Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Friday, February 25, 2005


What a great pleasure it was to wander around the coast the other day and see the Sculpture on the Gulf, not that many of the sculptures would have worked in our small garden! The large scale of the setting was a perfect foil for the size and stature of these pieces, the sun setting over the city in the distance, the heat of the day gone, a very pleasant exercise altogether.

On our return to the car, we passed some magnolias, Magnolia grandiflora, the beautiful evergreen magnolia of the southern United States. These trees not only have a handsome form, growing to height of up to 25 metres, sport large dark green glossy leaves, russet on the under side and large dinner plate sized blooms. The flowers are creamy coloured and look almost like they have been sculptured out of fine butter, but there the similarity ends, for they possess a rich musky citrus scent that pervades the air. In the UK and Europe these fine trees are often found trained against the wall of a house, where their blooms may be enjoyed from adjacent windows. In this climate they will freely grow in the open where given room they will spread themselves wide. The flowers are not always at sniffing level unfortunately, often opening in the heights of the tree, fortunately while taking a stroll in Albert Park the other day I had the pleasure of sinking my nose into the cool depths of a voluptuously open flower held at just the right level. It is almost impossible to believe such a beautiful flower should have such an exquisite scent, to good to be true. For those who have not the space for such an expansive tree, there are now smaller varieties available, one being M. grandiflora ‘Littlest gem’ growing to only a fraction the size of the original, or you can as I have mentioned prune it to kept in proportion.

Magnolia grandiflora is just one of 80 species of magnolia spread in habitat from East Asia, the Himalayas, to central and North America. The species arising out of the Himalayas are often deciduous bearing their flowers on the naked branches at the end of winter, the most common of these would have to be M. campbellii, with red to pink flushed blooms of a similar waxy consistency of M.grandiflora. This variety may not flower before 25 years of growth, but well worth the wait. Another commonly grown form is M. stellata with smaller white flowers borne on bare branches in late winter. The petals are rather narrow but plentiful and give rise to the name stellata with the impression of a galaxy of stars.

The genus was named for the French botanist Pierre Magnol, director of the Montpellier botanic gardens during the eighteenth century. Of the same family Magnoliaceae, are the port wine magnolia, Michelia figo and the Wong-lan, Michelia doltsopa, but more of these next time. Also coming up, something of the clustered wax flower, Stephanotis floribunda, a small vine about to flower in a pot on my deck, so until then goodbye.


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