Originally created 04/10/98

Magnolias suggest Southern mystique



Much of the mystique of the Augusta National Golf Club stems from the lush stands of native greenery around the course.

Azaleas, dogwoods, camellias and wisteria adorn the grounds of the Augusta National, but none captures the essence of Southern society like the magnolia, according to Mike Dirr, an expert on woody plants and a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Dr. Dirr says the Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is among the most revered plants of the South because it is the plant most often identified with the region. "It's almost true that magnolias are passed down, or appreciated, from generation to generation in the South," says Dr. Dirr.

Magnolia trees with their glossy, dark-green leaves and large, white, potently fragrant flowers once graced the entries of many Southern estates and mansions. The trees planted along Magnolia Lane at the Augusta National are remnants of a bygone era.

The drive down historic Magnolia Lane leading to the clubhouse has given many golfers a case of the chills. As they roll down the 250-yard road they are awed by the 60 majestic magnolias flanking the road that Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and other champions have traveled.

U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion Ken Bakst made his first visit to the Augusta National Golf Club in January. When he stopped at the gate and the guard waved him through, he remembered that Tiger Woods had said that the road wasn't as long as he expected.

"I think Tiger was driving too fast," said Mr. Bakst. "I just drove real slow. It was pretty long. It was really a wonderful sight."

The history of Magnolia Lane begins in 1858 when Baron Louis Mathieu Edouard Berckmans bought the 365 acres where the Augusta National would later be established. Dr. Berckmans, a native of Belgium, used the land to establish the first nursery in the South. It was his son, Prosper Jules Alphonse Berckmans, who is responsible for Magnolia Lane.

Seeds were gathered from two magnolia trees in Athens and sent to the younger Mr. Berckmans, who planted the seeds along the dirt road leading from Washington Road to his house. The uneven rows of the trees on Magnolia Lane is a result of trees grown from seed, says Clyde Lester, director of the University of Georgia Extension office for Richmond County.

Tournament fans should enjoy these Southern beauties for a long time, says Dr. Dirr. Southern Magnolias have been known to grow as old as 250 years.

These Southern icons are easy to grow in your own yard. If you buy a container-grown tree, you can plant magnolias at any time of the year. If you want to re-create Magnolia Lane by growing from seed, wait until fall or early winter. Whichever way you choose to plant magnolias, make sure you place them in full sun or partial shade.

Magnolias usually bloom in late May and June. Blooms last into midsummer.

Mr. Lester says magnolias pay off several ways in the landscape.

"They have these fantastic blooms, and then you get the smell of the blooms," he says.Cutlines:

Augusta National's historic Magnolia Lane captures the essence of Southern elegance, adding to the mystique of the historic golf club.

Many magnolias are passed down through generations. The plants can live up to 250 years.