Magnolias in flower – where to see them and other seeds to sow

First published by Rattan Direct on 24 April 2016.

Magnificent magnolias in flower

Magnolias have been looking magnificent this year. The magnolias in flower in the spring are deciduous (they lose their leaves in autumn/winter) and usually flower before the leaves unfurl. If you only know this plant through the colour of a tin of paint, go and visit a big garden, if you can, to see what they look like.

Magnolia blossom Stephen McKay
Magnolia blossom, Warwickshire (Stephen McKay) / CC BY-SA 2.0

The wonderful Cornish gardens such as Trelissick and Caerhays, which holds a national collection of magnolias, are among the first to see the fantastic flowers.

As ever, flowering is later the further north you go. You can see more than 500 magnolias thriving in sheltered shrub borders and The Dell at the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden in North Wales. Magnolias in flower are also to be seen at lovely Rowallane in Northern Ireland, Sheffield Botanical Gardens and at Wentworth Castle outside Barnsley,  which holds the national collection of special magnolias.

More about magnolias

Although some magnolias are deciduous and flower in the spring, some are evergreen. A great example of this is Magnolia grandiflora which has flushes of flowers from summer to early autumn. Warm summers may lead to striking knobbly seedpods with bright red seeds in autumn. It is often grown against the walls of large houses and can be huge.

But magnolias range in size. Some reach up to 20m /63ft height and the same across, like the vast Magnolia campbellii on the Croquet Terrace at Bodnant, whose flamboyant pink and white flowers are looking good now.

Smaller ones are just 2.5m /8ft in height and spread, or even less. So they suit smaller gardens. Some varieties will happily grow in containers. Magnolia Susan is quite upright and has lots of deep pink-purple flowers in April-June. Magnolia Sunrise is neat too (only 1.8m /6ft) with creamy goblet-shaped flowers with a distinctive red streak in spring.

What magnolias like and don’t like

Magnolias like slightly acid or neutral soil, but some thrive on alkaline soil, such as Magnolia stellata ‘Water Lily’.

They all like a protected position, as the wind can be very damaging and they are shallow-rooting plants.

They don’t like frost pockets or areas that get water-logged. But nor do they like drying out (especially important to take care in containers), so an annual mulch is good to prevent water loss.

They don’t mind a bit of neglect: their nutritional requirements are low and they grow well with minimal pruning. Unless they are completely neglected they rarely suffer from pests or diseases.

So will a magnolia suit your garden? Perhaps. Probably.

You could do your research and think about it now, then plant in the winter. The best time to plant is December to January. Give it a go?

Summer is coming: sow seeds indoors

Salads and vegetables can all be sown now. Time to get salad leaves or mustard and cress going indoors. Perhaps you’d like some cottage garden favourites? Hollyhocks (hardy annuals that can last for years), forget-me-nots (biennials) and sunflowers (annuals) are all possibilities.

Hollyhocks outside St John the Evangelist Church, Little Leighs, Essex Colin Park hardy annuals
Hollyhocks outside St John the Evangelist Church, Little Leighs, Essex (Colin Park) / CC BY-SA 2.0

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