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Magnolia Musings

Ahhh!  The sweetbays are blooming.

It’s a major event around here.

Sweetbay flowers are 4" across or less. The leaves are silver-backed and about 6" long.

Every evening about 7:30 the sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) emit a deliciously wonderful scent.  The fragrance drifts through the air like a force of nature.

We are certain to be sitting on the deck about that time.

We breathe deeply and the air around us is infused with the fragrance.

The scent wafts from a nice little grove of sweetbays in a low area that we call “The Bottom”.  It drifts over the hill past the giant white oak and settles around us

The fragrance is familiar and recognizable to me.

I was returning home a few days ago around the specified hour when an olfactory jolt stopped me in my tracks.  I smiled and then said to the ephemeral manifestation “There you are!”

It never occurred to me that the scent originated from the blooming southern magnolia a few feet away.  It WAS the intense magnolia-lemony essence of sweetbay.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).  They are considered by many to be the stateliest of trees.  The flowers are large and beautiful. Their scent is delectable if you take the time to bury your nose inside and inhale.

I also love my cowcumbers (Magnolia macroplylla).  They are startlingly beautiful with 3′ leaves and flowers that measure a foot across.  They are like supermodel magnolias and are fragrant in a very fulfilling way.

Sweetbay is a kind of plain Jane magnolia with medium textured leaves and the smallest flowers of the three.

And as long as I’m talking trash, let me add that sweetbays habitually throw a late spring funk .   Just after new growth resumes the old leaves turn a pitiful yellow and gradually fall from the tree.

Compared to the others, sweetbays are kind of low brow. After all they are a pioneer species that will volunteer in swampy wasteland while the other two are climax species that require a pristine woodland setting.

Some of our trees have obviously been mown or bush-hogged to the ground during the old days when this was a cattle farm.  After the butchering, many came back as multi-trunked trees.

But being pioneers, they did come back.  They grew and are now over 60′ tall.   I admire their tenacity.

And I am delighted that their blooms are the sweetest of all.  I could pick them out of a lineup even if I was wearing a blindfold.

 

 

 

Five Reasons I Love My Mume

These blooms were buds that survived snow and nine degree temperatures,

I am a big fan of the Japanese apricot (Prunus mume).

My trees are the ‘Peggy Clarke’ variety.  They sport deliciously fragrant pink flowers as early as December here.  They flower for a month or six weeks.

With record low temperatures this year, I have had intermittent blooms since mid January.  The open blooms did not survive the snow or the single digits.  The buds, however, hunkered down and then popped open as soon as the ice was gone.

This tree is one tough cookie.  The mume in my old garden was crushed beneath a giant pine during Hurricane Katrina.  After the pine debris was removed and all the damaged wood was pruned, the mume was little more than a stump.  The tree regenerated from the trunk and scaffold branch stubs into a nice specimen.

This Japanese apricot regenerated from a stump after Hurricane Katrina.

Mume flowers are particularly lovely.  They are a clear bright pink and are borne on bare green twigs.  They look like cake decorations and are a wonderful addition to winter flower arrangements.

On warm winter days I like to stand beneath the tree and just inhale.  The floral scent is intoxicating – sweet with a hint of cinnamon.

Just this year as I was basking in the mume scent, I noticed a persistent droning buzz coming from the blossoms overhead.

I investigated and there were a lot of honeybees foraging on the mume.  After I began paying attention I realized that every day (weather permitting) the mume was full of honeybees.

Mume blooms look like lovely pink cake decorations to me!

I also noticed that my own little worker bees were returning to their hives with pollen baskets full.  Click on this link to see a short video I made of  Honeybees on Japanese Apricot

I’ve always loved my mumes because they bloom for a long time in a season when floral color is lacking.   I’m appreciative that they are tough, fragrant and lovely in a vase.

And now I have yet another reason to love my mumes.  Their fragrance beckons to my queens – Elizabeth, Latifah and Maria – and the worker bees come forth and return to the hive loaded with pollen.

