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Magnolias


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I grew up with magnolias and knew I wanted them in my garden. But what complicates my desire is that I lived both in the north, with a variety of deciduous magnolias, and in the South, with the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora. And of course, I had to have both. Fortunately, in recent years breeders have created new southern types, like M. Grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue’, which are perfectly hardy in my zone 6 gardens. I now have about a dozen specimens from both regions, most of them on the hillside, including Magnolia stellata, M. sieboldii, and M. virginiana var.

I call magnolias “tree hellebores,” in reference to the lovely chalice shape of their flowers that seem to me like oversized hellebore blossoms. The fragrance of some magnolias is wonderful, and the colors on some of the new hybrids are fun to design with. The yellow-flowered Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ looks striking with the emerging chartreuse foliage of surrounding trees, and I can also use that yellow in combination with ground-level plants, such as black-flowered hellebores or the chartreuse flowers of Helleborus foetidus.

Some people avoid magnolias because a late frost can freeze the buds, the result being that instead of a tree laden with glorious bloom, the branches end up burdened with brown. These off-years are infrequent, and the effects of global warming may make them even less frequent. And as with any plant, the on-years make growing magnolias worthwhile. I still remember the spring day when a dark storm sky provided a dramatic backdrop for one of my yellow magnolias in full bloom. If I had gotten a picture it could have been in a calendar or on the cover of this book. As it is, that moment is imprinted in my mind. I would rather have lived with it than lived without it, so I am glad I took the risk and planted this tree; timidity would never have reaped such a reward.


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