Monday, May 9, 2016

Majestic Magnolias


The weather of late has produced the most beautiful long-lasting flower show we have had in many years. The Redbud bloomed for a full month, followed by the Flowering Quince and various Weigela. The Jonquils and Tulips were spectacular as well with the early and late blooming varieties providing glory to excite us about every aspect of spring. The marvelous iridescent Iris, with their spectacular form and colors are still filling gardens with their sweet scent. The Poppies are swelling and the Larkspur have begun to produce tiny bunny rabbit flowers dancing along their delicate stems.  In spite of the storms, it has truly been a spring to relish!


The flowers on the majestic Magnolia have begun to swell and soon their marvelous scent will fill the air. Traditional in the deep South, the marvelous Magnolia is well suited for Oklahoma. Their deep green leathery leaves have a slightly fuzzy taupe underside and remain evergreen all year... as with most hard wood trees, their growth is slow. . The oldest Magnolia on record is 136 years old and lives in Cleveland Ohio.


Asian species were introduced to the Americas in 1780 where they were carefully cultivated to produce superior creamy white flowers with a deep lemony scent. In spite of their sturdy appearance, the showy flowers are quite fussy and must be handled without touching the petals to avoid discolored bruising that will inevitably occur. For this reason they do not fare well in arrangements but are rather cut with a short stem and ’floated’ as a single specimen in a large shallow bowl or vase.


The leaves of the Magnolia are prized as no other species of tree. They are traditionally used decoratively... most importantly during December festivities. The large leathery leaves may be cut at their peak and perfectly preserved with glycerin. Glycerin is an organic emollient that may be absorbed through the stems of the leaves to preserve their freshness.

 I remember my Mother going on quests for perfect leaves… driving about neighborhoods then politely asking complete strangers if she could have ‘a few leaves from their lovely tree‘. Perhaps it was her sweet low-country Carolina drawl or her charm that made people pleased and even flattered to gift her batches of their leaves!


To preserve the leaves use one part glycerin to two parts very hot water. Put the glycerin solution in a short plastic wastebasket, cut the magnolia leaves with suitably long stems and pound the bottom of them to open the major artery before submerging the stems in the liquid.


The Magnolia leaves will ‘drink’ the glycerin and slowly change from green to a gorgeous chestnut color. It takes three to five weeks for the leaves to absorb the glycerin and when the leaves begin to feel flexible it is time to remove them. They must be hung upside and allowed to dry completely before use.

The stunning painting by American artist Martin Johnson Heade is titled 'Magnolia on Red Velvet' circa 1885

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