And there you have it – Reason #5.  The mumes feed my honeybees in winter.   That, my friends, is really special!

 

 

They’re Here!

My Mama is not very ephemeral. She just turned 91. On her birthday I'm always reminded to search for the first trillium.

I do love the spring ephemerals.  These wildflowers emerge from underground roots and stems.  They flower, make fruit and die within a month or two in late winter and early spring.

Most of the ephemerals grow beneath large old trees.  Their precipitous life cycle enables them to flower and set seed as the winter sun slants through the leafless canopy.  By the time the trees are in full leaf, the ephemerals are done!

Since they are above ground for such a short time, I have adopted  mnemonic devices so I can remember when to look for them.

Trillium, I learned, always seems to emerge within a day or two of my Mama’s birthday.  We celebrated her birthday on Friday and Saturday.  On Sunday I walked the trails in search of trillium.  Lo & behold – there it was – recently emerged and already sporting flower buds.

I spied the first trillium of the year yesterday. It was already budded as it emerged but will not bloom for another month.

Trillium is one of the first ephemerals to show up.  Most of the others emerge in March.

One of my plant mentors, Towhee Tisdale, taught me that bloodroot will flower for a week or ten days after the first full week in March.

Soon after my husband’s birthday on March 8, I start looking for bloodroot flowers.   A few days later I find the first curious emerging May apples.

Those dates really only work in my neck of the woods. As you move north or south the flowering season will vary.   It’s a localized personal kind of thing.

So every year when I sing “Happy Birthday” to Mama, I visualize a cluster of mottled trillium.  And I know that I’ll soon be seeking it in the woods.

 

A Late Splash of Orange

We had enough of a hard frost to fry the African blue basil in my front yard.  But then our weather progressed from balmy winter days to muggy winter days.

I can see this 'Georgia Gem' blueberry from my bedroom window. Wilbur B-Diddy Bobo likes it.

I am really appreciative of the fall leaf color that is hanging in.  Right now the blueberries are my favorites.  I try to never draw a landscape plan without using a few blueberries.  As landscape plants alone they have lovely late winter flowers, nice arching stems and day glow orange fall leaves.  Then, of course, the tasty fruit is there for me and the birds.

I’ve noticed several rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) in my neighborhood with very showy fall color.  My rabbiteye blueberries here have pretty good color but my showiest blueberry is a variety called ‘Georgia Gem’.

‘Georgia Gem’ is actually a southern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).  Here in the first week of December the leaves are a startling coppery orange.  They show no sign of dropping any time soon.

Woody strolled on a shag carpet of cypress straw last weekend.

This has also been a stellar year for bald cypress color.  It has been so fine, in fact, that I’ve been embarrassed to remember that I used to think that bald cypress didn’t have very good fall color.  I’ve officially apologized to cypress trees everywhere because I was just wrong!

After the hickory next door lost its leaves, we could see the Earth Day cypress glowing like a beacon even though it is well over 200 feet from our deck.

The Earth Day cypress was planted by my students during an Earth Day celebration at Meridian Community College where I used to teach.    Two years later I walked out the back door of my classroom one day to find the poor tree ripped out of the ground and lying there with roots exposed.

After walking past it for two or three days, I decided to take it home.  It was about 8′ tall but was so dehydrated and emaciated that I could carry it by myself.  Richard made fresh clean cuts on the roots where the tree had been ripped from the ground and we planted it in our wet area.

The Earth Day cypress lived to tell the tale.  It took a lick or two during Katrina but is about 40′ tall now.

My bald cypress trees are still holding a little of their bronzy foliage.   Most of the leaves are in a colorful pool beneath the trees.  Walking through the cypress grove is like walking on a soft spongy orange carpet.

It’s a soggy dreary day today.  But… no worries – orange color shows up well on cloudy days.

When I pass my bedroom window on the west side, I can see the Earth Day cypress.   When I turn toward the south, I am treated to a view of the ‘Georgia Gem’.

