Try to find room in your garden for some of the more blowsy bloomers of the spring.
The fantastic blooms of Magnolias are showy yet classy and give an exotic feel to the garden considering that they flower so early in the year. They mainly hail from East Asia & America with ancestors that date back to a time before bees. This means that rather than producing nectar to attract pollinators they produce sweetly scented, sugary secretions which attract beetles for pollination. Magnolias really can be the showpieces of a garden; large ones look good in a prominent position or with other trees in a woodland garden situation. Smaller ones suit small gardens or are perfect for container growing, so Magnolias can deliver their magic even if outdoor space is in short supply. Most prefer soil tending towards acidic, although some, including Magnolia stellata and Magnolia x loebneri, are happy in alkaline soils. They are very light on maintenance, needing nothing more than a trim in late winter to remove any untidy shoots that spoil the framework.
There is an exciting range to choose from. For large goblet-shaped flowers that come in mid and late spring, look to Magnolia soulangeana. It is a large deciduous shrub or small tree with the most fabulous pastel pink and white flowers which emerge on bare branches in spring. This plant is commonly called the Saucer Magnolia and is known for being easy to grow, in comparison with some other Magnolias. It is relatively tolerant of wind and alkaline soils and can grow up to 15m and a width of around 6m. ‘Rustica Rubra’ is a beauty, its purplish red flowers being reminiscent of a good glass of country red, alternatively go for ‘Lennei Alba’ with its pure white blooms. Magnolia 'Black Tulip' is another stunning shrub with its deep burgandy-purple flower goblets that can grow up to 15cm long & resemble tulips. The flowers make a lovely dark display before the large leaves appear later in spring.
Magnolia campbellii would be great if space allows (it is a bigger tree) because it produces those intriguing ‘cup-and-saucer’ shaped flowers. ‘Darjeeling’ or ‘Charles Raffill’ are very lovely. Magnolia x loebneri is a wonderful shrub or small tree for the garden, producing masses of star-shaped flowers, 8-13cm across. Look out especially for ‘Leonard Messel’, which produces pale, lilac pink flowers or ‘Merrill’ for white flowers.
Magnolia stellata has a RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) & is the perfect choice for container growing, flowering profusely in spring with white or delicate pink flowers which resemble stars and are lightly scented. Magnolia ‘Susan’, which produces glorious purple-red flowers with the bonus of fragrance, is another great option if space is limited. With more space, you might consider planting directly in the ground. This would be the perfect choice for smaller gardens growing only to 4 or 5ft after ten years, with the right care this plant will develop into a compact, well-shaped tree, gorgeous in bloom and also attractive in winter with its twig-like branches and velvet buds.
Whether you go for the simple stars of Magnolia stellata or the large goblets of Magnolia soulangeana, planting one of these winners is a wonderful way to celebrate Mother’s Day. Take the time to choose an attractive pot that will be big enough to accommodate the shrub as it grows. There’s a fantastic range to choose from these days and a well-potted plant will really make the gift a winner!