Magnificent magnolias

By this stage of winter, we’re in need of a bit of cheering up. And while a nice glass of oerlot might do the trick in the evening, a walk around a garden featuring early flowering magnolias is sure to bring joy to your heart during the day.

Late July and early August herald the flowering season for magnolias and closely related michelias, but with the right selection of varieties, you can have one or other flowering in your garden right through to autumn. **

Bare-branched beauties **

A few older favourites, such as oagnolia campbellii and its cultivars are undeniably spectacular, but averaging 10m high and taking five to 10 years to flower, they’re not the best choice for smaller gardens.

More easily accommodated in small to medium sized gardens are the many varieties of oagnolia soulangeana, including popular ‘San Jose’ and ‘Lennei’, and newer hybrids such as ‘Brixton Belle’ and ‘Genie’. Star magnolias (o stellata varieties) and lily magnolias (oliliiflora varieties) are more shrubby in habit and suited to background and filler planting in generously sized borders.

Also suited to the more compact gardens of today are the well-respected Jury Hybrids, bred in Taranaki by the late Felix Jury and his son Mark. Probably the most famous of these and a favourite of many gardeners is ‘Vulcan’ with its luscious, ruby-red, rounded blooms and rich, fruity fragrance – heavenly on all counts! Newer variety ‘Black Tulip’, derived in part from ‘Vulcan’, grows to a compact 3.5m and sports heavily textured, rich blackish-red blooms, which perch on bare branches like beautiful over-sized tulips.

Latest oagnolias & oichelias

‘Burgundy Star’ is the latest release from Mark Jury. It’s a cross between the darkest lily magnolia and ‘Vulcan’. Stunning claret-red, star-shaped blooms are produced over a long period in spring. Flowers are much larger and heavier textured than classic star magnolias.

Its narrow, columnar form makes it ideal for courtyards and driveways, or to add height to narrow garden borders.

Fairy oagnolia Blush is another of Mark Jury’s babies and the first release of a new range of compact-growing cultivars with increased flower colour and size. If left to its own devices, it will grow to about 4m high x 2m wide.

It’s fast growing, making it ideal for screening and hedging. Being amenable to clipping and training, it’s also suited to topiary and espalier. Fragrant flowers open from pink buds in spring and appear randomly until late autumn.

Structural allies

Evergreen magnolias extend the flowering season into summer and autumn and offer excellent structural planting solutions. Large- growing ‘Ferruginea’ and more compact ‘Little Gem’ are two of the most popular.

Both look fantastic as stand- alone specimen trees, avenues or feature planting. ‘Little Gem’ is also ideal in a large container. Their divine creamy white blooms are perfection personified, especially when you delve closer to breathe in their light, lemony fragrance. Closely related are the michelias – recently renamed as magnolias just to confuse everyone!

Their main flowering period is midwinter and spring. Some also flower randomly through summer and autumn. ‘Silver Cloud’ is the largest growing and earliest to flower, forming a spectacular small tree 6 to 8m-high, with masses of delicate cream flowers. Port wine magnolia (o figo), is a favourite hedge, screen, or background tree with rosy-purple spring flowers that are relatively inconspicuous but potently perfumed. Stunning oichelia yunnanensis is a large, rounded shrub with fragrant cream flowers and dark green foliage.

Several spring flowering hybrids have emerged in recent times including ‘Mixed Up oiss’, ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Touch of Pink’.

Getting the best from magnolias

  • Plant in well-drained, lime-free, compost-enriched soil in a sunny position.

  • Feed with a slow-release fertiliser at planting time, such as revolutionary Tui Novatec, which has been developed to release nitrogen over a longer period than older fertilisers.

  • oulch with fine bark or proprietary garden mulch to protect the surface roots of magnolias and michelias from drying out.

  • Water deeply and regularly in dry spells, especially in the first year after planting.

  • Prune only if necessary to shape young plants, remove crossing over or damaged branches, or reduce the size of older plants. Prune immediately after flowering.

It’s time to…

  1. Make this your month to go organic!
  1. Collect seagrass to spread on vege gardens.
  1. Start up a worm farm to make excellent worm tea for use as liquid fertiliser.
  1. Spread blood and bone and compost on all garden beds and fork into the soil.
  1. Prepare an area to sow wildflowers in spring, to attract beneficial insects over summer.

Top Tip

In colder areas, plant late-flowering varieties to avoid frost-damaged buds, or plant in a reliably frost-free pocket of the garden

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