More In The Way Of Magnolia

We have had rain all day.  Our overnight forecast calls for temps in the twenties, maybe an inch of snow. Suddenly, I am thinking about the prospect of ice in the drive, and terra cotta pots frozen to the ground before I have had a chance to bring them in.  Nature can be so abrupt. 

I have had no end of problems recently getting WordPress to save my drafts-much less be charitable about publishing them. This daily girl had gone to regularly intermittent. I know the heart of my computer is a stew of symbols and mathematics completely uninterested in my issues.  Trying to figure out what has gone awry-maddening.  

I did recognize this, and pled my case to Jonathon Hofley-his company Motor City Publishing does lots of work for me.  How he managed, I have no idea-but he did get my post to publish earlier about the magnolia.  Many thanks, J.  All that acting out, and the threat of a precipitous change in the weather makes me want to stay on the magnolia topic.

Adversity-some say this builds character.  My take-adversity defines a gardener.  Poor soil, irregular water, less than perfect drainage, too much shade, less than optimal conditions, optimal conditions that still disappoint, severe weather, sun scald, insect invasions-need I say more.  Every gardeners dream boat garden suffers some harsh dose of reality in one way or another.  But true gardeners keep on gardening-this I am sure of. 

My clients cope as I do with the coming of the cold. I try my best to warm their porches. I don’t really see my garden now; it is dark, coming and going to work.    Blankets of magnolia leaves do plenty to turn away the cold. This is the closest I can get to gardening now.  

Reindeer moss, bracket fungus, berry stems, birch stems and some chestnuts keep a partridge company in this wreath.  It is fine to hang outdoors.  Good quality double-faced satin ribbon is quite rugged and color-fast outdoors.  All natural colors fade with exposure to sunlight, but this ribbon will still be bright in March.  You can tell this wreath has begun to dry-the leaves are changing shape.  The flat fresh leaves become curved and dimensional as they transpire. 

No matter the trouble or the weather, gardeners invariably say hello, and welcome guests.  Large wreaths on these massive gate piers help to soften the appearance of all of the hard surfaces.       

Cut magnolia branches-they have their place.  This home dating back to the 1850’s-magnolia branches seemed an appropriate material.  More than appropriate-beautiful.  The renovation to the house was not really finished, but no matter.      

This magnolia wreath is four years old-vintage. Some new leaves, a new bow-it is just as charming as ever.  Dry magnolia is very brittle; old wreaths need very careful handling and storage. 


This look at my front door is not long off.  Imagine how bleak it would be without the lights-and the magnolia.

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.

Sunday Opinion: Where Do They Come From?

A reader left a comment yesterday, asking me where my ideas come from.  Serendipitous, this question. A good friend who is an interior designer told me he regularly reads the blog of Seth Godin; he thought I might be interested.  I have been reading it ever since. Why is that? I read what he writes, mainly because I do not understand him.  Day after day, I have no idea what he is talking about. I am intrigued by this. I like to read what he says, in spite of not knowing what he says.   I am not familiar with his language, even though the words are English-this makes following his thought process highly intuitive.  Most of the time I loose track, but I still read start to finish. Sometimes I reread-this does not help me to understand any better.  I forget every sentence the second I am no longer reading it.  But I am confident that some part of me has heard what I have merely seen; something will sooner or later surface, in the form of some idea or another.  How when or why, I have no idea, nor do I much worry about that.  I read every day; I already suspect there is something there that means something to me.  That is enough to keep reading.

Where am I going with this?  Anything I might be exposed to may trigger an idea. A while ago I posted about wrapping the trunks of my linden trees for the winter.  I referenced a Japanese exchange student-roommate I had in college.  When Tomoyo was about to leave to go home, she gave me a picture of herself in remembrance of our friendship. I remembered her name for the first time in many years, writing this sentence.  She was standing next to a tree in downtown Tokyo whose trunk had been wrapped with a bamboo blanket for the winter. Who knows why I remember the photograph so vividly, though I am sure I did not want her to leave.  But my exposure to that wrapped tree, so many years before I ever but a shovel to the ground, stayed with me. The  40 years later, I had the idea that my trees might look good with winter coats.

Seth Godin actually wrote a post just a few days ago about where ideas come from.  Nature is on his list.  For me, nature is an endless source of inspiration.  This is not particular to me.  Ideas based in nature-who could begin to count them all? The monk who observed the conditions under which fruit trees thrive and bear heavily had the idea to grow trees in forms which came to be known as espaliers.  Someone observed a bank of cumulus clouds, and thought to prune boxwood in those shapes.    I am an avid reader.  Garden books, fiction, design magazines, magazines written in languages I cannot understand.  I read recipes, although I have no interest in cooking.  I read cereal boxes and maps of places I have never been.  Maybe ideas do come from reading, from other people, from places, from history, from experience-and from all the other places Mr. Godin cites.  But ideas that come from within may just come out of no where-surprise, surprise, and hello.

At A Glance: Night Light