When asked to choose a favourite tree in each season, I find it hard, however when the deciduous Magnolias start to bloom in late winter and early spring, I would be readily swayed to say that they are my ‘pick of the bunch’ when it comes to early spring bling. A visit to Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens this week fuelled my passion for them as they are just starting to bloom, and while the hail and stormy weather may have damaged some open blooms, the trees were covered with buds so there will still be lots more to see over the weeks ahead. Heralding the start of spring, deciduous Magnolias produce a breathtaking mass of flowers born on bare stems, prior to the foliage appearing. There are many different species and cultivars ranging from twiggy shrubs to elegant trees. Many forms have a soft sweet scent, often described as sweet and peppery and are pollinated by beetles which are attracted to this scent, as these trees are so ancient they evolved long before bees.
Surprisingly, considering the delicate appearance of their flowers, many deciduous Magnolias are quite hardy, and old specimens can be seen growing happily all through the Adelaide Plains right down to Glenelg, and through the Hills. They like a sunny position with rich fertile soil that is moisture retentive and good mulching is essential. Protection from our hot north winds is also beneficial. Their fleshy root system also benefits from regular deep watering when getting established. Finally they are gross feeders and perform best when given lots of organic manure-based fertiliser.
Here are some of my favourites:
Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata & cultivars). These twiggy shrubs smother themselves in shaggy daisy-like flowers on bare branches in mid to late winter. Their flowers are pure white or several shades of pink. 3m
Yulan Magnolia (Magnolia denudata) produces creamy white goblets on bare branches and is one of the first to flower. 5m
Magnolia x soulangeana & cultivars These are probably the most widely grown group of Magnolias, with classical, goblet shaped blooms appearing on bare branches at the end of winter. They come in a wide selection of colours, from pure white through various shades of pink, to purple. All varieties form large multi-stemmed shrubs or broad spreading trees 3-5m high.
Magnolia liliflora nigra is another lovely variety which bears beautiful dark purple flowers that have a slender champagne flute shaped blooms on a multi-stemmed shrub to 4m high. It flowers in early spring on bare stems, and then sporadically bears flowers with its leaves through summer till autumn.
There are some stunning newer magnolia cultivars bred in New Zealand that are attracting a lot of attention including Vulcan with deep magenta flowers and Black Tulip with stunning black purple goblet shaped flowers.
‘Curator Tour – Behind the Blooms’
If you love Magnolias and are also interested in growing Camellias and Rhododendrons why not join the Curator Tour at Mount Lofty Botanic Garden, led by the garden’s Horticultural Supervisor Rob Hatcher and learn about growing conditions and evergreen and deciduous varieties. ‘Curator Tour – Behind the Blooms’ takes place on Thursday 6 September from 9:30am to 12pm and bookings are essential – call 8222 9311 to book or book online via Eventbrite for the cost of $65 (+ booking fee if purchased online).