Yesterday while in Boston to meet with clients at their home on Comm. Ave, I couldn’t help but take a snapshot of the glorious saucer magnolias blooming along the avenue. I wished I’d had more time because just as I was leaving, the sun began to poke out. The stunning display that you see lining the south-facing side is the genius of one woman and when I have time, will write more about her brilliant accomplishment to which we are all the beneficiaries, more than fifty years after planting!
Magnolia soulangeana Commonwealth Avenue Boston
At the Gloucester HarborWalk Gardens, we planted two species of magnolia adjacent to each other. Many arboretums, such as Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, plant several species of the same family in close proximity to provide an opportunity to learn by comparing the differences and similarities. I wanted our community to enjoy a mini-arboretum experience by planting two of the most beautiful magnolias that grow well in our region, the saucer magnolia and Magnolia virginiana, or laurel leaf magnolia. Stop by in the coming weeks to visit our gorgeous magnolias in bloom. M. soulangeana will bloom first, followed by M.virginiana.
The Friends of the HarborWalk will be back at the HarborWalk this Sunday (tomorrow morning), beginning at 9am. We’ll meet in front of the Gloucester House. Come lend a hand–its work, but fun with this growing great group of community-spirited friends. Everyone is welcome!
Please leave a comment in the comment section or feel free to contact me if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The idea of a garden planted in harmony with nature is to create a loosely mixed arrangement of beauty combining native and well-behaved ornamental flowering trees and shrubs. This informal style of a woodland border or bucolic country hedge is not new and is what the French call a haie champêtre. Perhaps the country hedge evolved because it was comprised of easily propagated, or dispersed by wildlife, native species of plants and perhaps as a revolt against the neatly manicured boxed hedges of formal European gardens.
The country hedge is used, as is any hedge, to create a physical and visual boundary, but rather than forming the backdrop for ornamental plants, it is the show. By planting with a combination of native trees and shrubs, whether developing the framework of a new garden, designing a garden room, or extending an existing garden, one can create an interplay of plants drawing from a more widely varied collection of forms, textures, and colors. The framework is the living tapestry of foliage, flowers, fruit and fauna. Working and living in our garden rooms, we are enchanted by the wild creatures drawn to the sheltering boughs, blossoms, and berries. Additionally, by choosing to grow a combination of companionable fragrant North American trees and shrubs, designing a garden planted for a well-orchestrated symphony of sequential and interwoven scents is decidedly easier. We tend to be more familiar with ornamental trees and shrubs because they are readily obtained through the nursery trade. With the accessibility to resources available through the internet we can design with an increasing selection of native species.”
For the homeowner, Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!, a Boston Globe best-of, is chockablock full of design ideas for attracting pollinators to your garden, including extensive information about specific plants, plant combinations, and their cultivation. Oh Garden also makes a terrific gift book, at any time of year, but especially in the spring as we begin to see the earth reawakening and are seeking fresh design ideas and inspiration.
Magnolia virginiana is one of the most deliciously scented flowering trees you could grow. And the foliage is a caterpillar food plant for the fabulous Cecropia Moth, North America’s largest species of Lepidoptera. The above male Cecropia Moth found in our garden had a wingspan of six inches!
Snapshots from a recent trip to Brooklyn and NYC to visit my darling daughter Liv.
We had a wonderful time walking everywhere and dining out. Liv always takes me to the most fun restaurants with fabulously yummy food, and they are never too pricey; the prices are comparable to our favorite Gloucester restaurants.
Native Honeysuckle for the Hummingbirds at the HighLine
For our HarborWalk Gardens, I had wanted to to see what’s in bloom at the HighLine gardens during the late summer and early fall, as well as what was blooming at Piet Oudolf’s designs for the Battery Gardens of Remembrance and The Bosque.
At the HighLine, we paused for some length at the stunning grove of Japanese Clerodendrum (Clerodendrum trichotomum); whose one of several common names befits it’s great beauty–Harlequin Glorybower Tree. The stop-dead-in-your-tracks-deliciously-fragrant blossoms float atop a canopy of fluttering leaves. The blooms are similar looking to jasmine flowers, but are even more sweetly scented. A magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds, the tree blooms at a time of year when much of the rest of the garden is winding down. The glorious glorybower is on my wish list for next year and, as it is just barely hardy through zone 6, I’ll find a sheltered and protected spot in which to experiment.
The Spiral Fountain at The Bosque (Spanish for a “grove of trees”), with the Statue of Liberty in the background, Battery Park Park, New York City.
