Dealing with the magnolia—and a private, grassless front yard
When we think of the southeastern U.S., the tree that usually comes to mind is the southern magnolia. When I was a child, my picture with Mom and Dad was published in the Milwaukee Journal as we posed with a magnolia bloom that Dad had brought back from a trip to North Carolina. This was a rare sight for the people in Wisconsin. We moved back south soon after. Mom wasn’t meant to be in Wisconsin–she’s a Southern Lady.
We all seem to enjoy looking at stately magnolia trees, but a lot of people who have them in their yards complain about the constant debris and the fact that nothing much will grow under or around them. My friend Ray Atkins (The Front Porch Prophet, Sorrow Wood) wrote an article about his magnolia problems called “The Tree of Doom.” Ray remarked that John the Plant Man might know how to solve the problem. I couldn’t get it off my mind until I realized that my friend Ginger had, indeed, solved the magnolia problem. Ray’s article is here:
And here’s how the lady solved the problem
You see, Ginger decided years ago that she perhaps wasn’t going to be able to grow a nice lawn under the magnolias planted on each side of her front walk, and a true Southern Lady must have a magnolia. Instead of growing a nice lawn, she decided to grow a nice jungle. Ginger started by bending the limbs of the trees down to the ground and placing bricks on them. The limbs obediently took root.
Years went by and more limbs were rooted while the trees got into the project and sent aerial roots down to help grow even more magnolias. It seemed that the magnolias, even though confined to a relatively small city lot, enjoyed the freedom to spread out and express themselves in a totally natural art form. Ginger found that Aspidistra (cast iron plant) would grow rather well as an accent plant and the magnolia accepted this and respected the aspidistra’s territory.
Now, instead of having to worry about a lawn of problematic grass, the homeowner is able to relax and enjoy the benefits of one of the best “privacy plantings” that I have ever seen. The magnolia jungle also adds a certain feeling of peace to the walk down the flagstone entrance to the front of the house. The walk is dark, green, shady, and cool with a true “light at the end of the tunnel. It is compelling.
A beautiful flagstone sitting area has been installed between the ‘jungle’ and the house. A small accent fountain waits for the pump to be turned on after its winter rest. It is a wonderful place for the lady and her friends to ‘wine down’ as she puts it.
A few years ago, Ginger decided to take out a row of hollies in front of the house and asked me to install a “different sort of garden with an oriental flair.” So we built a dry river bed, raised the beds, and planted a meditation garden with a mixture of isolated, shaped shrubbery, ground covers, and flowers.
A mature flowering cherry adds beauty, provides light in the winter and shade in the summer, adding a massive accent that ties in the magnolia forest and the patio garden. It is just coming into bloom.
Ginger says that once a year one may sit in the garden as the petals fall like snow. Dekie and I are invited this year.
For an accent, we installed three large rocks on the hillside leading from the drive to the patio. A visit to the “rock farm” ended up with a rock that formed a natural chair. Dekie sat down to read the morning paper as I roamed around with the camera.
Across from the rocks, a rhododendron pokes out from the magnolia jungle promising a nice show in a couple of weeks.
Roaming around toward the back of the house, I found this rather interesting camellia flower
And talk about privacy for a pool! The back side of the pool is grown up in bamboo which is usually a worse problem than magnolias, but it is confined here with the pool deck. A thinning is required once or twice a year but it is a good choice, overall.
I think that the lesson I learned in this remarkable garden is that sometimes we must give up on our obsessions with plant grooming and just allow the plants to grow free. Sometimes we should lessen our control and allow nature to show us its own art form.
As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?
John the plant man has helped Ray Atkins. How can he help you?
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