Southern Magnolias and Southern Grandmothers

Whenever you think of the southern United States most people think of the movie Gone With the Wind and plantations, cotton fields, and mint juleps. No offense to Hollywood, but when I think of the glorious South with a capital S, I think of Magnolia trees. They represent the South in all of its gardening glory more than any plant or tree I can think of.

Magnolia flower

In fact, in my opinion, the Magnolia tree is the loving, sheltering grandmother of the gardening world.

I only had one grandparent, my maternal grandmother. My other grandparents had died by the time I was born, and my grandmother was the only example of the older generation that I had. And boy, was she a great example! She was a very loving, strong, kind, and God-fearing woman. She persevered the last 30 years of her life, living alone after her husband had died. She taught me so many things about life, love, relationships and God.

No one ever left her home hungry, sad, or without being prayed over. Even the robber, who broke down her door and was bleeding with cuts to his arm, was prayed for, by her, before he left out the door, carrying her valuables. She was a strong, resilient woman.

And just like my beloved grandmother, the Magnolia is strong, powerful, and resilient.

Within our town, we live very close to a wonderful park. It not only has play equipment for the kids to romp on, and, of course, the ubiquitous picnic tables. It also is an arboretum. Our little town has done a smashing job at planting countless trees of every kind. So many young 10 to 12 foot trees are there, planted for our kids and our kid’s kids to enjoy. But over in the front-probably planted 80 years ago-stands…

Two tall, magnificent, majestic old Magnolias. And just like a loving grandmother, they sit at the park with open arms to the children of our town. And when I say open arms, I really mean it. These Magnolias have the most wonderful branch structure I have ever seen. Perfect for tree climbing! In fact, my six-year-old would rather climb the tree than slide down the play equipment. The branches on a Magnolia grow so close to the ground and their leaves are so big and full, it hides any little visitor climbing within. Perfect for a child to feel as though they have their own little fort or house.

When planting a Magnolia, think long and hard before you do so. The classic evergreen Southern magnolia with large, glossy leaves and huge, fragrant white blossoms can grow gargantuan in size. The stiff, leathery leaves cannot break down in compost, so leaving them hidden under the low branches is a good option. Grass and groundcovers cannot exist under them due to the heavy shade they create. But if you have the space, it is a Southern iconic beauty. Just like my grandmother, God rest her soul.

Love to all and happy gardening!

(Note: I was unable to catch the magnolias in bloom while taking pictures for this article, so I used Alan Van Dyke’s image from the Wikimedia Commons at the top of the page. Thanks!)

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Hedges – Let’s Try Something Different

Sometimes we need privacy in our garden. To hide away from the world. I have found it is important to my soul to have privacy in my garden. I call it “marinating in serenity.” I love to walk around the garden and look at what is currently blooming or have a pep-talk with a rose bush that is looking sickly. Another prominent gardener that I admire calls it “getting lost to oneself.” This can not be done with a neighbor strolling over to gossip. Or the cable man gawking from his truck across the street. Therefore, hedges are what we need!

The English love to make “garden rooms” with tall privacy hedges of holly or hornbeams. In my part of the country, people love to make hedges with Leyland cypress. They sometimes end up looking like a row of green soldiers standing next to each other. Variety is the spice of life. Why can’t we all think outside of the box and come up with something different?

Viburnum shrubs with Jamie

These are three viburnums I have along my fence. My youngest son Jamie is in the picture for size reference, he is six years old.

My neighborhood rules state that our fences cannot be over 6 feet tall. I wanted something taller, due to the unusual height differences in the ground around our garden. I decided to plant a hedge that was unusual and something not often seen. I chose the Viburnum ‘Summer Snowflake’ for its beautiful blooms in spring. This is a hedge I have never seen before and it reaches a height of almost 12 feet tall. Even though the Viburnum loses its leaves in the winter, the twiggy branches that are left make a nice screening.  The tags that came on the plants said they would reach 5 feet. I knew this was not true due to the research I had done. The nice thing about this shrub/tree is that you can limb it up. In other words, you can remove the bottom branching up to 4 or 5 feet from the ground. This turns it into more of a tree that you can plant flowers underneath. I always try to put the right plant, in the right place. By placing them in front of my fence, I didn’t mind how big they got. I had hope they would grow large. And of course, they did.

Viburnum flowersThe following is a short list of other ideas for hedging material. I tried to think outside of the box.

Camellias, Tea Olives, Roses (Rugosa), Hydrangea (Annabelle), Bottlebrush Buckeye, New Dawn Roses (attached to supports), Magnolia (Little Gem)

Is My Gingko Tree a He or a She?

I think my Gingko tree is having an identity crisis. You see, Gingkos can be male or female. I bought the tree from a reliable plant nursery with the guarantee that it was a male Gingko. Female Gingko trees produce a weird looking fruit. When this fruit falls to the ground and rots it smells like the nastiest thing you can think of. On a rare occasion, a male Gingko can be hit with a late spring freeze which changes it from a male tree into a female tree. The tree coming close to death causes it to try to produce fruit in order to reproduce. It is an amazing thing and apparently from all the information I’ve gotten does not happen very often. Of course this would happen to my tree – nothing in my life is ever normal.

Gingko leaves in the fallSo, you might ask me why would I buy a Gingko tree to start with. Well, it is one of the most beautiful trees in the fall. The yellow coloring is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Then the tree drops its leaves almost all at once, leaving you with a circle of bright yellow fallen leaves under the tree. With a large Gingko tree, it is an amazing sight. I have heard there are many old Gingko trees at the University of Georgia campus and one day I’m going to go see them in the autumn. There is a beautiful example of a large old Gingko in our little town and every autumn I always plan my daily route around that particular house. But, unfortunately, my little guy turned girl is only seven feet tall and doesn’t seem to want to grow faster or taller.

Gingko leavesWhy am I talking about a problem that happens in the fall? Because for the past few springs I have stood next to the tree, begging it to not make fruit. However, my pleas of “Please don’t make fruit!” have failed, and once again I see the beginning of tiny fruit on its branches. I have come to the conclusion that I will have to cut it down and replace it with a different tree. For now, however, there is very little fruit for me to pick up in the fall but I worry that when it grows large I will not be able to keep up with it’s stinky fruit production. I think it has to go. I’m sad. Does anyone have an opinion? Should I keep it or cut “Stinky” down?