April already! This is the time of year when you realise just how many shades of green there are: Hawthorn hedgerows, newly leaved trees, and of course the grass is starting to grow. We have dusted off our mower and, with fresh fuel, it started first time! As it’s power assisted, our work on the slopes is so much easier now. With the need to make use of our grass cuttings, we are getting ready to prepare our composting area, which was going to be at the top of the site by the Bath House. We’ve changed our minds, with all the work that we are doing there, and decided to build it halfway down the site on some rough ground. This gives us space to create a large three-bay compost heap, made out of donated pallets. Our thanks to www.revolutionarygarden.com for this image of what it could be like!
Ideally, all gardens should have a composting area and it is something that we are keen to promote. Not everyone has space like ours, but even a single dustbin-sized composter can swallow huge amounts of green waste, and produce nutrient-rich natural compost. Some care needs to be taken on the type and quantity of green waste you add, as without a proper balance you can produce unwanted smells and pests, but don’t be put off – there is plenty of information on the web to get you started. More sites worth looking at are: http://www.edenproject.com www.carryoncomposting.com http://www.theenglishgarden.co.uk
The pond, created last year but already a great attraction in our garden, received a further boost this month when we planted a water lily, Nymphaea alba. The rhizomes of this native plant were traditionally used medicinally in poultices, and as a gargle for sore throats, due to their antiseptic and pain relieving properties.
A more exotic introduction to British gardens has been the magnolia, a flowering tree that lights up many April gardens. Our lovely specimen is a Magnolia liliiflora, one of the smaller varieties – we haven’t room for a larger one, such as magnolia grandiflora which can reach 120 feet high. Magnolias are a very primitive plant species, with fossil records showing they were growing 100 million years ago. Because they pre-date the evolution of bees, they do not produce nectar and are usually pollinated by beetles. Another astonishing fact about these trees is that they are related closely to buttercups! [See below for more information about Magnolias].
Interesting in its own way, but rather less of an attraction to the garden, is the wasps’ nest we have found in the Bath House. We will have to consider what to do about this!
MAGNOLIA Magnolia officinalis
Magnolia officinalis is native to China, one of many deciduous varieties with creamy white flowers. Grown commercially for medicinal extracts, the bark being particularly useful, it is also found in gardens around the world. The tree in our Physic Garden is M.liliiflora, also a Chinese native and also deciduous, but with richly purple blooms.
The first magnolias cultivated in the UK actually came from the southern states of the USA and were evergreen. The earliest one, the virginiana, sweetly perfumed, arrived in 1688, but was overtaken in popularity a few decades later by the magnificent grandiflora. These, like the many beautiful varieties introduced to Britain in the early 20th century, are now mainly grown as ornamentals. Both evergreen and deciduous magnolias are now indigenous only to China, Japan and the warmer areas of the Americas.
Myth and Magic
The Chinese consider magnolias to symbolise the feminine, or Yin, and in their decorative arts a magnolia represents a beautiful woman.
In the British Victorian language of flowers, a magnolia spoke of dignity and nobility; in southern US states it is found in bridal bouquets as a mark of purity and nobility; and it is the state flower of both Louisiana and Mississippi.
Modern paganism attaches meaning to the colours of flowers, and thus white magnolia flowers relate to the moon, yellow to the sun, while pink ones are associated with the goddess of love.
The bark from Magnolia officinalis is the main source of herbal medicines from magnolia, such that the tree itself is commonly referred to as magnolia-bark. The aromatic bark, stripped from the stem, branches and roots, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine used since 100 A.D. and is also used by modern medicinal herbalists. In Russia, herbalists soak the bark in vodka, which may add different properties. Other species of magnolia are also used by Western herbalists, including Magnolia virginiana, M. glauca, M. acuminate and M. tripetata.
The flowers and unopened buds also have medicinal properties and are used in the treatment of sinusitis and allergic rhinitis.
Magnolia is considered to be anti-allergenic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic and anti-spasmodic. It is prescribed for many ailments and conditions:
Anxiety Asthma Bronchitis Coughs Diarrhoea Gastro-enteritis
Indigestion and abdominal bloating Loss of appetite Menstrual cramps
Nausea Rheumatism Typhoid Ulcers Weight loss
Current scientific research not only supports the pharmaceutical value of M. officinalis extracts, which include magnolol and honokiol, but also suggests new areas for treatment may be possible, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and memory loss.
Magnolia is considered safe taken in the recommended dosage. However, it is generally advised that it should not be used by pregnant women, nursing mothers, babies or children, or anyone suffering from dehydration or liver or kidney disease.
Many perfume houses have produced their own versions of magnolia scent, though because there is no such thing as magnolia oil, these scents are usually made with synthetic ingredients or extracts from other flowers such as rose and jasmine.
Acknowledgments – thanks for much information to:
http://www.encylopedia.com [quoting from the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine]
http://www.nutragreenbio.com [for the image of M officinalis]