A Perfect ‘Picture’

Last Friday, I had the rarest of opportunities for a working parent — a child-free vacation day. My son was spending a week with his grandparents, so I decided to spend my day off visiting the Missouri Botanical Garden (aka MoBot) in St. Louis. I was hoping that my April 2 visit would coincide nicely with the spring bloom season in St. Louis, where spring bulbs, trees and shrubs historically bloom a couple of weeks earlier than ours in Central Illinois.

Since the magnolia had just starteed to fully open here in town, I was afraid I might be a bit late for their peak bloom in St. Louis. My fears were exacerbated when I walked into the gardens and was greeted by a Loebner Magnolia where many of the blooms had already fallen to the ground on a day that was becoming increasingly breezy as the temperatures rose.

Many of the magnolia blossoms on this first tree were reduced to a central spire towering over the fuzzy sepals that once insulated the bud.

As I made my way around the azalea-rhododendron garden, I could see more magnolia further into the garden, starting with a small grove of saucer magnolia that border the Gladney Rose Garden near the visitor center. At the south entrance to the magnolia grove is the sculpture ‘ZeroGee’ by Paul T. Granlund, where three children seem to be floating on the same breeze that brought the sweet scent of the magnolia drifting my way.

The saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) in this grove simply overwhelmed the senses. Thousands of pink and white blooms filled my view as I stood beneath them, gently moving on the breeze. Photography was a challenge due to their motion, but a pure pleasure because there was stunning beauty from every angle.

The magnolia of MoBot aren’t limited to common varieties and shapes. One of the more interesting flowers was on a variety labeled ‘Jano’. After returning home, I’ve looked this name up and can’t locate any information on it, so perhaps I misread the name plaque. Its unique, deep vase flower shape and rich pink petals made it a beautiful young specimen in the MoBot bulb garden.

The gardens also included several varieties of Star Magnolia (Mangolia stellata), whose spindly petals outnumber those on the saucer magnolia. Whereas saucer magnolia resemble tulips in their flower form, star magnolia are visually reminiscent of underwater creatures like anenomes.

Star magnolia were used in the garden in interesting ways. Here, it is pruned as a hedge, along with several other species that wouldn’t traditionally be used in hedge plantings. One of the things that impressed me the most at MoBot was their garden designers’ ability to make visitors think of non-traditional ways to use plants in the landscape.

Among the magnolia of MoBot, there was a truly breathtaking specimen south of the bulb garden along the way toward the iris and daylily gardens. It was a saucer magnolia called ‘Picture’ (Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Picture’) that was unmistakably the most beautiful magnolia I have ever seen.

The petals were larger than most saucer magnolia, a pure white on the inside and deep burgundy on the reverse. When fully opened, the blossom would easily cover both my hands.

The flower center on ‘Picture’ is a natural work of art, with light yellow and dark red stamens surrounding a rose-hued pistil.

The textured outer face of the petals looked and felt like unblemished velvet, or as if each one had been hand-cut and dyed by a master tailor.

The magnolia of the Missouri Botanical Garden alone would have been worth the trip to St. Louis. In fact, the utter amazement I felt when ‘Picture’ first came into my view is unrivaled in the decade that I’ve been photographing botanical subjects. Although I raised my lens to capture the beauty of this specimen, I could have left my camera at home, because the perfect ‘Picture’ was already standing in plain view.

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