A Sorbus Story

As Autumn continues to drag it’s bronzy heels and the leaves of many of the UK’s trees stubbornly refuse to do their red and yellow dance, there are plenty of other plants taking their chance to perform on the horticultural centre stage instead. Here at Chartwell for instance, a couple of crackers from the Sorbus genus are currently drawing many an eye. As we enter November when the house here shuts down for it’s Winter break and the gardens revel in taking up the slack, our visitors should certainly have no trouble in spotting the trees that I’ll be highlighting here today.

Sorbus hupehensis

Sorbus hupehensis

On the Top Terrace overlooking the Churchill’s Walled Garden, the Golden Rose Avenue and the Kent Weald, you will find three Sorbus hupehensis trees. This site in the gardens was where Sir Winston originally plonked his greenhouses and potting sheds but because the view to the South East is so stunning, Lady Churchill made him move them to the other side of the garden wall where they still reside to this day! The Sorbus trees sit behind three attractive wooden benches which were designed by Clementine after she saw some similar ones at Hatfield House.

Sorbus hupehensis.  Check. Lady Churchill's bench.  Check. View of the Kent Weald obscured by fog.  Check.

Sorbus hupehensis. Check.
Lady Churchill’s bench. Check.
View of the Kent Weald obscured by fog. Check.

Sorbus hupehensis was first described in 1901 by the Cotswold-born Ernest “Chinese” Wilson, who found it in the Hupeh Province of China on his first plant-hunting trip to the Far East. Within a decade, it had been introduced to Western horticulture, and in 1984, it gained the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

The recent gales were almost too much for one of our S. hupehensis!

The recent gales were almost too much for one of our S. hupehensis!

Also known sometimes as Sorbus glabrescens or the Hubei Rowan, Sorbus hupehensis can reach up to 8m. As you can see from the pictures here, it is for the gorgeous white/off-pink berries for which it is generally grown. Three original trees here at Chartwell were lost in the storm of 1987 (along with 99% of the trees on our estate) and one of these new examples almost took a tumble during the strong winds we experienced a couple of weeks ago. We righted it again however and re-staked it so hopefully it will continue to thrive!

Sorbus 'Joseph Rock'

Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’

Our Sorbus ‘Jospeh Rock’ can be found within the Walled Garden on the corner of the Cut Flower area. Less subtle perhaps than his siblings up on the Top Terrace above, Joseph’s bright red leaves and brilliant yellow berries are no less beautiful however. ‘Joseph Rock’ can reach up to 10m tall and is said to be a little prone to fireblight, although ours thankfully seems quite happy so far! The yellow berries nicely compliment the yellow flowers of the Golden Rose Avenue on the other side of the adjacent Beech hedge and the Autumn fruit of our ‘Golden Hornet’ crab apple trees at the other end of the Kitchen Garden.

You can just see the last of the yellow roses poking their heads over the hedge behind!

You can just see the last of the yellow roses poking their heads over the hedge behind our Sorbus ‘Jospeh Rock’!

This Sorbus is both a winner of the RHS First Class Certificate in 1962 and the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1950. It was originally collected from Yundshi Mountain in Yunnan in 1932 and was named after Joseph Francis Charles Rock (1884 – 1962) who was an Austrian-American explorer, geographer, linguist and botanist.

Malus 'Golden Hornet' doing its best to rival Sorbus 'Jospeh Rock' for the coveted 'Best Yellow Fruited Ornamental Tree in the Kitchen Garden' award!

Malus ‘Golden Hornet’ doing its best to rival Sorbus ‘Jospeh Rock’ for the coveted ‘Best Yellow Fruited Ornamental Tree in the Chartwell Walled Garden’ award!

Containing trees that you might commonly call Mountian Ash, Rowan and Whitebeam, Sorbus species’ are part of the vast Rosaceae family. The Sorbus genus contains about 100 species and they are generally found in woodland and mountainous areas of northern temperate regions. Tolerant of atmospheric pollution they are ideal for a small garden in urban or rural areas as they generally take a very long time to reach any great height. Historically they were also said to ward off evil spirits from wherever they were planted because this was the tree on which the Devil hanged his mother, so hopefully we’ll be alright here in the gardens at Chartwell!

'Joseph Rock' is quite a looker when backlit by the greying Autumn sky!

‘Joseph Rock’ is quite a looker when backlit by the greying Autumn sky!

Incidently, if you think either of the trees we’ve been focussing on here would make a good photograph, you might be interested in the first ever Chartwell Garden Calendar which contains a whole year’s worth of pretty pictures from around Churchill’s gardens and is available in our shop now or online here.

Jamie

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Filed under Chartwell Life, Garden History, Plants

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