Europe took a significant step as a majority of EU member states voted for a partial ban of three bee-killer pesticides. This, despite fierce behind-the-scenes lobbying from insecticide firms Syngenta and Bayer. “A series of high-profile scientific studies has linked neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queens produced and big increases in “disappeared” bees – those that fail to return from foraging trips. Pesticide manufacturers and UK ministers have argued that the science is inconclusive and that a ban would harm food production, but conservationists say harm stemming from dying pollinators is even greater.” (The Guardian, UK).
It is a landmark vote and was supported by petitions signed by millions of people. Although it is only a two year ban, the hope is the ban will give the beleaguered bee a break, and allow time for reexamination of data. Under the EU measures, restricions on the following apply: for treating seeds, soil and leaves on flowering crops attractive to bees such as corn, sunflowers and rapeseed (the source of canola oil). The products may still be used on crops like winter wheat for which the danger to bees is deemed to be small. Use by home gardeners will be prohibited.
The three banned insecticides are imidacloprid, thiametoxam, and clothianidin. The neonicotinoid I see commonly listed on pesticides that are readily available to the home gardener is imidacloprid. I urge every home gardener not to use pesticides. I don’t use them, ever, in my own garden, and never in both the private and public gardens that I design and maintain. Several years ago, I reported that Alain Baraton, the head gardener at the Palace of Versailles stopped using pesticides at the palace gardens. Within the year, a natural balance began to take hold in the gardens, including the return of songbirds to the gardens which in turn eat the insects. If the no-pesticide policy is successful at Versailles, which receives millions upon millions of annual visitors, a pestide ban can certainly be implemented for our private homes and public spaces.
A dear friend of mine, Heidi Kost-Gross, is Vice Chair of the Natural Resources Commission for the Town of Wellesley (garden club readers–she is also President of the Federated Garden Club of Massachusetts). Heidi has been instrumental in pesticide reduction throughout Massachusetts. The Wellesley Natural Resources Commission has created an outstanding Pesticide Reduction Resource Guide for Citizens and Municipalities of Massachusetts, which is available for free to distribute anything found in the guide.
Lecture Tuesday night, April 9, at 7:30 at the Manchester Community Center: Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! ~ Notes from a Gloucester Garden.
Cabbage White Butterflies Mating in the Native Flowering Dogwood Foliage
The lecture tonight is based on the book of the same name, which I wrote and illustrated. In it I reveal how to create the framework, a living tapestry of flora, fauna, and fragrance that establishes the soul of the garden. Using a selection of plant material that eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides, and guided by the plants forms, hues, and horticultural demands, we discuss how to create a succession of blooms from April through November. This presentation is as much about how to visualize your garden, as it is about particular trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and annuals. Illuminated with photographs, and citing poetry and quotations from Eastern and Western cultural influences, this presentation engages us with an artist’s eye while drawing from practical experience.
The Cecropia Moth, or Robin Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) is the largest moth found in North America, with a wingspan of up to six inches. He is perched on the foliage of our beautiful native Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay Magnolia), one of several of the caterpillar’s food plants. You can tell that he is a male because he has large, feathery antennae, or plumos, the better for detecting scent hormones released by the female. This photo was taken in our garden in early June.
The Manchester Community Center is located at 40 Harbor Point, Manchester.
Leave a comment or question on any of the posts by Friday at 8PM to be entered into the drawing to win. Multiple entries are allowed. One person will be chosen at random. The book will be shipped on Monday, the 17th, which should allow time for it to arrive by Christmas. Shipping is included to addresses within the United States and Canada.
Praise for Oh Garden: Smith’s writing is lithe and clean and her experiences in conjuring beauty out of her garden in Gloucester make for excellent reading.
—Hawk and Whippoorwill
Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Part One: Creating the Framework, Chapte Three ~ Planting in Harmony with Nature
Magnolia virginiana ~ Sweetbay Magnolia
Located in the heart of Ravenswood Park in Gloucester there is a stand of Magnolia virginiana growing in the Great Magnolia Swamp. It is the only population of sweetbay magnolias known to grow this far north. I took one look at the native sweetbay magnolia and breathed in the fresh lemon-honeysuckle bouquet of the blossoms, fell in love, and immediately set out to learn all I could about this graceful and captivating tree.
