by Jamie Atwell, garden volunteer
21 March 2019 marked an important and happy day in the history of the garden at Fulham Palace. Bishop Henry Compton (Bishop of London 1675 – 1713) was the first person in Europe to grow a specimen of Magnolia virginiana. It was sent over in 1688 and raised here in the garden at Fulham Palace. That Compton was able to grow the tree is due to the efforts of the Reverend John Banister. During the time of Compton’s tenure, the see of the Bishopric of London extended to the New World and other far-flung possessions. John Banister, a keen naturalist and botanist (Compton shared his botanical fervour) had been sent to Virginia not only to attend to the spiritual needs of its citizens, but also with a remit to find and collect specimens of plant specimens hitherto unknown in the Old World. Banister was assiduous in both roles and, wearing his botanical hat, sent back a number of important specimens and seeds – including that of Magnolia virginiana. The tree is recorded at the Natural History Museum in the Sloane Herbarium as growing at Fulham Palace.
Thanks to the generous grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and many private donations, restoration work at Fulham Palace has not only included work on the fabric of the house itself but also renovation and improvements to the garden. To that end, head gardener Lucy Hart had planned and has now established a new Bishop Compton bed which is located to the south of the walled garden. There, visitors can see many of the plants that Bishop Compton was either the first, or one of the first, to propagate in England.
One of the stars, if not the star, is the new Magnolia virginiana which the garden team (cheered on by a group of enthusiastic supporters) duly planted on 21 March. Though only just established, it is already an eye-catching feature and it is wonderful to see a specimen back in the garden where it rightfully belongs.