Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bracken's Brown Beauty

It snowed all afternoon yesterday, and it was pretty to watch from inside the house. Today is expected to get very warm, into the high 50s!

The new year has started with good news and bad -- the bad is that Jim has the flu. We still haven't made it up to Mass. to see his daughter and husband for Christmas, he's been too sick to go. So our tree is still up, wrapped presents under it, waiting for the day when he can rally. It's been a long haul for him and he is miserable.

The good news is I won $80 on a lotto wordplay scratch ticket New Year's Eve.

That's never happened.

In other lucky happenings, I have long wanted to plant a cold hardy southern magnolia called 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', and I may finally have the room for it. The first one I saw was in Lee May's former garden in Connecticut. This photo doesn't show it, but the afternoon light was tickling it just so, and it was lit up and sparkling.

In youth it is open, like the sweetbay magnolia, and Lee had, of course, pruned his quite a bit for openness.

It has velvety mahogany brown undersides that give it a rich look.

In maturity this can be a big dense tree, 30 feet tall, bulky but narrow, like this very old one at Wave Hill in New York.

I spent a lot of time thinking about where to put such a large dark evergreen tree. It is narrow for a magnolia, and upright, but it does take up some room. I could not think of anywhere that it would not overwhelm. I couldn't come up with a plan to put one in my garden.

Then, in December, we had the two struggling blue spruces removed from the right side of the berm. It opened up a lot of space next to the river birch there.

At first I thought to just plant more spicebushes (Lindera benzoin), and let their wide spreading mid level woodsy look fill in the open area. I still like that idea.

But then. .  . inspiration. I could put a 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' there.

Growing in New England - Rockman50 photobucket
But wait, won't it get too big there and recreate the crowding issue that doomed the spruces?

Well, yes. Maybe not.

It won't mind shade from the river birch -- the spruces didn't cope with that, but this magnolia wants a little shade.

It is narrower than the spruces ever were, although still large. It can be pruned and shaped, at least early on, which the spruces never could.

It will counter the dense visual weight of the remaining three spruces on the other end of the berm.

It's evergreen, so it will provide the screening that the spruces did.

I've always wanted one.

I am talking myself into this.


Here is a great profile of Bracken's Brown Beauty by Louis Raymond (The Plant Geek). He is in Rhode Island, and raves about the cold hardness and ability to handle snow loads of this variety of magnolia -- but R.I. is just a teeny bit warmer, solid zone 6, and he has his against the house, very protected.

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