Writings about

the many life lessons

unearthed when we dig

in the dirt . . . and pursue

a range of other interests

in the constantly evolving

garden of life.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

From the Garden Bench . . .

What heady days these are. Gardenia and Southern magnolia are both in bloom; it might as well be paradise right here in New England.

Many blossoms are fragrant, but for me none feel as evocative as those two.

Billie Holiday, tortured, talented lady of the blues, must have gotten some slight, sweet relief from her life's demons by wearing gardenia in her hair. And, we who grew up where gardenia is hardy, and the nights are hot, know and love that  heavy, heady Southern fragrance as the symbol of summer's divine decadence. The senses race, while life slows; that's gardenia time.
Gardenia, Symbol of Divine Decadence

Nourishing that recollection is, perhaps, why I work so hard to grow gardenias. In Connecticut. In winter.

In January I bought two potted plants that were filled with buds. I misted them daily and watched as they held on through the spring, still budded tight. I barely got them outside before they were run over by spider mites and the sheer oppressiveness of being cooped up for months.

It was not until June that the buds began to open. And, once they started, they released a flood of good smells that continues at this writing.

The Southern magnolia requires a lot of patience and commitment too, as the tree traditionally didn't survive around here. Now, cultivars like Bracken's Brown Beauty get through winters even as tough as the most recent one. I've grown mine three summers, getting blooms in two of those. The first blossoms of this year opened just after Independence Day, releasing that delicious lemony fragrance so familiar in my boy days when climbing a magnolia was far better than going to a gym.
Magnolia Blooms Have Gone to College . . . Beeless

Magnolia's big, creamy white blossoms are so prized that Southern women tell stories about packing the flowers in their suitcases as they head off to college. Floating a bloom in a bowl of water was the sweetest connection to home for them. I've heard the same stories about gardenia blooms – and some of those come from Northerners whose people grew gardenias in greenhouses.

I understand the suitcases, the flowers, the bowls. Connections matter. Whether to a place on the map, or one in the mind.


  1. A Southern paradise in Connecticut! What joy you must be experiencing right now. Breathe deeply and savor the beauty and fragrance that will be gone in a flash. Glorious. Of course, we in the South know fragrance is like no other. I'm happy your persistence and hard work rewarded you so beautifully.

  2. Many thanks, Barbara. I do savor every minute of this fleeting paradise.

  3. Ahhh gardenias. When I was a child, my mother had one in the yard. I'll never forget the fragrance. When I lived in Virginia there were magnolias in the neighborhood. Beautiful trees. I had no idea some varieties grow that far north.

  4. Amazing, the persistence of gardenia fragrance memories. And, I was surprised also to find magnolias that can survive here. What a happy discovery.


  5. Memories of magnolias are wonderful. Of course I remember one in my grandparents' yard. They had magnolias, pecans, figs, camelias, and huge yuccas --a real Tidewater colonial revival garden. In current reality however, I live with the neighbors' huge magnolia trees, which drop those darn big leaves all over my walkway. :-)

    That said, if I had room I'd put in sweetbay magnolia and big leaf magnolia (which I see in Baltimore, but not D.C.) in a minute.

  6. Cindy, that Tidewater colonial revival garden sounds wonderful.

    Magnolia leaves *are* unsightly after a while. I've seen people let the limbs grow low to the ground, thus concealing fallen leaves.

    That's no help, however, to neighbors. At least, you have borrowed scenery.


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