revolts and was burned down  in 1816. Undeterred, he  moved his basis and many of his of his workers, to Tiverton in Devon, and that is where we are going today. He established a new lace-works which brought employment to many of the local people too; by the last decades of the nineteenth century, his was the largest lace-producer in the world.

Being by now a very wealthy family, owning not only the factories, but also much of the land in the area, a descendent of the original John Amory, now Sir John Heathcoat-Amory, had built a beautiful and fabulous home overlooking his factory in the distance, and nestled in the Exe valley.

We have been many times before, but are looking forward to revisiting, meeting friends, and wandering round the house, and the gardens too if the weather cheers up!


DSCF7313Sometimes you see two unexpected colours against each other and they just seem to work… I’m not an artist and so I don’t know anything about the theory of colour, and maybe the colours I saw adjacent to each other in the walled garden at Knightshayes Court are a classic match… I saw these clumps of flowers, some white daisy-looking things, and some bronzy daisy-looking things with their petals swept back from the centres as if they were wearing hair bands, and I just thought the colours were charming together… they would make a lovely pattern for a fabric, I can just imagine a nice blouse or a summer dress with a jacket…

Friendly geese


Geese have a reputation for being fierce and aggressive, in fact they have been used as watch ‘dogs’ because they can be so fierce and vicious! This friendly foursome came rushing across their paddock to the fence to chat to us, and they had a fine old cackle. The brown ones had gorgeous blue eyes, emphasised by their orange eye-liner, the white ones had dark eyes, and they too had orange eye-liner! We met them at Knightshayes Court today.

Family holiday – day 3

We take it in turns to cook for the gang on our family holiday, but whatever day we end up cooking, cousin Ruth always cooks on Sunday, and she always does a most magnificent roast dinner.

This year there are twenty-two of us sitting down around the long table in the dining room at Duvale Priory, near Bampton in Devon. We are having roast pork (with crackling) roast chicken, apple sauce, gravy, onion sauce, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. Considering we come to the holiday property each year without knowing what the oven is like or whether it will work properly, Ruth is a marvel! her roast potatoes are crispy  her puds are beautifully risen  little marvels! Not content with producing perfect roast and accompaniments, Ruth gives us a lovely variety of perfectly cooked vegetables, broccoli, carrots, leeks… and more!

knightshayes 2013 spring (8)

We all had spent a lovely day out and about working up an appetite  we had met with our friends who live in Devon and gone first to a craft fair at a garden centre in the little village of Cove, and then to the nearby Knighthayes Court for refreshments and a stroll in the grounds.

knightshayes 2013 spring (3)

Knightshayes Court glimpsed through trees beginning to come into leafknightshayes 2013 spring (4)

Spring really seems to be on its way! knightshayes 2013 spring (9)Surely this must be a host of golden daffodils?