Monday, March 25, 2019

Magnolia 'Caerhays Belle': the debut of the Diva's daughter

Magnolia ‘Caerhays Belle' Photo W. Crist

Magnolia ‘Caerhays Belle' photo W. Crist

Magnolia ‘Caerhays Belle’

The 'Caerhays Belle' in my garden is approaching thirty years old. The little stick which came in the  mail back then from Gossler Farms Nursery was my tiny share of a now famed heritage. The parentage is usually given as Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta and Magnolia sprengeri var. diva. It's blooming here this year for the first time - that's a long time to wait, but if nothing else, gardening teaches us patience, doesn't it? Let's hope the diva is expressed as diva in Joan Sutherland (rarely cancels, glorious in full bloom)  and not as in Maria Callas (Madame Callas will not be receiving the public today...).

It's hard to photograph the blooms of this plant because they are about  50' from where the photographer will be standing.  The smallest jiggle of the camera (set near its maximum telescopic range) throws the field off. I've also used Wayne's birding telescope to get a good look. Of the three images, the lowest one (the one not quite in focus) is one I took this morning. The upper ones were taken a bit later today by Wayne - they are crisply in focus.

The color is hard to describe, and seems to vary throughout the day. Sometimes it's the bright pink you see in the lowest of the attached images. Sometimes it's a much darker dried-blood red. And sometimes it matches exactly the cardinals (birds) in the garden. How exactly? Although there is no shortage of roosting spots in this garden, twice I've seen male cardinals approach the developing buds and land next to them as if checking out the new competition. The first time I saw this, I thought I was looking at two magnolia buds - until one of them moved and flew away!
I'll try to get more pictures later which show the beautifully contrasting red stamens.

The Diva's daughter is quite the eye full, isn't she?

So far this debut performance consists of ten buds. Just before they start to open, the buds are maybe three inches long and the diameter of a big hen's egg. But until they start to show color they blend in very well. The buds, huge in comparison to, for instance, those of the star magnolias blooming now, are surprisingly hard to see. And they are not upright; they nod to a more nearly horizontal posture. This gives the open blooms a very fetching poise which reminds me of the blooms of the wonderful rose 'Madame Grégoire Staechelin'. Take a look here:

Friday, March 1, 2019

Is this a new pest so far unaddressed by the USDA?

It seems that March this year came in not as a lamb, not as a lion, not, as expected last night, as a snow leopard, but rather to the strains of a Rossini opera, La gazza ladra.

The buds on the willows are swelling, the birds are singing more, the hellebores, witch hazels, winter aconites, tommies, winter jasmine and snowdrops are blooming.

But, not all the signs of spring are welcome! Much as I enjoy the daily increase in birdsong at this time of year, one of the ‘’avian” visitors was definitely in the non grata category: La gazza ladra has made a visit, drawn from its lair by the blooming of the snowdrops.

While checking out the hellebores and witch hazels at the back of the garden yesterday, I had a disturbing surprise: the garden was the scene of snowdrop theft recently. Right in the middle of a wide band of long-established snowdrops there is a bare space about eighteen inches long and the width of a square-tipped shovel. Scattered nearby are some separated leaves and debris.

Although this ugly event puts me in some distinguished company, I would gladly have declined membership in this group! My garden is full of plants acquired fairly from friends: these remind me of those friendships long after the friends have moved on or the friends themselves have passed. When I have garden visitors, I sometimes identify these plants by the names of their donors. Some of you reading this are remembered in this way.

Please do me a favor: if, when visiting other gardens, the garden owner should slip and identify some snowdrops as "the snowdrops I purloined from Jim", please keep it to yourself - I don't want to know this about someone.

For those of you not into Rossini, La gazza ladra means "The thieving magpie". But of course it was not a magpie which did the deed: it was Homo sapiens galanthokleptistatus, a vile, feculent creature which seems to be on the increase.