I am sure you agree one of the most anticipated plants is the magnolia tree. Its huge, felted buds burst open in late April and early May. In this strange winter weather my magnolia stelatta is showing signs of white buds in early February!
Some magnolias grow to impressive proportions, the largest can reach 20 metres tall, but there are some wonderful smaller varieties, e.g. magnolia stelatta (3m), magnolia liliflora nigra (3m), magnolia soulangea known as the tulip magnolia (6m). There are lots more to find and read about.
The first magnolia to be grown in the UK came from America in the 17th century. The British missionary and botanist, John Bannister, was sent to Virginia by a plant loving bishop, Henry Compton. Compton was delighted when Bannister in 1688 returned with a magnolia virginiana that was planted in the bishop's garden at London's Fulham Palace.
Some of the intrepid plant hunters who brought these beautiful plants to the UK include Joseph Banks with Captain Cook in 1780, George Forrest and Ernest Henry Wilson in the 19th century.
Despite their exotic looks and origins, they are easy to grow. Their only weakness is their susceptibility to a late, sharp frost damaging the beautiful blooms. Avoid planting in east facing sites that get early morning sun and in frost pockets. The soil should be well drained but moisture retentive. It is best to buy a small young plant as it will establish quicker and more easily. They are easy to maintain. Mulch with leaf mould or manure in spring.
Pruning is not necessary, but if you have to, do prune in mid-summer so that the wounds will not bleed. Trying to keep it small by pruning is not possible. The more you prune the more it will grow. Buy a variety that will suit the space. The best time to buy is when they are in flower. Choose the variety, size and place in garden with care and it will reward you with beautiful blooms for years to come.