We've had opportunity now to admire once more the Magnolias - Stars Of The Spring Gardenas we have enjoyed quite a few beautiful sunny spring days over the last month and what a breath of fresh air these days are.There’s something special about the sunshine and good weather at this time of the year, the first fine days of the year, so fresh and new. They’re like days sent from above to recharge the soul. Grab these days, even hours of pure spring sunshine with both hands and get into the great outdoors.
The plants that flower at this time of the year seem nearly electric because of the spring sunshine. The yellow of the Forsythias lighting up hedgerows and gardens all over the country seem nearly too bright to look at in the direct sunlight.
Camellias and Rhododendrons showing off in all their grandeur.
But the sharpest and purest of all has to be that genus with its many different flower shapes and shades, the Magnolias.
I’m not sure if they are in flower earlier than normal or flowering more profusely than ever this year or not but I have been stopped in my tracks several times this spring looking up at the pure white blooms with the clear blue skies above. The tulip shaped blooms of the Magnolia soulangeana types are, for me the classic Magnolias - Stars Of The Spring Garden, having grown up with a stunning specimen in my parents garden.
The large blooms of this species have are white in bud opening up from their furry casing which has protected them throughout the winter into flowers with a pink throat and large white petals. They need a certain amount of shelter from the wind and do bear in mind that these Magnolias will grow to about 4-6metres (12-18feet) in height with a spread of up to 5 metres (15 feet).
Like many of the stars of the spring garden these are ericaceous plants and thus like an acid soil, that is with a pH of 7 or less. Another similarity to the other spring greats is their objection to be woken up to early by the bright sun first thing in the morning. In other words don’t plant them in a position facing due south or east. Instead plant them somewhere where they can be bathed in the evening sunlight or dappled shade. Against a west facing wall is ideal providing them with the required shelter and sun at the right time of the day.
Classical scholars will quickly figure out why Magnolia stellata is commonly referred to as the Star Magnolia, stella being the Latin for star. But for everyone else the reason is equally clear when you see the star shaped flowers emerging from their furry cocoons at the moment.
This species is far more suited to every garden growing to only about 2metres (6 feet) and being somewhat lime tolerant. It is hard to imagine, when you see the bunch of twigs that is this plant during the winter that it will morph nearly overnight into such a breathtaking and dramatic sight, the pure white flowers opening, as they do on naked branches before the rising temperatures breath life into the stems and emerging leaves. This is a display that will be produced year after year getting better annually as the plant matures and it is what reminds me of the sheer value and pure joy that is to be found in the garden.
Like many of the finest moments in the garden the period of time that the Magnolias stay in flower is so short and the magnificent display is over far too quickly. I don’t want to insult the plant by mentioning that when the flowers are gone the Magnolia stellata is not a spectacular plant in leaf. It’s by no means unattractive but covered in mid green leaves it doesn’t bring much to the garden, its not going to win any horticultural beauty pageants after flowering.
However it is quite simply a ‘must have’ plant simply for that few weeks when it is doing its thing. Think about planting in front of it with some lower growing evergreen shrubs and Herbaceous plants.
An evergreen such as a Japanese Azalea will extend the flowering period into early summer and provide some foliage during the winter months and some mixed perennials will mean that the area will be of interest and in colour right up to autumn, with your eye being attracted to what’s happening in front of the Magnolia after it has finished flowering.
Small, well thought out planting combinations like this will make your garden more interesting and help to ensure that you get the best and longest period of interest from your outdoor space.