Thursday 23 November 2017

Magnolias the stand out flowers this spring

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Magnolia 'Big Dude'.
Magnolia 'Big Dude'.

spray roses that are susceptible to disease, especially blackspot

Embothrium coccineum - Chilean fire bush

Every year one group of plants seem to surpass their usual, already often glorious annual display, and produce what feels like an exceptional year. The planets this year seem to have aligned in favour of Magnolias and has made them the stand out flowers this spring. I can't ever remember as many Magnolia blooms as this spring. Or could they just be the focus of my attention this year.

About six years ago I invested in a selection, a lavish twelve to be exact, of Magnolias for my garden some of which I knew would be slow enough to flower. Some varieties have been blooming for the last four to five years already. Magnolia stellata is one that always flowers as a very young plant and is for that reason very popular. It is small for a Magnolia to making only three metres hight and is reliably covered in white multi-petalled blooms every year.

The named variety Royal Star has larger flowers and Waterlily also has larger flowers but with even more petals than the type. Magnolia X soulangeana, a species I don't grow, is also another early flowerer and likewise very popular. With its upright candle flame shaped flowers on a wide spreading bush it feels like it can be seen in every other garden at this time of year. But thats not the reason I decided not to grow it, it is because I always felt it looked rather unwell in leaf after the magnificant flowers have gone.

Other varieties followed on from the M. stellata and have already adorned my garden including the beautiful Magnolia x loebneri 'Merrill' pure white flowers of the most exquisite shape and one of my favourites. Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' with pink flowers. Magnolia 'Wada's Memory' a small tree with white fragrant flower. The unusual and very charming Magnolia sieboldii which has white flowers that open downwards and are pendulous so you can look up into them. It flowers intermittently from May to August and is similar in its flowering to Magnolia wilsonii which also has hanging flowers but with crimson stamens and flowers in May only.

The exotic M. 'Manchu Fan' with beautiful creamy flowers flushed with purple at the base. Magnolia 'Vulcan' with unusually dark ruby red flowers and the crassly named 'Big Dude'. When I tell you that Big Dude only has three flowers you might think I am disappointed but if I tell you they are larger than a splayed hand in size you'll understand if I'm not.

The only larger flowering Magnolia I know of is the last one I'm wait for to flower the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora which can have flowers the size of a dinner plate. This Magnolia flowers in autumn so I will be ever hopeful to complete my grand slam then. I didn't have total sucess

I have to admit as one very unusual Magnolia slipped through my green fingers and died. This was largely down to my arrogance in ignoring the nursery man's advice to leave it in the pot for a year. I planted thinking I would nurture it along but alas he was right. The Magnolia in question was M. macrophylla, a variety I knew little about, that has enormous leaves up to 60 centimetres long and very large parchment like flowers described as awe-inspiring. You live and learn and the nursery has no more of this intriguing and rare plant unfortunately.

Magnolias like a neutral to mildly acid soil and actually do well in heavy clay soils that don't get waterlogged. They are hungry plants so provide plenty of organic matter when planting and mulch and fertilise every year with an ericaceous feed. Plant in sun or semi shade and try to give a little protection from drying winds. I find slugs can be a problem early in the year making their way up the plant to feed in leaves and flowers. There has been much cross breeding of Magnolia species over the years and this has given rise to many beautiful exceptionally hardy hybrids.

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