August 2018

by Marshall Chapman

The magnolia is my favorite flower. Every spring, its white, majestic blooms appear miraculously across the South, making my spirits soar.

I love flowers in general. Peonies, gardenias, and roses are among my favorites. But grand as they are, they just don’t have the gravitas of the magnolia.

Perfumers have been trying for centuries to duplicate the magnolia’s unique fragrance. But that’s about as impossible as trying to describe it in words. Creamy sweet with a hint of citrus? … lemony? … intoxicating? Not even close.

My grandmother in Spartanburg kept fresh magnolia blossoms in vases throughout her house. And once I reached adulthood, I started doing the same thing.

So maybe the magnolia is part of my DNA.

In the twenty-plus years that I lived in a house here in Nashville, I’d traipse out each morning, garden shears in hand, in search of new blooms on the five magnolias growing in my yard. Now that I live in a high-rise, I keep those same red-handled shears handy on the console of my car, in case I spy a newly opened magnolia bloom while driving around Nashville.

I usually pick anywhere from one to six blossoms. Then I rush back home to place them in vases of water, before they get too thirsty. A single bloom in each vase. And I always keep one on my bedstand. The fragrance makes for sweet dreams.

Magnolia blossoms only last a couple of days before they start turning brown. I imagine they do this on purpose. So we don’t take them for granted.

My Spartanburg grandparents had a huge magnolia tree on their front lawn. Since it was over a hundred years old, it had long reached its full height. Which means its canopy had begun to spread, leaving it with a flat top.

When I was a young girl, I often spent entire afternoons in that tree. Sometimes I’d climb to the very top. I remember the first time I did this. The tree’s sturdy branches supported me all the way up. It was like coming out of a tunnel when my head finally popped up out of that tree. All that sudden sky and light. And when my eyes had adjusted, I realized that faint blue in the distance was the Blue Ridge Mountains forty miles away. And it took my breath away.

Just for the record, when I die, I’d like a single magnolia blossom placed on the pine box containing my ashes. Just one. One flower for one life. And that’s enough.

Marshall Chapman is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, author, and actress. For more information, visit www.tallgirl.com.

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