Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Precocious Magnolias of Powell Gardens

Powell Gardens has one of the most extensive public garden collections of magnolias outside the East and West Coasts. The magnolias that bloom before the leaves emerge are known as "precocious" magnolias. All have native origins in Eastern Asia where the Yulan (Magnolia denudata) is widely attributed as being the first plant ever cultivated by humankind for its beauty rather than its food value. We have planted a Yulan just before you enter our new Heartland Harvest Garden just for that contrast! Native American magnolias bloom later in spring and into early summer -- an adaptation to North America's wild mood swings of spring weather. The American Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) the only magnolia with yellow in its flowers has been hybridized with the Asian precocious magnolias to create some of the new precocious yellow-flowering cultivars. This was first done by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

Magnolia 'Gold Cup' is a hybrid between the Yulan and American Cucumbertree Magnolia. It's huge goblet flowers have a yellowish base but I would have named this plant 'Ivory Cup'! This plant is currently in bloom at the Visitor Center Trolley Stop.

Magnolia 'Butterflies' is probably the most yellow of the precocious hybrid magnolias. It is becoming more widely available in the nursery trade and always a stunning bloomer at Powell Gardens -- it has never failed to bloom! Its only drawback is that a small tree takes about six years to be covered in flowers. (The backdrop magnolia is Magnolia 'Royal Crown.')

The open flowers of Butterflies Magnolia are like yellow waterlilies. Our largest plant is at the Visitor Center Trolley Stop.

Magnolia 'Royal Crown' has huge 10-inch blooms. It usually begins to bloom in late February and is subsequently ruined by frosts and freezes. This year it held off to bloom spectacularly BUT we grow it for its secondary bloom in June. The June bloom is awesome with huge pink, better formed flowers set against the green foliage. This tree grows next to Butterflies at the trolley stop.

Magnolia 'March 'til Frost' has dark goblet shaped flowers and blooms fully in March (April this year!) and sporadically all through the season until fall's frost. This tree is also at the Visitor Center Trolley Stop.

The common Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) has several exquisite cultivars that are hard to find and usually just available mailorder from specialty nurseries. This is the fabulous cultivar 'Lennei Alba' with its exquisitely formed, pristine flowers.

Rustica Rubra Saucer Magnolia is another fabulous cultivar with deeper, better formed flowers with good repeat bloom through the season. We planted it around the front of the Kauffman Garden's orangerie. Colonial Nursery has nice balled and burlaped plants of this beauty this year.

The "Little Girl" magnolias are becoming immensely popular and combine the purple color of the Chinese Lily Magnolia (Magnolia liliiflora) with the frost hardy, Japanese Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata). The combination is sterile but it has flower power with frost tolerant, later bloom and good repeat bloom in the summer. Jane Magnolia is depicted and is the most like the saucer magnolia. It is also the most widely available of the "Little Girls."

Ann Magnolia is a good bushy cultivar of the "Little Girls." It has orchid pink flowers in abundance and can be seen in the Visitor Center's Courtyard. This cultivar is widely available at local nurseries.

Pinkie Magnolia is my favorite of the "Little Girls" with the best formed, best color in my mind. You can see it next to 'Butterflies' magnolia on the Trolley Stop. It is very difficult to find and usually available only mailorder.

Randy Magnolia is another one of the "Little Girls" that is now difficult to find. I like it here in the Rock & Waterfall Garden where shady conditions favor it to have less, more widely spaced blooms that are so showy now. The Little Girls will grow in full sun to shade but have more blossoms in the sun.

The Northern Kobus Magnolia (Magnolia kobus 'Borealis') was a cloud of white flowers. This is probably the largest growing of the precocious magnolias and is found wild on Japan's north island of Hokkaido. It can easily grow to 50 feet tall! Wendy Powell just sent me some images from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden showing many of their mature magnolias in bloom. Powell Gardens has set the stage for spectacular displays of spring flowering magnolias for years to come! This is but a small taste of the 90 cultivars on display at Powell Gardens, though as a young garden our plants are still small.

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