Top Five Recommended Magnolias

Does your magnolia look like this:

Magnolia blossoms ruined by hard frost

Rather than this:

Magnolia soulangiana ‘Alexandrina’

Today begins a series on my top five magnolias, based on many years of observing and writing about this most highly appreciated species. Magnolias are one of the loveliest of springtime flowers, with silky buds developing into waxy fragrant goblets, and with their stunning display juxtaposed against bare branches, few trees are more breathtakingly beautiful than a mature magnolia in full glorious bloom. If you have a favorite magnolia, please write and let me know why!

Foremost in recommending magnolias are that the flowers have a beautiful shape, which will hold up well even in inclement weather, that they are intensely fragrant, and no less importantly, that they come into flower a bit later in the spring, or early summer. I had formerly recommended the Star Magnolia (see Joey’s photos Blooming Baby) however, Star Magnolias (Magnolia stellata) bloom the earliest of all the magnolias and they are the most susceptable to damage from a hard frost. Their bloom time is fleeting, at best, and the flowers are often quickly ruined.

Today’s recommendation is for the Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana x ‘Alexandrina’). The saucer magnolia is the magnolia of Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue fame.  A simply stunning and  mature pair can be seen in Gloucester flanking the front entryway to the Classic Revival brick house on the way to Eastern Point (opposite Niles Beach). The outer petals of ‘Alexandrina’s’ flowers are a richly colored deep pink, shaded white and pale pink inside, with a lovely fragrance. This variety has an upright habit, which makes it ideal for standard tree forms. Plant in full sun, to very, very, light shade.

Tip –if you hold fragrance in as high regard as do I, go to the nursery when the species of tree that you are shopping for is in full bloom. Oftentimes a tree may identified as a particularly fragrant variety, but then again it may not be accurately identified. Through no fault of the nursery– perhaps tags were switched, or perhaps their distributor has not accurately labeled the plant; whatever the case, take your nose from tree to tree.

No group of trees and shrubs is more favorably known or more highly appreciated in gardens than magnolias, and no group produces larger or more abundant blossoms.”  ~  Ernest “Chinese” Wilson, botanist and plant explorer

Global climate change is creating extremes in weather worldwide. The horticultural problems created by a spring cycle of freezing-thawing-freezing temperatures are only going to increase. The gardener’s best defense is to plant species that can withstand these new horticultural parameters.

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