Magnificent summer flowering magnolias
Words: Jim Gardiner, RHS Director of Horticulture
It was Ernest Wilson,the famous plant collector of the early 20th Century who described magnolias as 'woody aristocrats, possessed of many superlatives'.
They have many attributes including including flowering over 9 months of the year from February to October with many of the summer flowering types being sumptuously scented. They are also deciduous and evergreen displaying a variety of habits from medium shrubs to large trees.
So there is a summer flowering magnolia for gardens of all sizes.
The most well known is the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora, the bullbay, from the southeastern United States. It celebratred its 300th Anniversary of European introduction to Nantes, France in 2011 where you can find many fine specimens throughout its urban parks. There are more than 100 named clones of this species varying in hardiness, in habit from a large shrub to trees, the shape and size of its leaves which can be coated with a beautiful cinnamon brown indumentum on its underside as well as the size of its beautifully fragrant flowers up to 35cm (14”) wide.
'Exmouth' (left) and 'Goliath' are often found planted against walls of large country houses where they start blooming in May and June. The more compact growing 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', 'Kay Parris' and 'Little Gem' can all be grown as free standing specimens and vary in habit from pyramidal to upright large shrubs or small trees. All can be pruned in the spring to control their size.
The Oyama magnolias all have hanging or nodding pure white flowers that are beautifully scented during May and June. These deciduous medium to large sized shrubby species come from Japan, China and Korea and grow best in light shade in moisture retentive soils.
M. wilsonii (left), M. sinensis and M. sieboldii are those most regularly seen with the latter having been hybridised with another Japanese summer flowering species (M.obovata) to produce M. x wieseneri (top) regarded as one of the most scented having been described as ethereal, medicinal, spicy, aromatic and even with a scent of pineapples! Unlike the true Oyama's this large shrub has upward facing flowers in late May or early June.