The great­est show of Spring

Mag­no­lias large and small are pre­par­ing to burst into life with their an­nual dis­play – and there’s a va­ri­ety for most gar­dens

Rutherglen Reformer - - House & Home - Diar­muid Gavin

This time last year my plant of the week on this page was Mag­no­lia “Leonard Mes­sel”, a de­light­ful de­cid­u­ous va­ri­ety with beau­ti­ful and fra­grant sugar pink petals.

Then ear­lier this year a lunch guest, a great old dame with a renowned in­ter­est in snoop­ing through her hosts’ gar­dens, brought me this shrub as a gift.

I have been check­ing ev­ery day re­cently with ex­cite­ment to see when the furry pink buds will burst into flower.

When a heavy frost is pre­dicted, I put it in a shel­tered position. And when it does blos­som it will always re­mind me of my guest and that lovely Sun­day lunch.

It’s a sign that spring is well in its stride when these beau­ti­ful trees and shrubs put on their an­nual floral dis­play.

A ma­ture mag­no­lia in full bloom is a won­drous sight. Some of the most spec­tac­u­lar ones can be far too big for the av­er­age gar­den – for ex­am­ple the cham­pion mag­no­lia tree “Diva” at We­ston­birt Ar­bore­tum in Tet­bury, Glos, has rich pink flow­ers and reaches 24 me­tres into the sky.

But there are plenty of va­ri­eties, from shrubs to small trees, that will make a beau­ti­ful fo­cal point in your gar­den ev­ery spring.

The afore­men­tioned “Leonard Mes­sel” is one such va­ri­ety with the added ben­e­fit that it doesn’t mind a clay soil and is quite frost re­sis­tant.

That can be a prob­lem with mag­no­lias – a hard frost can dam­age the buds and they will be black­ened.

So it is im­por­tant to plant in the best spot. This will be in a shel­tered position away from cold, dry­ing winds.

While many pre­fer neu­tral to acid soil, the qual­ity of the soil is equally im­por­tant – rich fer­tile moist soil is best.

You don’t want them to dry out in sum­mer. Mag­no­lias are shal­low root­ing so a good mulch once a year will help.

Prun­ing should not be nec­es­sary once you have cho­sen wisely and there is suf­fi­cient space for the plant to de­velop. They will do fine in dap­pled shade but for max­i­mum flow­er­ing, full sunshine is the best.

Mag­no­lia stel­lata is prob­a­bly the most widely planted va­ri­ety in smaller gar­dens – it has pure white scented flow­ers with long petals.

It will grow slowly to about three me­tres in height. “Jane Platt” is a lovely pink ver­sion of this.

For a deeper pink, M. lili­iflora “Ni­gra” is a de­servedly pop­u­lar choice – dark pink tulip-shaped flow­ers will de­light in June and this will grow to around three me­tres as well.

Mag­no­lia soulangeana or the saucer mag­no­lias are very pop­u­lar. One of the more com­pact va­ri­eties is Len­nei, reach­ing about six me­tres at ma­tu­rity. Goblet shaped flow­ers which are pur­ple on the out­side and white in­side make a stun­ning bi­colour dis­play on bare branches in spring.

Or what about a yel­low mag­no­lia? “Sun­sa­tion’” has re­ally big yel­low flow­ers with a pink blush at the base.

As it flow­ers a lit­tle later in spring it runs less risk from frost dam­age so it’s a good choice for harsher climes.

The other mag­no­lia I have is M. tripetala. This is also known as the um­brella tree which is so called be­cause of its large leaves which are around a foot or more in length.

It’s still only a few years old in my gar­den and yet to flower – but that may be a good thing as the white flow­ers are amongst the only mag­no­lia flow­ers which are said to have a bad odour.

But since I am grow­ing it to en­joy the fo­liage I’m not too con­cerned!

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