A Magnolia for Manija; Honoring Parents with a Garden
November 21, 2010
Allan in Flowering Shrubs, Magnolia, Magnolia liliflora Ann, Musings on Gardening, flowering shrubs, flowering trees

Magnolia Ann, close up image: http://www.jardinjasmin.com

A very sweet and kind client gave me one of my largest garden contracts this past summer. It came as a great surprise because she lives in a part of town where most homeowners are hands-on people who prefer to do their own gardening. However, Manija earns a living with her hands, and to protect her manual skills, she needs others to do such work for her.

A week after I designing and planting the proposed rose garden – I had framed her back yard with over 120 feet of plants, including accent perennials - I found a message from her on my answering machine. When this occurs, usually my heart sinks because I expect that a client is calling to complain about one thing or the other. What a relief to discover that Manija needed more work done. Unfortunately, this time I would have to decline.

Magnolia Ann will grow 10 feet high and wide at maturity. image: http://www.waverlyfarm.com/catalog-plant.html?code=MGNHBAN

Manija asked for a Magnolia tree to be planted in between the patio and the rose garden. I am not an expert on trees, especially Magnolias, and would have preferred not to get involved with such a project. However, to satisfy a client, I initially agreed to take on the project and she quickly approved the quote. Since the choice of the Magnolia variety was left to me, I selected Magnolia liliflora Ann. That choice was influenced by two factors: color and hardiness. Firstly, the client appreciates richly colored flowers and this variety blooms in a purplish-red color. Secondly, M. Ann blooms later than most Magnolias so that its buds are less likely to be damaged by early spring frost. In USDA Zone 5 a.k.a. Canadian Zone 4, frost damage is an essential consideration.

When I arrived at the nursery to purchase the tree, it became evident that the size of Magnolia that I had planned on buying was not only too puny but diseased as well. Actually, all of the smaller Magnolias were sick. Climate-wise, it was an unusual season, many plants had been adversely affected, and the nursery would not guarantee certain products. In order not to disappoint the client, I would have to purchase a disease free Magnolia one size up - which I was prepared to do. However, there was a logistical problem to overcome.

My staff and I [three people in all] could not lift the tree. Unlike the smaller Magnolias that were potted and easy to carry, the larger ones were balled and burlapped - they were dead weight. Since I am a flower gardener who does not work with heavy equipment, there was no way that I could physically deliver the tree. Besides, the earth in the client’s neighborhood is compacted clay and, although I was prepared to struggle planting a smaller tree, a larger and deeper hole, to accommodate the monstrous root ball, would be too difficult for me to handle. With some quick thinking, I approached the contract department of the nursery and asked for the charge to deliver, plant, and guarantee the tree. Their quote was only slightly higher than mine and the additional cost was of no consequence to Manija, who agreed to work directly with the nursery.

A week later, on a routine visit to examine the rose garden, Manija walked me over to admire the newly planted Magnolia. She told me how wise it was to have declined to plant it because the nursery staff had a most difficult time digging the hole. They had been aware, before coming, that there was a soil problem in her neighborhood, brought heavy equipment for excavation and plenty of soil amendments. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a formidable job, even for them.

While she was sharing this scenario with me, I noticed that a very short stake had been inserted into the earth right in front of the Magnolia. Affixed to it was a brass plaque, engraved with the message “To Papa with Love”. Manija noticed that I was staring at it and explained that Papa was her father, who had died in India a few months earlier. After the funeral, on her return to Canada, she had brought back an urn filled with his ashes. His favorite tree had been the Magnolia and she would honor his memory by not only planting one in her garden but also by burying his ashes under the tree.

Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/).
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