A Romance with Punica granatum

Vita Sackville-West wrote that “Of all fruits the pomegranate is surely one of the most romantic.” I would be willing to bet that most people walk through the Peace Garden gate at Charlton House without realising they have just passed under two “most romantic” pomegranate trees.

Pomegranate trees in the Peace Garden
Pomegranates in the Peace Garden

When the Volunteer scheme started in 2020, these two trees were deeply entwined with ivy, choking them very UNromantically. I wish I had taken a photo of our volunteers, wrestling and chopping at the ivy around the base of the trees! It was one of the team’s early successes, as the next year the trees were covered in their startlingly bright orange flowers and looked very happy. We have yet to get the flowers to “set”, so no pomegranate fruits yet. But of course as gardeners, we live in hope.

Pomegranate flowers
Pomegranate flowers

Vita grew a pomegranate tree for the sake of its reddish twigs in spring, and for the young leaves which “are transparent as cornelian against the light before they have properly unfolded”.

Pomegranate trees in spring
Pomegranate trees in Spring 2022

She gave it a warm corner at Sissinghurst and provided a warm coat of a Russian mat draped across it in winter. It says something about climate change that the ones in the Peace Garden have thrived with no winter protection at all. I have been encouraged to plant one in my own garden in Westcombe Park and it has come through three winters now.

The pomegranate goes back far in antiquity, being found in Egyptian sculpture and mentioned in the Old Testament and the Odyssey. The sculptors of the Renaissance recognised it as a symbol of poetry and fertility. William Morris used the fruit in one of his famous wallpaper designs. And on the walls of our own Charlton House, you can spot the fruits in the plasterwork on the Grand Staircase. You can’t get much more romantic than that!

Plasterwork fruits on the Grand Staircase at Charlton House
Plasterwork fruits on the Grand Staircase at Charlton House

Kathy, October 2022

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