Returning from a trip to visit my family in northern Florida, I had tucked the bud of a the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) into my suitcase to paint upon my return. I was dreaming of someday having a garden large enough to accommodate a Magnolia grandiflora and was elated to discover how similar our sweetbay magnolia is to the Southern magnolia. For those not familiar with the Southern magnolia, it is a grand, imposing specimen in the landscape, growing up to fifty feet in the cooler zones five and six, and one hundred feet plus in the southern states. M. grandiflora is the only native magnolia that is evergreen in its northern range, flowering initially in the late spring and sporadically throughout the summer. The creamy white flowers, enormous and bowl-shaped (ten to twelve inches across), emit a delicious, heady sweet lemon fragrance.
In contrast, the flowers of the sweetbay magnolia are smaller, ivory white, water-lily cup shaped, and sweetly scented of citrus and honeysuckle. The leaves are similar in shape to the Magnolia grandiflora, ovate and glossy viridissimus green on the topside, though they are more delicate, and lack the leathery toughness of the Southern magnolia. The lustrous rich green above and the glaucous silvery green on the underside of the foliage creates a lovely ornamental bi-color effect as the leaves are caught in the seasonal breezes.
Magnolia virginiana is an ideal tree for a small garden in its northern range growing to roughly twenty feet compared to the more commanding height of a mature Southern magnolia. M. virginiana grows from Massachusetts to Florida in coastal freshwater wetland areas as an understory tree. The tree can be single- or multi-stemmed. Sweetbay is a stunning addition to the woodland garden with an open form, allowing a variety of part-shade loving flora to grow beneath the airy canopy. The leaves are a larval food for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Almost immediately after planting we began to notice the swallowtails gliding from the sunny borders of the front dooryard, where an abundance of nectar-rich flowers are planted specifically to attract butterflies, around to the shady border in the rear yard where our sweetbay is located.
Garden designs are continually evolving. Part of our garden has given way to a limited version of a woodland garden, for the shady canopy created by the ever-growing ceiling of foliage of our neighboring trees has increasingly defined our landscape. We sited our Magnolia virginiana in the center of our diminutive shaded woodland garden where we can observe the tree from the kitchen window while standing at the kitchen sink. Gazing upon the tree bending and swaying gracefully in the wind, displaying its shifting bi-color leaves, provides a pleasant view when tending to daily chores.
Located in the heart of Ravenswood Park in Gloucester there is a stand of Magnolia virginiana growing in the Great Magnolia Swamp. It is the only population of Magnolia virginiana known to grow this far north. I took one look at the native sweet bay magnolia and breathed in the fresh lemon-honeysuckle scent of the blossoms, fell in love, and immediately set out to learn all I could about this graceful and captivating tree. Recently having returned from a trip to visit my family in northern Florida, I had tucked the bud of a Magnolia grandiflora into my suitcase. I was dreaming of someday having a garden large enough to accommodate a Magnolia grandiflora and was overjoyed to discover the similarities between M. virginiana and M. grandiflora. For those not familiar with the Southern magnolia, it is a grand, imposing specimen in the landscape, growing up to fifty feet in the cooler zones five and six, and one hundred feet plus in the southern states. M. grandiflora is the only native magnolia that is reliably evergreen in its northern range, flowering initially in the late spring and sporadically throughout the summer. The creamy white flowers, enormous and bowl-shaped (ten to twelve inches across), emit a delicious, heady sweet lemon fragrance.
In contrast, the flowers of the sweetbay magnolia are smaller, ivory white, water-lily cup shaped, and sweetly scented of citrus and honeysuckle. The leaves are similar in shape to the Magnolia grandiflora, ovate and glossy viridissimus green on the topside, though they are more delicate, and lack the leathery toughness of the Southern magnolia. The lustrous green above and the glaucous silvery green on the underside of the foliage creates a lovely ornamental bi-color effect as the leaves are caught in the seasonal breezes.
Magnolia virginiana is an ideal tree for a small garden in its northern range growing to roughly twenty feet compared to the more commanding height of a mature Southern magnolia. Sweet bay grows from Massachusetts to Florida in coastal freshwater wetland areas as an understory tree. The tree can be single- or multi-stemmed. Sweet bay is a stunning addition to the woodland garden with an open form, allowing a variety of part-shade loving flora to grow beneath the airy canopy. The leaves are a larval food for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Almost immediately after planting we began to notice the swallowtails gliding from the sunny borders of the front dooryard, where an abundance of nectar-rich flowers are planted specifically to attract butterflies, around to the shady border in the rear yard where our sweet bay is located.
