The early magnolias

While damage to flowers of early flowering magnolias seems inevitable, there have been times in recent years when all made it through unscathed by March freezes. Surprisingly, the early flowering ‘Merrill’ (below) and ‘Royal Star’ are barely early after this mild late winter. I recall years when both showed their first color in late February. This year, the first fully opened flower was March 7, so not fully in step with much of the rest of the garden that is a few weeks early in flower and leaf.

‘Merrill’ flowers several days earlier than ‘Royal Star’. Both are along the edge of the forest, shaded until afternoon. ‘Merrill’ has grown thirty feet or taller despite once losing its top in an ice storm.

This garden is colder than the surrounding neighborhood, situated low between hills, and just up the road on higher ground a Magnolia soulangeana started with its purple flowers the last couple days of February. In the past week, freezes have been no colder than the upper twenties, so no damage, but after so many mild days our luck must be running thin.

‘Royal Star’ is the second magnolia to flower. It is a tall, wide spreading shrub, only twelve or fifteen feet tall and nearly as wide after a few decades. Occasionally, I dig low hanging branches that have rooted to give away.

I’ve recently planted a pink flowered ‘Daybreak’ magnolia, and I got to thinking, why? With another redbud also added, I wonder why I must add to extensive collections of both. While magnolias flower over a period of at least a month, all the redbuds must flower at the same time, give or take a few days to account for varying sun exposures.

‘Jane’ seems to rarely suffer cold damage, typically flowering at the end of March though it’s on track to flower a few weeks earlier this spring. It is a medium height grower, but it grows almost as wide as it is tall.

The why is that I’m hopeless. I don’t apologize for collecting, though I do hope visitors can walk the garden and not realize the quantities of Japanese maples, dogwoods, redbuds, and magnolias (and others). All are integrated somewhat into a design, so the trees stand out only when you’re in front of one, at least that’s what I think.

The pale, yellow flowered ‘Elizabeth’ is one of the taller magnolias, flowering just after ‘Jane’. A year ago, the first flowers of the newly planted ‘Yellow Bird’ were destroyed just as the began to open, so I’ll catch photos for the first time in another few weeks along with the newly planted ‘Daybreak’.

Certainly, I’m not alone, but better throwing money into the garden than other things, I guess. There must be other gardeners with barely controlled urges to plant, and plant some more. My wife first told me there was no more room for planting about a decade ago, but here I go again.

As a matter of interest, I’ll show the gardens’ magnolias in sequence of flowering (top of page to bottom) that is quite predictable, though the precise week is not. Start to finish, there are a few days skipped at the start of March and perhaps the latest might slip a bit into April. Of course, later there will be sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana), the bigleaf magnolia (M. macrophylla), and several evergreen, Southern magnolias (M. grandiflora).

The native sweetbay mangnolia is partially evergreen, but it flowers more sparsely than other magnolias.
Flowers of the Bigleaf magnolia are several times larger than any other magnolia. Its leaves often measure to thirty inches or longer. Unfortunately, over the years the bigleaf has lost its lower branches so flowers can be seen only at a distance.
‘Brackens Brown Beauty’ is the cold hardiest of the three Southern magnolias in the garden though all easily survive the mild cold of recent decades.

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