On a sunny August morning in 2013, a small group met in the parking lot behind Whole Foods on Ponce de Leon Ave., just west of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. In addition to their passion for history and horticulture, the group brought along a cherry picker – courtesy of Sunbelt Equipment Rental – and a few big coolers filled with ice. Their mission: take cuttings from the tops of two large magnolia trees growing precariously on the hillside between the parking lot and the trail above. And, in so doing, preserve a piece of Atlanta’s horticultural history.
Bold Spring Nursery’s Kevin Redeker explained the day’s game plan to volunteers (August 2013).
The Spiller Magnolias had become local hardwood celebrities of sorts because of the years they’d spent standing gloriously in center field – yes, inside the ballpark – of Spiller Field (aka Ponce de Leon Park or Atlanta Crackers Field). Both the Atlanta Crackers and the Atlanta Black Crackers played there and the diamond was graced by the likes of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Eddie Matthews, Tim McCarver, and Chuck Tanner. The trees were an official part of the field of play until Earl Mann bought the team and stadium in 1947 and moved the outfield wall in about 50’.
In 2013, erosion had gotten the better of this hillside and left this towering magnolia with precious little soil for root growth.
Facing an uncertain future on the steep hillside with concrete encroaching from both sides, a group led by Trees Atlanta’s Greg Levine and Kevin Redeker from Bold Spring Nursery decided to take the cuttings so future generations of Atlantans could someday enjoy shade from the progeny of these magnificent magnolias. Earl Mann’s son Oreon even joined the group that day, bringing along a bag of photos and other memorabilia from the days when he was a bat boy and his father the owner of the city’s premier baseball team.
Oreon Mann points out where he and his mother buried his father’s ashes when Earl Mann died in 1990 (August 2013).
Levine and Redeker spent most of that August morning being hoisted to different sections of the tree tops, taking small cuttings all along the way and dropping them to volunteers waiting below. When it was all over, the group left with coolers filled to the brim with cuttings which the Bold Spring staff took back to their nursery. You can read a recap of the day and see photos here.
Kevin Redeker of Bold Spring Nursery (left) and Trees Atlanta’s Greg Levine (August 2013)
Levine is still co-executive director at Trees Atlanta so we reached out to him recently for an update on the cuttings. He reassured us they’re fine and still being cared for by the folks at Bold Spring Nursery.
“Forty of the cuttings are in 25-gallon pots and should be ready for planting this fall,” Levine said. “110 are in 3-gallon pots, have rooted, and will be ready for planting this fall, and another 147 (pictured below) are in 3-gallon pots and can be planted at any time.”
These cuttings from the Spiller Magnolias may find their way to a new home on the Atlanta BeltLine in the future.
We asked Levine if there were plans for the cuttings now that most are ready to be planted, and the rest soon will be.
“Some will certainly be planted along the Atlanta BeltLine, although we’re not exactly sure where yet,” Levine said. “Enota Park on the Westside is one location we’re considering.”
Levine said he’ll let us know when the cuttings’ future is a little more certain. We’ll pass the update along when we get it.
Scroll down for a few images of the Spiller Magnolias as they look today. They seem to have done a pretty good job of surviving in a very challenging environment.