Our garden is continually evolving and part of our garden has given way to a limited version of a woodland garden, for the shady canopy created by the ever-growing ceiling of foliage of our neighbor’s trees has increasingly defined our landscape. We sited our Magnolia virginiana in our diminutive shaded woodland border where we can observe the tree from the kitchen window while standing at the kitchen sink. Gazing upon the tree bending and swaying gracefully in the wind, displaying its shifting bi-color leaves, provides a pleasant view when tending daily chores and the dreamy fragrance emitted from freshly opened blossoms make the chores all that less tiresome.
Excerpt from “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!” Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher), written and illustrated by Kim Smith.
Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts written by Peter Del Tredici.
The sweet bay magnolia swamp in Gloucester, Massachusetts has been a botanical shrine since its discovery in 1806. Early New England naturalists and botanists of all types, from Henry David Thoreau to Asa Gray, made pilgrimages to the site of this northern- most colony of Magnolza virginiana. The local residents of Gloucester were so impressed with a “southern”plant growing this far north that they changed the name oft he Kettle Cove section of the town to Magnolia in the mid-1800s. It is probably no coincidence that this name change occurred at the same time the area was starting up its tourist trade.
In addition to its isolation, the Gloucester Magnolia population was remarkable for having escaped notice until 1806 in an area that was settled in 1623. This fact has led at least one author to speculate that the colony was not wild but escaped from a cultivated plant (Anonymous, 1889). However, the overwhelming consensus of earlier botanists is that the population is, in fact, native. Whatever its origin, the swamp remains today the unique and mysterious place it has been for almost 200 years.
Very little has been written about the magnolia swamp in recent years. The latest, and best, article about it was wntten by Dr George Kennedy, and appeared in 1916 in Rhodora, the Journal of the New England Botanical Club. Dr. Kennedy summarized the history of the stand, and cleared up the confusion about who discovered it by publishing a letter he found, written by the Honorable Theophilus Parsons to the Reverend Manassah Cutler in 1806. The letter captures the emotion of the moment of discovery:
Reverend and Dear Sir:
In riding through the woods in Gloucester, that are between Kettle Cove and Fresh Water Cove I discovered a flower to me quite new and unexpected in our forests. This was last Tuesday week [July 22, 1806]. A shower approaching prevented my leaving the carriage for examination, but on my return, on Friday last, I collected several of the flowers, in different stages, with the branches and leaves, and on inspection it is unquestionably the Magnolia glauca Mr. Epes Sargent has traversed these woods for flowers and not having discovered it, supposes it could not have been there many years. It was unknown to the people of Gloucester and Manchester until I showed it to them. I think you have traversed the same woods herborizing. Did you dis-cover it? If not, how long has it been there? It grows in a swamp on the western or left side of the road as you go from Manchester to Gloucester, and before you come to a large hill over which the road formerly passed. It is so near the road as to be visible even to the careless eye of the traveler. Supposing the knowledge of this flower, growing so far north, might gratify you, I have made this hasty communication.
Your humble servant, Theoph. Parsons
To read Mr. Del Tredici’s fascinating article in full click here Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts, including an excerpt from when Henry David Thoreau visited the swamp and wrote about it in his Journal.
Peter Del Tredici is a Senior Research Assistant at the Arnold Arboretum and Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Peter writes the following for the Arnold Arboretum: “My research interests are wide ranging and mainly involve the interaction between woody plants and their environment. Over the course of thirty plus years at the Arnold Arboretum, I have worked with a number of plants, most notably Ginkgo biloba, conifers in the genera Tsuga and Sequoia, various magnolias, and several Stewartia species (family Theaceae). In all of my work, I attempt to integrate various aspects of the botany and ecology of a given species with the horticultural issues surrounding its propagation and cultivation. This fusion of science and practice has also formed the basis of my teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (since 1992), especially as it relates to understanding the impacts of climate change and urbanization on plants in both native and designed landscapes. Most recently, the focus of my research has expanded to the subject of spontaneous urban vegetation which resulted in the publication of “Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide” (Cornell University Press, 2010).”
Located on the southeast side of our home is the primary pathway, which we walk up and down many times in the course of the day. We built the path using bricks from a pile of discarded chimney bricks. Ordinarily I would not recommend chimney bricks, as they are ﬁred differently from paving bricks and are therefore less sturdy. We laid the brick in a herring bone pattern and luckily they have held without cracking and splitting. The warm red tones of the brick complement the creamy yellow clapboards of the house. A tightly woven brick path is a practical choice for a primary path as it helps keep mud out of the home.
