The Beauty of Magnolias
By Lorraine Spooner
Something caught my attention in the Plant Centre this week – the amazing structure and tactile softness of the tightly closed buds on our Magnolia trees.
We talk about the importance of winter structure in the garden, not only from evergreens but from the framework that bare branches can provide, especially when silhouetted against the low winter sun or coated in frost.
But the exquisite form of these buds, some of which plump up by late January, can play their part in contributing to the beauty of the winter garden.
The flowers that follow traditionally herald the start of spring in the West Country. In Cornwall, Magnolias are used as historical ‘bloomometers’ – once all seven of the Champion Magnolia campbellii trees across the Great Gardens of Cornwall have at least 50 blooms, spring is officially announced.
We may have to wait a little longer for confirmation of spring in rural Oxfordshire, but by planting these stunning trees now, you can enjoy their winter finery before the bud casings burst to reveal their first hint of petal colour.
Often grown as a focal point to best admire the magnificent spring blooms, they prefer a moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil with a plentiful addition of organic matter at planting time and every spring. Provide a sheltered site to protect from cold, drying winds.
We have many varieties in stock from which to choose, but I have recommended below four deciduous cultivars with magnificent flowers to tempt you.
MAGNOLIA X LOEBNERI ‘LEONARD MESSEL’
A medium sized shrub or small tree, eventually growing to 6-8 metres. Bearing fragrant lilac-pink goblet shaped flowers which mature to an open star shape covering the bare branches before the foliage unfurls.
MAGNOLIA ‘IAN’S RED’
A New Zealand hybrid between ‘Vulcan’ and soulangeana ‘Burgundy’, this cultivar has an upright, bushy habit to 5 metres, bearing very large rich purple-pink flowers in March and April. ‘Livingstone’ is another good cultivar in this colour.
MAGNOLIA X SOULANGEANA ‘BLACK TULIP’
This is a vigorous cultivar with an open branched habit and large blooms of a deep burgundy purple in mid spring. Eventually attaining 6-8 metres, it is one of the darkest flowering of all Magnolias.
MAGNOLIA X BROOKLYNENSIS ‘ELIZABETH’
An unusual cultivar with cup shaped, primrose-yellow scented flowers, fading to cream in maturity, which appear just before the bronze tinted leaves are emerging. Reaching just 4 metres tall by 2 metres spread, this rare variety would suit the smaller garden. ‘Yellow Bird’ is another cultivar with deeper yellow blooms.
A little snippet of history – Magnolias were named in honour of French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), they are one of the most primitive plants in evolutionary history – fossil records show that Magnolias once existed in Europe, North America and Asia over 100 million years ago. The genus consists of over 100 species of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, plus numerous additional hybrids and cultivars.