The Coming Of The Magnolia

I know my holiday season is in full swing when the magnolia arrives. The wreaths that are three sizes, the garlands in two sizes-the branches in three sizes. I am in a gardener’s holiday heaven. I know I live and work in the midwest, and ought not to covet the leaves and branches from a tree that grows so far away from me-but I cannot help myself. I have told Buck, should I ever retire, I am moving where I can grow Magnolia Grandiflora. I am sure everything else will work itself out.

There are no end of beautiful magnolias that grow here. I have made it my business to plant them whenever it seems appropriate. The gorgeous bark and tree shape appeals to me the most. The astonishing and fleeting flowers I look forward to every spring. But all of the magnolias that grow here shed their leaves. The evergreen leaves of magnolia grandiflora are beautiful beyond belief. Please remember I am a gardener whose only source of reliably evergreen leaved plants runs to boxwood, and PJM rhododendrons. The big leaved rhodies do not do well here; the azaleas and hellebores are in ruins come spring.

Each leaf of magnolia grandiflora is securely attached to its stem-it takes real effort to peel one off. No matter if the branch is fresh or dry-be prepared for some resistance. The front/sun sides of the leaves are a leatherly, glossy, healthy deep forest green.  The obverse-a felted cinnamon brown to die for.  These transplanted wreaths and garlands brave the vile Michigan winter incredibly well.  That saturated and deep forest green leaf will dry; that deep green color will eventually become a cross between platinum and pale olive.

I buy the wreaths with all green faces, and a mix of the green and felted cinnamon obverse faces-I like both.  Magnolia is a fairly formal material at the holidays, I admit.  It makes for a wreath not one bit like the bits I collect from my garden, and assemble.  I am a dirt gardener-so why do I so like this rock star from out of town?  All my gardenering life I have been reading about and looking at the holiday decorations at Winterthur.  How they express the holiday is a consummate American expression.  I have faded sheets from magazines, books-I learned so much from looking at how they express the holiday.  This wreath, stuffed with every manner of an expression of green-juicy.  Classic.

Last year I had a client with a 14 foot Christmas tree to decorate.  I of course had not planned and shopped for this a year ago; I was on deck, and needed backup.  I took everything I had in boxes in the basement, and added to them; my collection trimmed her tree.  Don’t begin to feel sorry for me.  I was happy to have an opportunity for big change dropped in my lap.  The result-6 tall magnolia branches stuffed into a pot made for our Christmas tree.  No ornament-just some lights at the base.  These magnolia branches-all and everything I could have hoped for.  Buck and I loved our Christmas tree.

Magnolia wreaths can be tough to decorate.  Plan to skewer all of your ornament through the leaves.  No harm done, no kidding. Evergreen stems in a wreath leave gaps where a pick might slide in.  Magnolia arrives sleek, and flat.  Should you be looking for pockets i n which to tuck the treasure of the garden-let that wreath dry for a week.  Those flat leaved wreaths open up, and curl as they dry.

I buy all of my southern magnolia at the holidays from The Magnolia Company.  They do incredibly beautiful work.  They ship fast.  Should you be really far away from me-you can order on line. They farm magnolia branches and leaves-no kidding.  They sell their stock trees on occasion. Their magnolia at the holidays-a renewable resource.

Over the past 10 years or so, I am pleased to say I have placed no small amount of southern magnolia at the holidays.

Visually rich and compelling-yes. The gold metallic sinamay is a beautiful foil for the leaves.  You may find a much less formal wreath treatment just as beautiful.  The big idea here-people make for compelling-not materials.  This magnolia wreath is a mix of front and back views of the leaves.  The brown green and gold color scheme is very pretty with the door.

It may need to wait until December 23rd, but there comes that day when I hang that southern magnolia holiday wreath on my front door.  I will persist with it-until the end of March.  The magnolia enriches my winter.

Southern Magnolia

Dec 7 035I have been planting magnolias in landscapes for over twenty years; I am a fan.  They are chunky, open growing, large leaved trees that satisfy the gardener in me in every regard. Old trees have a gorgeous shape; the flowers, and later, the leaves are breathtaking.  There are a number of magnolias that prosper in my cold climate; Wada’s Memory, Yellow Butterflies, Galaxy-my love list is long. As I have tried to grow the Magnolia Grandiflora hybrid “Brown Bracken”, reputedly the hardiest of the grandiflora hybrids, without success, southern magnolia only graces my gardening life at the holidays. 

DSC_0028I cannot imagine ever tiring of these large, shiny, ovate leaves.  What leaf do you know that is shiny green on one side, and felted cinnamon brown on the reverse? As much as I admire this mix of color revealed in a mature tree, I value the trimmings in wreaths and garlands at the holidays.

2007 Vlasic, Paul HOLIDAY 12-6-07 (12)My supplier farms these trees; his November prunings and clippings are sent all over the country  at the holiday.  All green leaved wreaths, mixed green and brown wreaths, garlands, bunches of 16″ long clippings-even 4′ and 6′ tall branches-glorious. Broad leaved evergreens are prized by gardeners in northern climates; I am never so happy to have them as right now. 2007 Vlasic, Paul HOLIDAY 12-6-07 (15)
Holly does poorly as a cut green-even outdoors.  Freezing temperatures can spoil the foliage overnight.  Though popular for interior holiday arrangements, its shelf life is fleeting at best.  Magnolia holds up our entire season.  As it dries, the leaves curl.  This makes for places to stuff fresh needled greens, berries, ornament-and lights.    

DSC04251A southern magnolia wreath kept indoors, and carefully stored, will last many years.  The dark green leaves will turn a pale platinum green.  The felted backs of the leaves do not change in color or texture. Very old magnolia leaves are brittle, but stable.  With good care, a treasured magnolia wreath is a keepsake. Outdoors, the leaves will turn an olive brown when dry, but this takes a long time. Depending on the sun expsoure, it is well into January before the leaves fade.

2007 Barrett Holiday (30)Magnolia garlands open to reveal deep spaces; they take well to being lighted with no visual trace of a cord. Fresh needled evergreen garlands go dry, stiff, and off color fast.  Magnolia garland is hefty; It will keep its shape outdoors in spite of stormy weather.  

2008 Hermelin, Jennifer WINTER 12-18-08 (2)
The cut stems shine in winter pots. Their lush appearance is so unlike the prevailing landscape. A single bunch of cut stems yields enough individual leaves to dress up several evergreen wreaths, a mantle garland, or a package.  After the holidays we make table top topiary sculptures from any bunches we have left.  None of the magnolia need go to waste. 

DSC_0015In February my garland still looks fine; it will look just about like this when I take it down in March. I have had clients store their garlands, lights and all, and use them again the following season.  Why not?

This garland stuffed with twigs, moss, noble fir, and acorns is lovely. A gift of the season, from the garden.