HARBINGERS OF SPRING
magnolias usher spring into
Magnolias have long been treasured for their striking f lowers, which, depending on the country they’re from, are regarded as symbols of purity, nobility and beauty.
But they’re also loved for their fragrance and foliage. Fossils dating back 100 million years indicate that magnolias were one of the first flowering plants. Hailing from east and south Asia and North and Central America, only a few of the many species are available in South Africa, but fortunately among them are a number of new, interesting cultivars. They are fairly slow growing so look for well-established plants with a good sized root ball.
The delicate, fragrant flowers of magnolias are a reminder that spring is on its way
MAGNOLIA X SOULANGEANA (PURPLE TULIP TREE OR SAUCER MAGNOLIA)
These small deciduous trees or multistemmed shrubs originated in China
and are known as tulip trees because of the shape of their f lowers. These stand upright on bare branches from late winter to spring and come in shades of dusky pink, purple, lilac and rosy mauve. They are slow growing, but f lower from a young age.
: They perform better in cooler, Where moist areas and are not happy in the subtropics. They need protection from hot afternoon sun. In frost-prone gardens, plant in a protected area to avoid frost damage to the f lowers.
: About 4–6m high.
: The Little Girl series, Good to know bred in the 1950s, is a cross between
M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ and M. stellata ‘Rosea’. They are smaller plants, 2–4m high, with dainty flowers. These appear a few weeks later than M. stellata and M. x soulangeana so they are less prone to frost damage. Limited stocks of ‘Ricki’, ‘Pinkie’ and ‘Susan’ are available.
MAGNOLIA STELLATA (STAR MAGNOLIA)
This open, somewhat loose-limbed shrub or small tree from Japan is an absolute delight in early spring when dainty, multi-petalled, star-like flowers appear on its bare branches. These are followed by fresh green leaves, which darken with the approach of summer.
: Although cold hardy in frost Where areas, place it in a warm sheltered position to prevent the flowers being frosted. It’s best in a mixed border among evergreens.
: Although it can reach over 3m
Size high, it usually grows to about 1–2m.
: Apart from a white form Good to know there is also one with dusky pink petals, which starts flowering at an early age.
MAGNOLIA GRANDIFLORA (SOUTHERN OR BULL BAY MAGNOLIA TREE)
The f lowers of this tree appear in late spring to early summer. Bold and showy, the six-petalled blooms open white and turn into creamy white, waxy saucers. They show up well against the large dark green, leathery leaves, which are glossy on top and felt-like and brown underneath.
: These imposing evergreen trees Where from the south eastern states of the
USA, thrive in warm gardens especially in the subtropics. In cool areas, plant them in a sheltered position. As they have extensive surface roots and can cast fairly dense shade, they are best in large gardens away from houses and walls.
: Slow growing to a height of 4–6m, Size but can exceed 10–15m.
: Named selections of Good to know
M. grandiflora, which include ‘Crystal’ and ‘Samuel Sommer’ are more suitable for suburban gardens and can also be grown in large containers. They’ll tolerate salt-laden winds.
MAGNOLIA GRANDIFLORA ‘LITTLE GEM’
This compact tree f lowers on and off throughout summer. Its glossy dark green leaves have an interesting rusty underside.
: It makes a good screen or Where informal hedge placed at the back of a border.
: About 5–7m high and 4–5m wide. Size
: It’s frost tolerant
Good to know once established.
MAGNOLIA FIGO (PORT WINE MAGNOLIA)
Known previously as Michelia figo, this small, compact shrub or tree is a native of China and was reclassified as a magnolia in 2006. The small, waxy, cup-shaped f lowers hidden in the leaves have a strong fruity fragrance at night. The plum petals open to reveal a creamy yellow centre.
: Its glossy leaves make it an Where attractive screen and hedge.
: About 3–4m high.
: It f lowers in summer Good to know and produces f lowers from a young age.
AT A GLANCE
SOIL: Magnolias thrive in rich, moist soil to which a generous quantity of compost has been added.
POSITION: They prefer sun and will take some shade; in hot inland gardens, plant deciduous species in the shade of trees or on the cooler, south side of the house.
WATER: Most require regular water despite their leathery leaves, although ‘Little Gem’ is fairly water wise. Good drainage is essential.
FERTILISE: Feed in spring and summer with an organic slow-release fertiliser. CARE: Magnolias prefer slightly acidic soil, so add oak leaf and pine needle mulches, especially if the soil is alkaline, and dig in old teabags and coffee grounds. They seldom need pruning; some even resent it. They are relatively pest-free.
FLOWERING SEASON: Late winter through to summer.
SIZE: 1–15m high.
FROST TOLERANCE: Most magnolias are frost tolerant, but in cold areas, position those that bloom in late winter where they’ll be protected from frost.
THIS PAGE, FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: The blooms of tulip magnolias have a twotone appearance. Tulip magnolias flower on bare branches, providing welcome interest at the end of winter.
THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:Deciduous star magnolia has pastel pink blooms. The extremely fragrant flowers of Magnolia grandiflora, the Southern or Bull Bay magnolia tree, measure 20cm across and show up well against the foliage. M. grandiflora often produce cone-like fruits, which turn orange and then red before releasing their red seeds in late summer.
THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:The leaves of both Magnolia grandiflora ‘Russet’ and ‘Little Gem’ have velvet brown undersides. The fragrant flowers of Magnolia figo are often overlooked as they’re hidden among the leaves.The white waxy petals of M. grandiflora.