Planted alongside the house walls and on the opposing side of the path, in close proximity to our neighbor’s fence, are the larger plantings of Magnolia virginiana, ‘Dragon Lady hollies,’ Syringa, Philadelphus, and semi-dwarf fruiting trees, Prunus and Malus. Weaving through the background tapestry of foliage and ﬂowers are fragrant ﬂowering vines and rambling roses. These include the most richly scented cultivars of honeysuckle and Bourbon roses. Viburnum carlcephalum, butterﬂy bushes, meadowsweet, New Jersey tea, and Paeonia rockii comprise a collection of mid-size shrubs. They, along with perennials, bulbs, and annuals—narcissus, tulips, iris, herbaceous peonies, lavender, Russian sage, lilies, and chrysanthemums —are perfect examples of fragrant plants growing at mid-level. Closer to the ground is a carpet of scented herbs, full and abundant and spilling onto the brick walkway. The length of our pathway is lined with aromatic alpine strawberries, thyme, and sweet alyssum. This most sunny area in our garden permits us to grow a variety of kitchen herbs. The foliage of the herbs releases their scents when brushed against. Including herbs in the ﬂower borders provides an attractive and practical addition to the fragrant garden.
Mock Orange (Philadelphus ‘Innocence’) and the Friendly Red Admiral Butterfly
The fragrances are held within by the house and neighboring fence and the living perfumes of ﬂowers and foliage are noticeable throughout the growing season. All the plants are immediately available to see, touch, and smell. The intimate aspects of the garden are revealed by the close proximity of plantings along a much-used garden path.
Native Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
Male Cecropia Moth on Sweetbay Foliage
When selecting plants for a fragrant garden, it is not wise to assume that just because your Mom had sublimely scented peonies growing in her garden, all peonies will be as such. This simply is not the case. Take the time to investigate nurseries and arboretums during plants’ blooming period and read as much literature as possible. There is an abundance of information to be gleaned and sifted through to ﬁnd the most richly scented version of a plant. When seeking a fragrant cultivar, one may ﬁnd that it is usually an older variety, one that has not had scent replaced for an improbable color, convenient size, or double blossoms by a well-meaning hybridizer. And despite our best effort to ﬁnd the most richly scented version, there will be disappointments along the way, as fragrance is highly mutable. Soil conditions and climate play their role, and some plants simply don’t perform as advertised.
A well-thought-out pathway looks inviting when seen from the street and the fragrance beckons the visitor to enter. The interwoven scents emanating from an array of sequentially blooming ﬂowers and aromatic foliage create a welcoming atmosphere. Have you noticed your garden is more fragrant after a warm summer shower or on a day when the morning fog has lifted? Scented ﬂowers are sweetest when the air is temperate and full of moisture. Plant your garden of fragrance to reﬂect the time of year when you will most often be in the garden to enjoy your hard work.
There are few modern gardens planted purely for fragrance. Maybe this is because there is now a tremendous variety of appealing plant material, offered by growers to eager gardeners ready to purchase what is visually enticing, by color and by size. Perhaps it is so because in the past fragrant plantings served the function of disguising unpleasant odors from outhouses and farmyards, and we no longer have to address these concerns. But the pendulum has begun to swing (albeit slowly) toward planting a garden designed for fragrance. Scent, along with rhythm, scale, harmony in color, and form, should ideally be an equal component in garden design. Plant scented ﬂowering shrubs under windows and close to and around the porch. Plant fragrant vines to climb up the walls near window sashes that will be open in the summertime. Plant scented white ﬂowering plants near to where you might brush against them while dining al fresco or to embower a favorite garden spot designed for rest and rejuvenation.
“True vespertine ﬂowers are those that withhold their sweetness from day and give it freely at night. “(Louise Beebe Wilder). Imagine the dreamlike enchantment of the fragrant path through the night garden. The vibrantly colored ﬂowers have vanished. All that you will see are the white and palest shades of pink, yellow, and lavender ﬂowers reﬂecting the moonlight. Perhaps you will have the breathtaking experience of an encounter with a Lunar moth. Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow,’ Madonna lily, Philadelphus, Japanese honeysuckle, Lilium regale, Nicotianna alata, Oriental lily, tuberose, night phlox, peacock orchid, Stephanotis ﬂoribunda, gardenia, Jasminum sambac, Angel’s trumpet, and moonﬂowers are but a few of the white ﬂowers with exotic night-scents for an entrancing sleeping garden.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
— J o h n K e a t s ( 1 7 9 5 – 1 8 2 1 )
Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! (David R. Godine, Publisher)