The magnolia family of plants is often unseen in many gardens until they burst forth with their elegant, showy blooms from early spring onwards. Magnolias embrace some of the most magnificent flowering trees, hardy in our temperate region.
They range in size from medium to large shrubs up to fairly large tree sized specimens.
Most varieties in cultivation in the British Isles are deciduous, although there are some notable evergreen types which are worth growing, particularly in the larger gardens in the more easterly parts of the Lothians and a few pockets of West Lothian, near the River Forth. As a rule, providing good growing requirements is not difficult. They need a reasonable depth of good soil (at least a spade’s depth) plenty of compost or mulch, good drainage and plenty of moisture.
Varieties which flower early will require to be protected from spring frosts (especially in the southern half of West Lothian) and cold easterly or north easterly spring winds (eastern East Lothian). Any species with large leaves should be given shelter from gales at any time.
Partial shade is also beneficial to many varieties, especially the earlier flowering types which are susceptible to damage from early morning sun following on from night frosts just at blossom time. As a rule, most deciduous magnolias appear in spring before the leaves. They are also very tolerant of heavy, clay soils and high atmospheric pollution.
Although magnolias have much of the appearance of ericaceous plants such as camelias and rhododendrons, they are much more lime tolerant. Generous applications of well rotted manure, leaf mould or good garden compost can be given from spring through to early summer. Bone meal applied in early spring and late summer/early autumn at 60 gms/sq metre followed by a light dressing of fish blood and bone meal after flowering are the main requirements for feeding.
During cold, wet springs, some plants can be susceptible to attacks of downy mildew. This can be fairly easily controlled with a systemic fungicide at the first sign of infection.
Some good varieties to try include: Magnolia Wada’s Memory, pictured above, a conical tree with aromatic dark grey foliage and a profusion of large, fragrant white flowers
Magnolia cyclindrica Deciduous spreading tree or large shrub. Fragrant upright, creamy white flowers.
Magnolia x soulangiana. Generally a large shrub with wide spreading stems. Large tulip shaped white flowers with rose purple markings at the base from April to May.
Magnolia loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ A cross between Magnolia Stellata and M. koburn which will slowly grow into a large, round specimen. Flower similar to M. stellata but pale lilac pink in colour.
Magnolia Stellata. Delightful slow growing Japanese variety forming a compact bushy specimen. Distinctive, grey hairy flower buds open to white star shaped flowers.