Walking to the mailbox the other day I saw the first blossom on my new magnolia tree. It’s been decades since a magnolia grew on this farm. My maternal grandmother, Elizabeth McAlpine Gordon Covington (Bess), member of the DAR and the UDC, believed it her appointed duty to nurture and pass along magnolia trees to all members of the family.
She achieved this, I believe, by putting a seed pod in a clay pot full of sandhills soil and waiting for the appearance. She would then share the leggy and top-heavy promise of beauty with young couples just moving into a new home, brides and grooms, or any family member who looked to be in need of a magnolia.
In our family there was an ethos associated with magnolias. You NEVER pruned them, or limbed them up from underneath to expose their trunks. They were allowed to be full-skirted, like the belles of the ball that they are.
The front door of Mama Bessie’s house was flanked by a magnolia 30 feet tall. And I still remember my delight when I discovered that a magnolia allowed to grow to the ground is like a ladder. You can climb right up to the top, limb by limb.
When I was a bride, my aunt, on my father’s side of the family, gave me a young magnolia spawned by one of the trees Bess had given her when she built her new home. It was, like me, Bess’ grandchild. I managed to kill that young tree at that young age. Now, decades down the line I know a bit more about how to keep a tree alive, so I’m hoping to rectify my error and get back on board with the family tradition. I’m going to take the seed pod from that first blossom and put it in a pot of piedmont clay and hope for the best.