by James Alexander-Sinclair

A week or so ago I was in Cornwall, yesterday in London and therefore in a perfect position to watch the march of the magnolia.

Magnolia tree in bloom against a blue skyA week or so ago I was in Cornwall, yesterday in London and therefore in a perfect position to watch the march of the magnolia. These fabulous trees are either fading, flowering or getting ready to put on a show depending on where you live in the country. Those of you up north may have to wait until May: still, at least there will be something gorgeous to distract from the election.

The most common magnolias are probably either Magnolia stellata or M. soulangeanaM. stellata is a small variety perfectly suited to the smaller garden. It has pure white star-shaped (hence the name 'stellata' as in 'constellation') flowers. It grows very slowly and will reach only about 1.5m after 10 years: given perfect conditions it will eventually top out at about three metres.

M. soulangeana is much bigger - you can see it dominating many front gardens in streets all over the country. It has bigger cup shaped flowers which carry a striking pink tinge to their petals. They reach up to eight metres in height and will tolerate pretty heavy clay soils. There is one en route to the primary school in a local village. When our children were small it was a wonderful sight that livened up a mundane school run - and distracted from the various squabbles going on in the back seat. The main drawback is that a late frost will wipe out all the flowers for that season.

Don't plant magnolias in the direct line of the morning sun as they will get burnt by too much direct sunlight before the dew has had time to evaporate. They need to wake up slowly - like teenagers.

Magnolias have existed in North America, Asia and Europe for the last 100 million years so they have had lots of time to develop many other varieties - both simple and unusual.

My top three would be:

M. delavayi - striking grey leaves and slightly curved lemony white flowers. Only for the very warmest and most sheltered gardens. Does well on limey soils.

M. grandiflora - a later flowering variety with magnificent glossy green leaves and creamy flowers. Excellent on a large shady wall. Interestingly this picture, though not taken by me, is of the same specimen, in Bath, that I first fell for many years ago.

M. campbellii 'Darjeeling' - gorgeous sugar pink flowers. Tree eventually reaches 30m.

The best collection in the country is at Caerhays Castle in Cornwall - the place to go if you want your socks knocked off by the splendour of the magnolia (and camellias and many other things).

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Magnolias
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 27/04/2010 at 18:30

I completed a public engagement project last summer on a theme of maps , one aspect was to create a living map with Hulme Community Garden centre in inner city Manchester it is doing very well and growing nicely, would you like to see an image of it

Gardeners' World Web User 27/04/2010 at 19:49

Sorry this has nothing to do with the above new to gardening and i planted loads of flowers last week i watered them with a watered down plant food and now most the plants are dead. Is this because i put it on the flowers itself and will they grow back at all gutted cause i spent alot of money..It didnt affect my strawberries though thank god lol.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/04/2010 at 15:53

thanks hereisabee

Gardeners' World Web User 29/04/2010 at 17:48

I too love magnolias. We visited our son in Taiwan recently and went to a temple surrounded by them. On our return I received a voucher from Gardener's World following the publication of one of my letters - what did I do I treated myself to one. It stands in our little back yard a vision of glory to brighten any dark day and lift any spirits, I just hope it lasts for many years to come. Jennifer Town

Gardeners' World Web User 30/04/2010 at 08:35

I have a Magnolia Sieboldii which, although it has the dubious honour of being the national flower of North Korea, is absolutely stunning in flower, with small, symetrical white blooms. I have yet to see one anywhere else in GB but I've only been looking for 3 seasons - since I planted mine.

See more comments...