In praise of petal carpets

Magnolia Lanarth, down by the big pond

I love me a good petal carpet. I have an entire folder in my photo files, dedicated to petal carpets. There is another one for floral skypaper but that is for another day. While we can get petal carpets pretty much all year round, this is peak time with magnolias, prunus and camellias dropping petals. The best carpets form beneath trees or large shrubs which drop their spent blooms in petal form, rather than the complete flower. Transient these may be, but on their day, they are a delight. 

The petal drop from the original Magnolia Iolanthe beside the drive is prodigious. We will rake or blow them off the drive when they turn to unattractive sludge but leave the ones on the garden to break down at their own rate. It is just part of the cycle of growth and decay.

We have many white michelias from Mark’s breeding programme and they make splendid snowy carpets, sometimes even retaining some of their scent. This magical white pathway is beside a whole row of a cross that Mark refers to as his Snow Flurry series.

I had to include at least one photo of a photo-bombing dog. So many of my photos have a dog within them.This one is my late and much beloved, loyal companion, Zephyr, beneath a Prunus campanulata. Zephs was a quiet dog but the most photo-bomby of all photo-bombers, making frequent appearances on the pages of the Waikato Times, for whom I was lead garden writer at the time. The prunus is still there, laying its carpet of blooms every year but Zephyr has been returned to the earth.

Prunus Awanui

I once read a profile of a garden that was opening for our annual garden festival. Clearly the owner prided himself on immaculate presentation because he proudly declared that he went out every morning to rake up the fallen petals beneath his Prunus Awanui. And I thought why? This is our Awanui. It may be a little larger than his tree was but the blossom is comprised of lacy single flowers without bulky substance to the petal. This means they will fall like gentle snow and decompose on the ground so quickly that there is no sludgy period. Why would anybody think it necessary to rake them up daily?

Sasanqua camellia blooms generally shatter into petals as they fall, unlike the japonicas and reticulatas which more commonly fall as complete blooms. This pink sasanqua fell below to carpet the Helleborus foetidus.

Solandra longiflora

For a change in colour, I give you Solandra longiflora in January. These fall as entire trumpets so they do turn brown and sludgy on the ground as they decay, but on their day, they are a lovely sight.

And the yellow kowhai blooms, our native Sophora tetraptera. This tree is much beloved by our native tui and kereru so many people find the floral display is greatly diminished but we figure we have plenty to share.

The fallen red blooms of a rhododendron make a transient, plush pile carpet for a few days each spring.

I felt sure I should have at least a few blue petal carpets but all I found was this slightly sparse carpet of jacaranda petals down our avenue garden. There aren’t many blue flowered trees when you think about it – the jacaranda, iochroma and paulownia but what else?

And finally from this selection, when the weather is calm, the soft pink petals of  Fairy Magnolia Blush can form pretty circles beneath each plant.

9 thoughts on “In praise of petal carpets

  1. Geoffrey Marshall

    I couldn’t agree more Abbie.
    I remember when I moved to Sydney and encountered the huge pools of jacaranda flowers under the trees in the domain where they had plenty or room to spread.
    And later, on trips to Japan where the soft beauty of a moss garden might be enlivened by the fallen petals of camellias or azaleas.
    Fallen leaves can have a similar beauty if not raked too often.

    And then there’s the lovely effect of petals being allowed to fall around the vase they’re in. Not all flowers suit this but poppies , camellias (if lacking petal blight), roses are particularly good. But others will have their favourites.

  2. tonytomeo

    Oh my! Those are prettier than the foliar carpets that we will be getting soon. I so love a good ginkgo carpet!
    Magnolia blossoms can be slippery on pavement though. That happens to be a design concern

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I had to limit my range so I left out leafy carpets and petals in water. I have my doubts about magnolias as street trees – both the foliage and the flowers are too large to decompose quickly, blow away or wash away. I think street trees need small leaves which break down quickly and suitably small flowers.

      1. tonytomeo

        There are worse street trees in regard to the foliage. Sycamores are horrible because they drop their fuzzy leaves for such a long season. Southern magnolias are no fun because their leaves last forever, and also fall constantly. I would not recommend other magnolias for use as street trees for other reasons though. (The main reason would be that their flowers can be so slippery on pavement, like I mentioned earlier.) In our region, magnolias often get so infested with scale that everything below them becomes sticky with honeydew. If they were at the curb, it would affect the pavement as well as any cars that happen to park below. It does not happen every year, but it only takes one bad year to prompt an owner of such a tree to cut it down. The other problem is not really a problem with the trees, but more of a design issue. Magnolias are at their best with low branches that display their spectacular flowers at eye level. The bloom of those that must be pruned up for clearance above roadways and sidewalks are visible from below, from down the street or from upstairs windows.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        Street trees are a highly specialised area of expertise. I once set about getting my head around all the issues that come into play with street trees and by the end of that, I shook my head and thought it was best left to people who are trained in this area! It is a pretty small list of candidate trees.

      3. tonytomeo

        There is not such thing as a ‘perfect tree’ for that application. I loathe crape myrtle because it gets used for ‘everything’! It is disproportionately small for the big boulevards, yet is it used for such situation very regularly. It is even grown on big freeways, just because it is well rated as a ‘street tree’. There are times when we select less than perfect street trees because they are worth the problems that will eventually develop. We must also accept that some trees work for only a few decades, and then should be replaced before they cause serious problems. We happen to have paperbark trees downtown that were excellent street trees for half a century. (They were planted in about 1967 or so.) People protest when the biggest ones need to be cut down, then others protest when we want to replace them with the same thing. I feel that if they were such excellent street trees for half a century, they did pretty well for us. I am all for getting another half a century out of new trees of the same sort.

  3. Tim Dutton

    We get a wonderful thick bluish carpet of Wisteria sinensis flowers each spring as we have it trained across a pergola to provide summer shade to an outdoor seating area. Exactly the same colour as the Paulownia which we used to have growing nearby. Not a tree of course, but looking at the size of its trunk you can’t help feeling it is an honorary tree!

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