Thanks to these two – it’s a lovely day!

 

Orange you glad it’s Fall?

Our giant white oak has yet to change color or drop leaves but the hickory behind is golden orange.

Here in the South, we never know what kind of fall foliage to expect.  Some years the leaves simply turn brown and slough off.   Other time like this year we have a radiant Autumn with intense leaf color that continues for weeks.

In celebration we have spent a lot of time on the woodland trails and on the back deck admiring the display.

In late afternoon, we can be found gazing to the west toward the mockernut hickory next door which is back-lit by the setting sun.

The hickory is framed by the giant white oak that inspired me to buy this place.

In the fall color department, the white oak is a bit of a slacker.  The hickory, however, has been dependably golden every autumn.

The landscape plants make a nice transition to the orange dogwoods in the edge of the woods.

I have lived here for almost 30 years and have watched the mockernut grow up.  When it was still fairly young, a limb from the white oak topped the hick.  It looked kind of rough and I considered taking it out.  I am so grateful that my better judgement prevailed because the tree outgrew the injury and now the only sign is a slightly kinky leader.

Mockernut hickory is known in the plant world as a sort of prankster.   Its nuts are large and almost round but after the husk falls off, only a tiny nut and even tinier kernel are left.  I think my mockernut was planted by a squirrel who forgot to come back and nibble the tiny kernel.

On the other side of white oak central, I planted a bed – full of Japanese maples, native azaleas, bigleaf magnolia and sweetshrub.

A study in textural extremes - a golden cowcumber leaf has settled in with a threadleaf Japanese maple.

I selected a coral bark maple a.k.a ‘Sango-kaku’ for its intense red winter twigs.  I was disappointed the first fall when the leaves turned yellow instead of red.  I soon learned that after golden yellow, the leaves would morph into a beautiful shade of apricot and stay on the trees for a very long time.

I compensated by planting a threadleaf Japanese maple that does turn red in the fall.  I believe the variety is called ‘Garnet’.  It is quite striking in combination with all the yellow, gold and orange in the area.

I chose three bigleaf magnolias for their  fragrant spring blooms and striking coarse textured leaves.  The leaves of this cowcumber (as they call it in the country) can be up to a yard long.

As I walked through the back garden the other day, one of those enormous cowcumber leaves had drifted down and settled on top of the Garnet threadleaf maple.  It was quite a study in contrast – one of the most coarse textured leaves ever nestled in with one of the finest textured.

Proving once more that Autumn is a season of surprises.

 

And So It Goes

Our threadleaf Japanese maple was beautiful last fall.

About 20 years ago when we were still in the nursery business, my husband Richard took a roadtrip to some wholesale nurseries in Semmes, Alabama near Mobile.

He returned and gleefully presented a beautiful young 3 gallon threadleaf Japanese maple that he had purchased from Steven Sowato.  Richard was particularly impressed the the skillful graft that was done high on the trunk (so that the graft scar would be hidden by the foliage).  We speculated that his prize was probably a 3 year old plant.

We owned our own nursery and had little time to garden.  We kept this little gem as a container plant.   And so… through the years it grew and flourished.  We moved it to various sitting places – always in a prominent spot – and greatly admired its beauty.

Ten years passed.  The maple was residing in a 15 gallon black nursery pot and was in need of a bigger pot.

I was in the midst of landscape renovation and I set it into a plum position in the center of the back garden at our newly purchased house.

R. I. P.

And another 10 years passed.  We looked down on it from our bedroom.  We photographed it decked out in autumn crimson.

We moved next door to our old house and still visited it almost every day on our evening golf cart rides.

A couple of months ago we began the move back next door.  I had mixed feelings about this transition but was looking forward to the view of the maple from my bedroom window.

One day I noticed early fall color and then something seemed awry.

I looked closer and was shocked to realize that my maple was dead.

Logically I knew that it probably succumbed to a verticillium wilt disease brought on by stress from drought and heat and hurricanes.

