Garden Plants of the Past

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After the daffodils bloom in woods and gardens during March and April, the spectacular flowers of the magnolia trees come to life. On the old footprint of the Parsons estate, the Rye Nature Center has a single specimen standing on the trail edge by the playground. It is of the species Magnolia soulangeana whose other cultivars can be purple or white. These magnolias are hybrids developed in France and they showcase huge saucer-like flowers the size of tulips.

The magnolia has grown in the shade of forest trees for the last 60 years and so its shape is no longer full. Like many spring flowers their season is short-lived, at most ten to fourteen days. Invariably they are dashed to the ground by spring downpours or cold nights. Last year its pink flowers failed to bloom due to a cold snap that hit just as the buds were unfurling. But when the weather holds in the forties at night and is calm we are treated to an abundance of color.

Many old estates like the Parsons' house have remnants of several former garden plantings. Other non-native trees still growing on what was the original lawn include crab apples and Japanese maples. They are now nestled among the native red and sugar maples. Garden vines, also a vestige of the Parsons' garden, continue to grow throughout the property. The invasive English ivy and bittersweet vine came close to toppling some of the native oak, hickory, and ash trees before concerted removal efforts by volunteers and FRNC staff. Another ivy called periwinkle can be seen climbing on the stone ruins of the old estate.

The non-native forsythia shrubs proliferate over the sloping hill just south of the mansion ruins. They will form a tunnel of yellow in the next few weeks. Our preschool children love walking on the "secret trail" that leads to the back steps from the old garden behind the ruins.

Although some sections of the Nature Center grounds are temporarily closed because of fallen trees from our many recent nor'easters, the trails around the ruins, brook, and small pond are open. Come welcome spring and be on the lookout for both the native and introduced species of the woodland.

-Mary Gillick, Program Director