Our house has a magnolia tree in its garden. I didn’t know it at first- we moved here in November, the garden cold and sleeping. One March morning, bleary-eyed, pulling up the kitchen blind, I discovered a cascade of delicate pink petals fluttering against a blue sky. I gave an involuntary gasp, my heart lifted by this joyful sight. That was the start of my love for magnolia. Years later, I met the lady who had planted that tree outside my kitchen window when she owned the house, years before. One spring, I cut her some branches of blooms. Too shy to knock at her door, I left them outside with a note, but weeks later, when I saw her in the street, she told me that they had made her smile and reminded her of the tiny sapling she planted many springs ago.
I love snowdrops, primroses and daffodils, but for me, it’s magnolia that heralds the arrival of spring, waking up the sleepy garden, its pink petals unfurling and reaching up towards the sunshine. In late March, I seem to see magnolia trees wherever I go: small ones in back gardens; large ones on front lawns; towering, expansive trees hidden away behind brick walls; one with petals dropping onto a tumbledown glasshouse, one beside a Cotswold stone wall, and a particularly glorious specimen visible right across the valley, in the garden of the big house on the hill. In my mind, I build a map of every magnolia tree in the town, seeking them out each springtime for a fix of glorious pink.
Magnolia, I read recently, are one of the most ancient of flowering trees at around 95 million years old. 95 million years of those perfect pink flowers! Robert Macfarlane wrote that ‘Magnolias evolved before bees did; they are chiefly pollinated by beetles––thus the tough ‘petals’ of their goblet- & star-shaped flowers. They bloom both in spring time and in deep time.’ The italics are mine- that final sentence floors me.
Of course, I’m not alone in my magnolia love. I have discovered that if you loiter for long enough beside a magnolia tree, you will probably hear someone’s magnolia story. When I was taking these photographs of the magnolia tree at Tyntesfield, one lady showed me how beautiful the stamens are, and told me where to find a nearby wildflower meadow. Another lady, whose wedding photos were taken seven years ago under a magnolia tree, took some photographs of her small children cuddling beneath the blooms. The towering mass of pink petals in the sunshine brought a smile to the face of everyone who passed. ‘It’s been a good year for magnolia’, we all agreed.
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