I 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
A 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.
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.
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.
In 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.