A Gardening Journal

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' Magnolia: Brown, Indeed.

With this month's extreme deep freezes, it's no surprise that plants growing at the lower limits of their hardiness are showing it. Expect to be dealing with more than the usual amount of damage by Spring. And yet, the real news is not that some plants—like this southern magnolia—are injured. It's that, for all of this Winter's bluster and tenacity, the injuries are not only merely superficial. They're attractive.

 

Despite this cultivar's name, Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', its leaves are normally green. It's the dense fuzziness on the underside of the leaves, known as indumen-tum, that is a particularly rich and beautiful shade of brown. Only with prolonged and deep cold do the leaves themselves adopt the same lovely shade. Alas, it isn't reversible, and in Spring this foliage will be shed. 

 

Magnolia grandiflora Brackens Brown Beauty winter damaged foliage 022515 640

 

Meanwhile, I've a party to attend this weekend, and unusually colorful leaves will be just the thing. (Who says that evergreen must mean, literally, green?) I'll add dried flowerstalks of Rodgersia, wands of Salix, and branches of Cryptomeria and Fagus. The bouquet will be an essay in bronze, cinnamon, ebony, and tan.

 

But back to the tree itself. There's a lot of bronzed foliage, indeed. This portion is (clearly) up by the roof, where I'm training stems from the west facade around the corner and across the south one. In a few years, the galvanized espalier frame as well as the gutter and downspout will be obscured. 

 

Magnolia grandiflora Brackens Brown Beauty upper cornering branches 022515 640

 

The exposure is cruel: The magnolia will be sheltering the house from wind from the south and west as much as the house is returning the favor against wind from the east and north.

 

Magnolia grandiflora Brackens Brown Beauty upper cornering branches 022515 closer 640

 

And yet, look more closely. Even in this most exposed, maximally damaging location, the bases of the leaves still show green.

 

Magnolia grandiflora Brackens Brown Beauty upper cornering branches 022515 details 640

 

Summer is likely to be hot: Thanks to climate change, sweltering periods will become only more frequent and lengthy. This heat-loving, fast-growing tree will be able to recoup Winter damage and extend its branches even farther. 

 

Here's a look at this magnolia's marvelous bright-orange seeds, as well as the link to the article on how to grow its near-cousin, Magnolia grandiflora 'Edith Bogue', which kindly requests the same good soil, warmth, and sun. 

 

Here's a look at how happy 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' looks in Summer. Since this 2012 post, this pair of trees have continued to thrive. The goals now are to keep them lower than the second-story roof, and to complete their training around and over the second-story window at the center of the house's west facade.  

 
 
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