Joe enjoys carousing in our dead maple.

But still I was in denial.  I kept scratching twigs every time I passed – hoping for signs of life.   It still has the same beautiful form and all our friends said “It looks so natural – just like it is sleeping.”

Attracted by the crispy crackle of the leaves, the kitties began to romp about in the branches.  I shooed them away – still in denial.  Oddly my reaction reminded me of the time my hound Doreen ate one of my Born shoes and I kept the other one for two years just in case the situation could be remedied.

Then… the telling sign – a fecund bloom of mushrooms sprouted at the base of the trunk.  Even I could not argue with such strong evidence.

Sister Maybell likes the crispy leaves.

Still though,  I have not cut it down.  I’ll let it linger through the fall.  I could probably even let the pretense continue through winter.

But I know now that it is a pretense.  I am looking for a replacement – something unrelated to the maples and un-susceptible to the deadly fungus that lingers in the soil.  I’m considering a large containerized ironwood that like its predecessor needs to be released from captivity.

But for the time being,  I’ll admire what’s left of the lovely form and let the disrespectful kitties dance on the grave as often as they like.


 

Giant Swallowtail Prevents Blogging

You may wonder why I have not written a blog post recently.

It seems there is a story that will explain all.

A few days ago, I was meandering down the hill toward the nursery when I suddenly spied a giant swallowtail butterfly.

I paused and analyzed the situation.  Then I realized that the butterfly was not where I expected her to be.

I know that giant swallowtail caterpillars prefer to browse on members of the citrus family (Rutaceae).   Adults seek out these plants and lay their eggs on citrus trees, trifoliate orange, rue and wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata).  The caterpillars hatch smack on top of their preferred food source.

I knew that there were three cute little wafer ash trees in my nursery.  I had been watching for the giant butterflies to visit and deposit their eggs.  I had seen none.

Why was this one  rebellious giant swallowtail flitting about in the edge of the woods?  On closer examination, I realized that there was indeed a citrus cousin – the toothache tree or Hercules Club tree (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) – in residence.

So… I hot-footed it back to the house to get my camera.  And when I arrived, she was still there prospecting for the best spot on which to lay her eggs.  I focused in for the perfect shot and she precipitously flew away.

So for days now.  I’ve stalked the site – camera in hand.  I have vowed not to write a blog post until I have a “giant swallowtail on the toothache tree” picture to accompany.

Today I finally put my little foot down and decided that I must blog on.

Surely there will someday be a picture of a beautiful giant swallowtail butterfly lovingly interacting with said toothache tree.  I will post it proudly with much commentary.

For now I’ll post this.

By the way, if I did post the perfect pic of the perfect giant swallowtail butterfly on the tree that has the perfect Latin name, I would have called this post “If You Plant it They Will Come”.

I think that I prefer “Giant Swallowtail Prevents Blogging”.

Hope that doesn’t attract too many pornographers.


 

A Fine Saw!

The pruning saw takes a rest while I ponder our next project.

It’s rainy and cold here today.

I ventured forth late this afternoon and found that a titi (Cyrilla racemiflora) in the side yard had lost a limb.  The Cramoisi Superieur rose that had been using said titi for support was sprawled on the ground.  I think that is what they call the “Domino Effect”.

I decided to disentangle the two plants so that I could coerce the rose back onto her trellis.

The titi limb had to be removed first.  It was still attached to the tree and was over 3 inches across.  I headed up the hill and quickly returned with my trusty Japanese pruning saw.

In a matter of minutes, the titi was left with a smooth beautiful cut and the rose had been gently placed back onto the arbor.

I was quite impressed with myself.  You probably figured that out since I just described myself as if I were a Superhero.

My friend Pete is using the Japanese saw in a two handed grip to remove the top from a damaged sweetgum tree.

However, I was even more impressed with my saw and so I decided to make the saw the subject of this post.

