Saturday, August 1, 2009

A scent of waterlilies

The shiny leaves and creamy, cup-shaped flowers of Magnolia grandiflora 'D.D. Blanchard' in my front garden, shedding their yellow stamens on the opening petals...
K
After a couple of hot and steamy days of over 90ºF (32ºC) and one reaching a record 104ºF (40ºC), I am totally content with a cool change that came in during the night, the clouds filling the sky and relieving us from the scorching sun. We have been sitting late into the night on our West facing deck, drinking white wine diluted with sparkling water and recalling with nostalgia the equally hot summer nights in Melbourne. There, we sat on our beautiful veranda with Victorian cast-iron lace and pillars covered in Wisteria, waiting for the cool change to sweep over from the Port Phillip Bay. And then, about 10 pm, you could hear the breeze rattle the dry Eucalyptus leaves as a sign of a coming relief from the heat.
K
Here in Seattle, it has been a record breaking year; first the coldest winter in at least 20 years and now this dry and hot summer. The results of this somewhat extreme weather can be seen in my garden: first, we lost about 15 good-sized plants of Spanish lavender, and now, it seems like we are loosing quite a many Azaleas, too. Of course, every lost plant can be seen as a possibility for planting something new, but there is a limit to how many mature things you can replace each year. Luckily, the lavenders have self-sown themselves generously leaving me with some good sized plants, even if I'm not quite sure if Spanish lavender comes true from seed. The only plants that seem to thrive in this heat (besides the lavender) are the five Magnolia grandiflora 'D.D. Blanchards' that adorn the street side of our garden.
K
New buds opening in the heat.
K
I have always been a bit uncertain about M. grandifloras in other than tropical or subtropical gardens; only last winter, they looked totally misplaced here in Seattle with their large and shiny evergreen leaves drooping and the snow snapping off whole branches and tops of these brittle trees. They look stately (but maybe a bit too stiff for most suburban gardens...) and are both evergreen and supposedly low-maintenance, even if they do shed their large and leathery leaves all the year round making them look quite messy underneath, their leaves being too hard to decompose easily (I might need to buy a shredder just to be able to include them in my compost...) And you can actually hear when the leaves drop, making a woodsy "plopping" sound when they reach the ground.
K
But there is a very good reason for including a Magnolia grandiflora in one's garden if you happen to live in a zone temperate enough to permit it: the large, creamy flowers emit a wonderful fragrance that is strongly reminiscent of waterlilies. For me, they evoke dear memories of swimming in the Finnish lakes filled with white, wild waterlilies when I was a child. So burying my nose into a one of the Magnolia flowers during the recent hot summer nights has been an experience that almost makes me forget about being so dubious of them during the past cold and icy winter here in Seattle...

8 comments:

Carol said...

Magnolia grandiflora is a majestic and beautiful shrub/tree. I too have childhood memories associated with it as I grew up in Georgia... your memory of swimming in Finnish lakes with wild white waterlilies is more romantic than Georgia in the sixties! Your memory is a lovely image. I love it and the magnolia blossoms too! I always was curious about the fuzzy brown under leaf. Your great photos bring me right back to that time and place... to the Magnolia grandifloras I once knew.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hi Carol: isn't it amazing what a variety of plants you can grow in Seattle, despite (or maybe because of...) the occasional snow? I loved Magnolia grandifloras in Australia, but there they really felt like they belonged in that warm climate. Now I love my gandifloras here too; plants with their scents are such amazing "carriers" of memories!

Camellia said...

Så vackert skildrad scen i väntan på regnet. Samtidigt, så sorgligt att läsa om en så mycken plantdöd! Jag skulle vara alldeles förtvivlad. Men, låt oss hoppas att dina lavender är på gång frövägen...

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Tack, Camellia! Det känns verkligen lite sorgligt att så mycket verkar inte klara av den höga värmen, 40 grader bränner bort väldigt mycket i trädgården. Jag ska titta ett tag och se om några blad börjar spira igen. Men om inte, många av de brända azaleorna var väldigt rosa... så det kanske var meningen att jag skulle få plantera något annat istället? Just nu lutar det åt höga gräs, Miscanthus eftersom det finns så många japanska/asiatiska växter ändo i trädgården. Men det blir mycket tankearbete med hur de ska grupperas bland azaleorna så att det ser genomtänkt ut.

Karen said...

I love the smell of magnolias but never related them to water lilies - guess I haven't swum in the right lakes! Thinking of you so much recently since I am reading not one, but two Tove Janson books at the moment. "The Summer Book" is making me want to drop everything and go find that island. Then again, I would be one of the awful summer people they disdain, so maybe it is better to just read about it. Sorry you lost some lavender - I only added one Spanish plant this year, mostly have English and French which so far seem not to mind the heat. Hard to mourn azaleas, for me - they seem like a kind of fussy little plant, such loud colors, kind of old-fashioned I guess so maybe as you say an opportunity for something more your style?

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Karen, such a surprise that you are reading Tove Jansson; she plays such a large role in the Finnish children's culture, but her books are as much for us grownups as for kids... Lovely. The azaleas that seem to have died were mostly bubblegum pink ones, so I am not overly sad for them. Only the fact that replacing them will cost a bit, or otherwise the garden will be halting a bit for a couple of years. Well, there is some time to think about this, as I am not going to replace them before the rain starts again. I just went to Bloedel Reserve with my parents today, it is such an amazing place...

Sunita said...

Lovely post, TIG. I could almost smell the fragrance myself. Have you posted photos here of your magnolia in bloom ? I must check.
And oh yes, I love waterlillies too :)

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Sunita, so nice to hear from you. The first picture of this post is actually the magnolia, in full bloom. I just wonder what kind of waterlilies to you have in India; they might be more colourful that our almost Arctic ones in Finland...