Published: 04 February 2013
The Wonderful Magnolia
Chris Allen looks at some of the species in the diverse Magnolia family and makes some suggestions for incorporating them into your garden.

Magnolia × wieseneri.
Whatever the size of garden, there should be space made available to grow a particular group of woody shrubs that produce some of the most beautiful flowers ever.
The genus of Magnolia is both an ancient and extensive group of flowering plants. With evidence found in the fossil record and around 120 species and varieties, this plant group should play a more prominent part in garden planting schemes. Named after Pierre Magnol [1638-1715] a French professor of botany and classified in the family Magnoliaceae.

A Diverse Family

Across the many species there is a wide diversity in plant growth, habit and flowering with many becoming large evergreen, or semi-evergreen shrubs or trees; one such is Magnolia grandiflora ‘Exmouth’ that can reach a height of 13m with its large, pale creamy-white upturned bell shaped flowers having the most heavenly scent.
There are many cultivars of Magnolia x soulangeana with their white, pink or purple flushed long goblet-shaped flowers facing the sky and when smothering the entire plant creating spectacular displays from spring through to early summer.

Magnolia Stellata. Image reproduced with permission of Richard Loader.
One of the most beautiful Magnolias, which has the RHS Award of Garden Merit, is the more upright growing plant called M x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’. Its flowers appear on the leafless branches during spring and beautiful delicate flowers of the palest white and pink appear to float in the air when viewed from below. When seen against a clear blue sky it must be one of the most magical scenes in any garden.
A Magnolia with a well documented history of introduction into cultivation in the west is M. wilsonii, named after the adventurous plant hunter Ernest H. Wilson. During a plant collecting expedition to China in the 1920’s he discovered this magnificent white flowered plant.  
In contrast to these larger species are the smaller, deciduous woody shrubs of Magnolia stellata and its cultivars, commonly known as the Star Magnolias. Specimen plants will create a great focal point planted in the garden or in a large container. The rate of growth is in the region of 3cm a year and after ten years the plant is usually broader than it is high and could be approximately 3m high x 4m wide if planted in the ground.

Growing Plants

Magnolias do not thrive in chalky or waterlogged soils, in heavy shade or exposed sites where they can be damaged and the flowers blown off in strong winds.  After flowering, a high potash fertiliser applied as a top dressing will encourage a good display for the following year, especially for plants grown in containers.  
Before buying a Magnolia it is essential to select the most suitable species for the size of planting location.  A plant that grows quickly and becomes too big will require routine pruning and not produce its natural shape leading to a dramatic reduction of flowering.

Magnolia Stellata. Image reproduced with permission of Richard Loader.

As cultivated plants grown in gardens in many countries around the world Magnolias are quite safe, however in the wild, especially tropical regions, it is a different story with at least 45 species threatened with extinction. Several international conservation bodies are working hard to provide protection before these wonderful plants are lost to us all. 

Reader Offer

Blue Sky Plants are offering readers of The Gardening Times a special offer when purchasing the Magnolia stellata. Click here for more details...

Reported by Chris Allen  

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