This wonderful piece of equipment is a Bakuma Kariwaku saw.  It is made in Japan.  The only place I have seen the saw for sale is at Lee Valley Tools where it is marketed as a “Long-Blade Japanese Pruning Saw”.

The saw has a long handle and a replaceable blade.   The long handle makes it easy to use with two hands.  That is a great benefit for someone like me who has limited upper body strength.  The blade has very sharp teeth which quickly cut dry or green wood up to 6 inches in diameter.

I have used all kind of pruning saws over the years and this is far superior to every name brand (more expensive) saw that I have ever owned.

I have cleared a lot of privet with it and used it for fine detail pruning in my landscape.

The only problem with the saw is that the handle is black and it is easily camouflaged in dried leaves or other debris.  I bought the brand new one pictured here because I temporarily lost my old one.   I looked for it for days.  When I finally gave up and ordered the new saw I found the old one immediately, of course.

My new saw is shiny and it cuts like a dream.  I already have lots of miles on it.

And in the midst of pruning and clearing season, I could not bear to be without it!


 

PineHenge Revisited

Jeeter explores Pinehenge in Fall 2005 shortly after Hurricane Katrina.

I live over 150 miles from the Gulf, so it was quite a shock when we were hit so hard by Hurricane Katrina.

We were without power for eleven days.  Our rental house and shop next door were crushed beneath giant tree carcasses.

After it was all over, we took down three large pines with 30″ average diameter.  They were simply too close to the house for comfort.

“Ignorance is bliss” as they say and if Katrina hadn’t come along, we might have continued to co-exist with the pines.

After Katrina, we were painfully aware of the scope of damage that can be sustained when a 100′ tall pine falls onto a small wood frame house 10′ away.

The remnants of Pinhenge five years down the road will probably not survive our New Year's Eve bonfire.

So the pines had to go.

The power company removed one near the drive that was a threat to the electrical line.  I soon learned that if the power company takes out a tree, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to clean it up.

The side yard was demolished.  My friend Keith worked with me for several weeks to clean up the debris.

We hauled trunk sections to our regular burning spot and arranged them in a ring around the fire place.  We called this configuration PineHenge.

For the last five years PineHenge has been our monument to Katrina and to the pines who gave their lives that we might have peace of mind.

I have burned many privet fires within the PineHenge ring.  The smaller trunk sections are gone or partly gone now.  The largest have dried to the point where they are lighter and, thus, movable.

How many rings do you see?

We are planning a New Year’s Eve bonfire.   It will be a hot one due to a recent clearing project which has produced a good bit of dried bamboo kindling.

As I was surveying the burning place a few days ago it suddenly occurred to me that this fire is likely to be PineHenge’s last ride.

PineHenge will go out with a blast on New Year’s Eve five years after Katrina.

As the flames engulf the last of the pine monoliths, I imagine I will be remembering Katrina and the stately pines that I allowed to grow too close to my house.


 

Black Friday Fungi

Here I am proudly displaying my Black Friday shiitakes.

Friday, instead of shopping, I stayed close to home.

It was cold and rainy.

I did leave the house once.  Richard and I braved the elements and ventured out for a golf cart excursion.

While we were out, we decided to check our shiitake mushroom logs.

We’ve been growing shiitakes for about five years.

We were inspired to try growing shiitakes after Hurricane Katrina.  There was an abundance of downed wood and it seemed ashamed to let it totally go to waste…

We cut white oak refuse into 3′ lengths and drilled holes in the logs with a specific sized bit.

My gardening hat was a convenient place to store our haul!

We then tapped spore impregnated wooden dowels that we had purchased from  Fungi Perfecti into the holes.

The first batch of logs produced for about three years.  We are now getting  started with our second crop.

As expected, the temperature changes and the recent rain has triggered the logs to produce a few mushroom flushes this past week.

We harvested about 2 pounds of Black Friday Shiitakes.

Richard used some of them to cook  a wonderful mushroom soup last night.

Life is good.


 

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