by Katie Isham.
Safari today not to a specific place, but to a moment, a fleeting moment at that; a slice of existence right now, to the glorious zeitgeist of blooms and blue skies before the March winds rally and leave our loves strewn across the ground to become mulch. Buckle up, we’re going magnolia hunting.
Where’s your favourite magnolia? You must have one. Everyone has a favourite (shout out to the stunning specimens along Peartree Avenue) but that doesn’t stop us ogling any we see. Even if you don’t consider yourself an avid gardener, you can enjoy the twisted branches and pure explosion of petals signalling the change of seasons to spring. Magnolias are the gateway drug to horticultural appreciation.
This year, the stars have aligned and mother nature is gifting the good people of Southampton a prolonged spell of clear weather. These pure blue spring skies are the perfect lens through which to enjoy the bright whites and perfect pinks of the flowers of the mighty magnolia tree.
There is something so essentially good as well as eye-wateringly beautiful about staring skywards into a completely blue canvas punctuated only by the opening baskets of blooms in varying crisp colours. And nestled in our town, there’s a collection of fine examples to fill your eyes with.
Southampton is a city blessed with a green river of parks running through its core. Technically five parks stretch from St. Mary’s up to the Polygon, but if you discount the rude interruption of roads to cross, it’s a continuous run of grass, borders, trees of varying sizes, sports facilities, bandstands, fountains and benches galore.
A visit to the city centre is improved at any time of year with a wander through the parks (definitely make a note to return in wisteria season for the pergola walkway alone) but you have to go right now to catch the magnolias. They’ve been in bud, unfurled and are now in full bloom. Now I say, go now. Any moment they’ll be on the turn; don’t say I didn’t warn you.
There’s a wonderfully sprawling tree almost exactly opposite Central Library in Watts Park. No book has ever committed to the page the level of glory as that of this magnolia waving in the azure atmosphere with the clock tower watching in awe.
Yet it’s in the neighbouring East Park where the most magnificent magnolias reside. In the shadow of the shops, arising from an antique, ivy clad wall is a delicate ghost of a tree. How anything can be so stunning amidst such an operational backdrop is a feat of the might of the magnolia. It reminds us of the beauty to be found in the most unexpected locations and against any obstacles.
And there’s more. Just across the pathways, past the dog park (slow down to smile at any furry friends) and further towards the peace fountain, stands a flower bed of dreams. Blue flowers and green shoots form a carpet from whence the great trunks of our precious magnolias emerge. Pink and white and pink. It’s hard to tell where one plant ends and another begins. Not that it matters when they’re entangled in a marvellous tapestry of spring life. Don’t try to blithely stroll past; give in and pause on a bench or the grass to really savour the scent as well as the sights.
You’ll have to share the area with kids picking sticks to tease their siblings, the endless couples posing for that perfect photo beneath the branches, as well as every single person who passes stopping and admiring the wonder of the magnolia. The way it brings everyone together in hope and new life is almost as beautiful as the petals against the blue sky. Almost.
Cost: Free entry to the parks and free to enjoy the blooms.
Accessibility: The parks and the adjoining streets around the city centre are paved and raring to go. The parks lie in the heart of Southampton city centre and you can wander from one to the next.
Facilities: The parks are an oasis surrounded by the chaos of the city centre. Any shops, refreshments, toilets, library, galleries, theatres, parking can be found around them if you want more than just trees to stare at. There are even some facilities including a wonderful café within the parks.
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