Field of Science

Magnolia envy

The Phactors and friends went to a garden party, and a quite impressive garden it was much in keeping with the impressive house and impressive old neighborhood, one of those enclaves where the wealthy built their castles and lived very well in the late 1800s.  A little of the old money still lives there, but most are now successful professionals in lucrative fields (that leaves out college faculty).  So we toured the gardens, drink in hand, pinkie finger raised, and took in the very extensive and quite lovely plant collection, one of the nicest personal gardens the Phactor has seen, and there on the lowest level terrace, tucked into a southeasterly and very well protected corner was a southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), and of course, they don't grow here in zone 5, although the Edith Brogue tree in New Jersey has survived -24F, and that would be a zone 4 temperature.  Although cold hardy cultivars are known and the tree is cultivated further north than it's zone 8 native range in the southern half of the gulf coast states, the Phactor had not seen one successfully grown here in the harsh midwest.  Some cultivars of the tougher sweet bay magnolia will manage to grow around here.  The flowers of the southern magnolia are so big and lovely, and the leaves so green and glossy, it's a beautiful tree, although Chi-town relatives transplanted to the south in retirement, where presumably their longing for deciduous trees (or just grass!) caused them to whine about the tough leaves and big cone-like fruits of a truly subtropical tree.  So right there on the spot magnolia envy reared its ugly head, and this is bad because you should never covet another's garden.  Part of the reason for this extraordinary plant growing where it cannot is what we call a microhabitat, some little bit of space that functions as a very different environment.  In this case protected from the winds, next to massive walls that re-radiate heat, and a terrain that allows heavier, colder air to flow away, and you have the formula for success in growing a tender tree far from its home.  Dang!  Nothing to do but drown my envy in another white rum and tonic.


Beth at PlantPostings said...

Ah, yes, Magnolia envy. I know it well. I thought you were located closer to Springfield, and even if you're closer to Chicago--isn't that zone 6? Sounds like you had a wonderful time at the garden party.

The Phytophactor said...

Our gardens are located some 2 hrs south of Chicago, which enjoys some lake effect dampering of their weather, so we're on the edge of zone 5 and 6, but if you want to be safe you go with 5. We've had -20F three times in 30 years, but it's the extremes that limit plant ranges. But a zone 7-8 magnolia; that's outrageous.

avlmama said...

My favorite tree and I love the smell of its blooms. As a kid, we had the most magnificent Magnolia tree in our front yard. It was so large that the overhanging branches made a large, cool room where my sister and I would hang out.