b.story 12.02.08 Magnolia Tree

My son started developing his Christmas list in July.  Now, I realize to some, this might sound like a greedy enterprise.  However, for my six year old boy, the Christmas list becomes a fine-tuned art.  It might seem a stretch, but drafting the list is viewed as an opportunity to practice hand-writing and spelling, two activities for which I am desperate to find inspiration.  If adding to and revising a Christmas list is what sparks his fire, then I have to admit that I am one of those parents who will indulge the desire.  Furthermore, the Christmas list is about setting priorities.  Separating out flights of fancy from sustaining wishes are not easy for a young boy.  Now true, he has grandparents and aunts and uncles that also shower him with gifts.  But Santa Claus is special.  I cannot tell you the level of excitement and anticipation that filled his little body as Christmas morning drew near.  Would his wishes come true?

I had these same feelings of excitement and anticipation last week.  There was a hint of Spring in the air.  True, conjuring Spring could evaporate as quickly as the clouds that were drifting by.   But on this day, the sun was warm, the air was fresh and the trees were full of buds about to burst forth.  It will take a couple weeks before the trees are filled with delicate flowers.  After a winter snuggled inside working at my desk, these flower buds are the first hint that warmer, lazier days might be on the horizon.  These flower buds offer a tantalizing suggestion of days to come and fill me with anticipation.

Magnolia soulangeana – Saucer Magnolia or Tulip Tree
There are many, many varieties of magnolia trees out there.  I am taking a guess at this one based on the general characteristics that I see.  I won’t know any better until flowers or leaves begin to decorate its branches.  I have friends that can name the tree by the twig… but I am not one of them!  I nearly passed by this small, unassuming tree without a second glance, but then the soft ‘pussy-willow’ buds caught my eye.  Like a little fluff of cotton they hold the promise of a truly magnificent flower.  The Saucer Magnolia will grow to a height of 30 ft and will have a spread of 20 ft.  They bloom mid-March to April, they will thrive in full sun to part shade and are not picky about soil type.  Saucer Magnolia’s do best in climate zones 5-9. 


Camellia japonica – Japanese Camellia
An evergreen shrub that is a little old fashioned and serves a supporting role throughout most of the year, the camellia makes a friendly companion with rhododendrons, azaleas and other shrubs that like acidic soil and shady environments.  The camellia makes a wonderful background plant with shiny, dark green leaves, but come February – June (depending on the variety) this plant will simply glow with flowers during those months when most of the other shrubs are sleeping quietly.  Typically white and pink, the flowers range from simple 2” cups to elaborate 5” pom-pom like blooms and the shrub thrives in climate zones 4-9.  The best part about camellias is that they remind me of my grandmother. 


Helleborus orientalis – Lenten Rose
Helleborus is one of my favorite early blooming flowers.  The only fault I can find is that all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.  So rather than chew on it, do what I do and enjoy the sweet, nodding cups of color and texture.  The Lenten Rose is a clumping, perennial that serves as an excellent groundcover in shady yards.  It’s upright and slightly arching form support glossy, dark green, sharply toothed leaves that provide fabulous, tropical texture in the garden.  Suitable for zones 5-9, the Lenten Rose’s flowers bloom February – May in tender cups of white, pink, purplish, cream and green.