Every morning, during the school year, I drive down a certain highway. From the road, for about a month every spring, I see the top of a large tree clothed in nothing but light, buttercup, yellow blossoms, the color and texture of the finest cream.
This spring, I decided to see the tree up close. I wanted to touch those petals which looked so delicate, but were actually tough and thick. I took only my camera and cell phone, but I also brought some questions.
What else remained on this property, which was, twenty years ago, a garden nursery? What happened if the closure were final and quick like a death, and the plants remained?
When HH and I first married, I bought plants from this nursery. I was a garden neophyte, and I still remember the young woman who took me around, trying to help me find the perfect ground cover. I hardly knew what a ground cover was, and I certainly didn’t recognize any of the plants we passed.
Fifteen years after its closing, the nursery was overgrown and barricaded.
I crawled over the welded, iron gate, walked up the asphalt drive, and the drone of traffic fell away. In front of the former office, a crabapple tree bloomed for all it was worth. I turned left and followed the siren song of that yellow-blooming tree. I thought I knew what it was, and if I were right, it was the only one I knew of in the metro area which grew to adulthood. A yellow ‘Butterflies’ magnolia. Thirty feet tall. This might not be news in the northeast, but in Oklahoma, it was big news indeed.
What else I found astounded me. Plants, expensive ones, were left to thrive or die, and surprisingly, many of them thrived. I counted at least five different varieties of deciduous magnolias, two of which were yellow. The shorter one which grew to six to eight feet with a more shrub like appearance was ‘Elizabeth.’ A closeup of its bloom is on the left.
As I walked, the only sound I heard was birdsong. Ghostly, burlapped and tagged trees surrounded me, still waiting for a buyer. Like a plant cemetery, the overall effect was mournful. Years of leaves had stacked up and decayed, creating fine, loamy soil. Two or three kinds of bamboo, several varieties of daffodils, and other shade plants had naturalized, making some areas look like a meadow.
I’m not familiar with the plant in this photo on the right. Anyone else know?
This nursery was innovative for its time, and it probably cost them their business. Twenty years ago, no one in Oklahoma sold or planted deciduous magnolias. The Oklahoma market was full of petunias, marigolds and begonias. The most popular selling tree was the silver maple.
Considered difficult to grow in our climate, conifers were very limited. Here, I found an entire section of conifers, including what I believe was a full-grown weeping Alaskan cedar. It was truly a thing of beauty and stood over twenty feet tall.
Mature Pines, fifteen or sixteen dogwoods, and several varieties of Japanese maples competed for space in this nurseryman’s forest. I took photo after photo, and there isn’t enough space on this blog to catalog even a tenth of what I found.
A man-made pond contained Louisiana iris still growing in murky water. I kept thinking that in the summer, this would be snake country. A forest of bamboo clustered at the rear of the property and created a natural fence.
When I returned home, I’d taken 300 photos. I then called the arborist for the city and talked with her at length. As I thought, the property is slated for development, but she was encouraged that the architect and owner were sensitive to what was on the site. However, she told me there was no guarantee that any or all of the plants could be saved. She stressed that many of them were so large now they couldn’t be moved.
If I’ve been coy about where this former paradise is located, it’s because she requested I not reveal the location. Many plants have been lost to theft, and I saw evidence of that while I was out there. I just hope they went to good homes, theft or not.
My overall feeling was sadness mixed with joy. Joy, that I finally saw that tree I’d wondered about for the last five years. And, sadness, well I don’t think that needs an explanation. Do you?