My favourite tree in the garden at this time of year is the Persian Silk Tree. I have three, which are strategically placed at the lower entrance to the Italian Terrace garden. You have to push past the branches to get into the garden and at that stage the trees seem to be unexceptional, with long acacia or mimosa type leaves. But as you rise up the steps of the terrace you can see that the tops of the trees are covered in a mass of beautiful pink flowers. The flowers don’t have any petals but consist of a bright cluster of stamens, which resemble silky threads. They shimmer in the breeze. Bees and butterflies love them.
I first saw this tree at Kew, where there was a mature specimen, in a lovely umbrella shape, in their Mediterranean garden. When I returned last year the Mediterranean garden was being “renovated” and I was shocked to see that the tree had gone. It had been the garden’s best feature, but perhaps they thought it was insufficiently ‘Mediterranean’.
The tree gets its name from the Persian word gul-i abrisham, which means “silk flower”, but it’s modern Persian name is shabkhosb, meaning “night sleeper’. This refers to the fact that the two sides of the leaves close together during the night. In Japan its name is nemunoki, which means “the sleeping tree”. Another reason why it’s a Slow Life favourite.