Magnolias, named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol, are an ancient genus and it is thought that pollination was by beetles as the trees appeared before bees. Fossilised remains from the family are 95 million years old. There are an amazing range to choose from. The beautiful, evergreen magnolia grandiflora is a large and stately tree which is generally far too big for London gardens but I have seen them shaped into cones or even stilted (but I feel they always look a bit tortured).
Here are a few smaller varieties which will be great for a smaller garden – plant them in a sheltered spot, preferably in full sun and they will reward you with a burst of pretty blooms in spring. They are all deciduous and loose their leaves in the winter.
Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’
I absolutely love the star magnolia family which look like the milky way or perhaps a firework when in bloom. This one is a compact, mutistemmed variety, easy to grow, with fragrant pale pink buds which open to pure white flowers. appearing on bare stems – a real winner in my book.
Magnolia x loebneri ‘Encore’
Another really lovely shrub, slow growing and very floriferous it will become a small tree of exceptional beauty in time. it bears its scented blooms on bare branches over quite a long period and is very hardy.
Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Lilliputian’
As its name suggests this is a slow growing, tightly massed variety with large goblet shaped flowers in pale pink with darker streaks at the base. The interior of the bloom is white which gives a pretty, two-tone effect and it has an unusual citrus fragrance.
Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’
And how about this for something different – a magnolia which looks like a tulip? This elegant, deciduous shrub or small tree has large,perfumed, tulip-shaped flowers which are like great goblets of burgundy wine. It flowers over a long time too and if it is given enough moisture will even flower again in summer.
Magnolia ‘Yellow Bird’
If you have room in your garden for a star turn you may like to consider this, the best of the new yellow varieties. It is an upright, almost conical deciduous shrub or tree of breathtaking beauty when in full bloom and has pretty autumn colour too.
You may not have the space for this glorious full-sized beauty but there is a magnolia of just the right size waiting to be planted in your garden this year. If you need some planting advice – here’s Monty Don: http://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/how-to-plant-a-magnolia-video/