By Don Jackson, May 2011
Former host of one of Canada's most popular radio shows spanning three decades.
Author, broadcaster, storyteller.
It is among the oldest flowering plants in the world. In fact, fossils of the magnolia have been discovered in 100 million-year-old rocks.
My oldest magnolia tree is 18, the other 16, both a long way off from their ancestors in the age of the dinosaurs. The 'Saucer' magnolia is the oldest. It is planted on my back lawn just outside my daughter's bedroom window. It now towers almost to the rooftop of our backsplit. Every spring, it produces the most aromatic blooms. The flowers are waxy to the touch, but it is the fragrance that sets this tree apart from the others on my property. I have a linden at the far corner of the property that emits its mild fragrance during the high heat of summer. It is a pleasant aroma that is carried on a breeze through our open windows. The magnolia's scent lingers around the perimeter of the tree and perfumes the air. The Chinese used the flower as a medicinal remedy for those suffering from sinus problems. It naturally unclogged nasal passages. The heavy perfume from the open flowers is intoxicating. It's the one element missing from this page, so you will have to use your imagination. It truly makes the tree a three-dimensional experience.
The sixteen-year-old 'Galaxy' on our front lawn was planted to commemorate my son's birth. Neighbours on our street always comment on the lush leaves and the fact that it is filled with so many dark purple flowers. Its striking colour and heady scent make for a stunning addition to our front yard.
The moment of flowering is ephemeral, lasting a week or two before the flowers begin to drop. Our lawns are then carpeted with the blooms and need to be raked up as one might rake leaves in autumn. It seems a shame that their magnificence is fleeting, but during that brief time, it is almost enough to take your breath away.
Over the years, I have watched the trees mirror the lives of my children. Both have grown straight and strong. The roots of the magnolias have reached out to take nourishment from the soil, and the values I've tried to impart in both my children have also taken root. Every spring, we take a picture of both our children beside their trees to show how they have grown just as their trees have.
In our dining room is a real tree that we got from a furniture store. You might think that a rather strange place to buy a tree, but this tree no longer has any leaves on it. Rather than destroying it after it died, or cutting it up for firewood, some imaginative person found a way to preserve it, and fill its branches with beautiful silk flowers. If you didn't know any better, you would think that this tree was in bloom all the year through. It resembles one of our magnolia trees in full bloom. In that way, we have been able to enjoy the beauty of our real magnolia trees all year long.
One final thought about the linden that stands guard in the corner of my property. In a very old Encyclopedia Britannica was this about the legend of fairies and trees:
Certain trees, especially thorns, oaks, elders, and linden were their haunts. A linden tree has been said to walk about at night and peer into windows.
After reading that, I will never look at my very old linden tree on the far corner of my property in quite the same way again.
Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.
I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn.
There are certain windows we will never forget. The window in one's bedroom through which one anxiously watched lightning streak across the sky and woke the next morning to gentle shafts of sunlight. Another window in the house where you sat and watched the people pass by your house, or where you spent some quiet time savouring the smells of spring and summer, and through the years watched the magnolia bloom ever more beautiful.
I wanted to share the essence of these magnificent trees with you. I just wished there was a way for you to inhale the incredible fragrance. You never know, an errant spring breeze might capture a little of its fragrance and carry it to you. If you're standing outside and a wisp of perfume gives you reason to pause, it may be nature's way of sharing our bounty.
Don Jackson, May 2011