All hail the hardy magnolia

The Star Magnolia... this deciduous variety grows to 2m-3m.

IT has not taken long to remind us that while we had a remarkable rainfall year last year, it does not take long to go back to drier weather.

One group of plants that continue to surprise us with their hardiness is the magnolia family, despite their origins in China and the Himalayas. Although droughts are not unknown in that part of the world.

Magnolias are a large family and some plants are erroneously commonly called magnolias, for example Michelia figo or Port Wine magnolia.  These are technically of the Magnoliaceae family and closely related to Magnolia, but differ in that the flowers are born in the axils of the leaves.

Notwithstanding that, it is an excellent evergreen shrub 2m-3m tall producing small, purple-brown flowers with the most delightful fragrance.

Other Michelia with equally fragrant flowers include Michelia yunnanensis (“Paradise Perfection”) and M. y. “Paradise Starlight”, with white flowers, these grow to 2m-3m tall.

Bob Cherry, of Paradise Plants near Gosford, bred both from stock he collected on his numerous expeditions to China. Cherry says: “These embody the timeless mystery and peaceful contemplation of the temple slopes of China”.

BACK to the main magnolia family and, for the small garden, there is no better plant than Magnola stellata or Star Magnolia (below).

The Star Magnolia... this deciduous variety grows to 2m-3m.

It is obvious where the common name comes from when one sees it in flower as pictured here. Introduced from Japan in 1862 it was given the prestigious Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1923. This deciduous variety grows to 2m-3m.

A recent introduction is Magnolia “Black Tulip” with huge globular black-red flowers 15cm across. It was bred in NZ and introduced into Australia by Anthony Tesselaar International.

Despite its name, to date no Dutch grower has ever succeeded in breeding a true black tulip, despite coming close. By the same breeders, look out for Magnolia “Felix” and M. “Vulcan” with its fiery red flowers.  Magnolia “Leonard Messel” is a magnificent tall shrub or small tree with lilac-pink flowers. This was a chance hybrid found in the famous “Nymans” gardens of the late Col. Messel, in Sussex, England, given the Award of Merit in 1973.

MAGNOLIA liliiflora was raised at the US National Arboretum at Washington with purple, flushed flowers on the outside and creamy white on the inside of the tulip-shaped flowers. 

"Magnolia soulangeana"... bred in California

One of the best species for small to medium gardens, it was given the Award of Garden Merit, also in 1973. Taller varieties include M. x soulangeana “San Jose” bred in California in 1938 (pictured above) and M. “Atlas” with lilac-pink flowers. Both these can easily grow to 5m-6m and not for the small garden but more for folk with rural holdings that have space for some of these magnificent specimens.

Now is the time to check out your local garden centre as they come into flower.  But do check their eventual size!


In the garden

● Look out for Multicrop EcoAnt, a new organic product that kills ants, earwigs and slaters on impact. EcoAnt is made from eucalyptus oil and pyrethrum and is not a scheduled poison. Available in a ready-to-use trigger pack.

● No gardener can do without Velcro Plant Ties in a 9m roll, a quick and easy, adjustable, reusable tie that does not cut into bark or stems. Suitable for tomatoes and dahlias. Available from garden centres and MagnetMart.

● Complete rose pruning without delay, except for banksia roses that are pruned after flowering

● Do not prune foliage off frost-damaged plants until at least mid September/October.

● Prune hydrangeas to three-leaf nodes (leaf joints) from ground level.

●  Sow seeds of biennial plants such as Alcea (hollyhocks) and Digitalis (foxgloves).

● Watch out for aphids on new rose shoots and emerging Japanese maple leaves.

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