Magnolia is one of the loveliest of the early flowering shrubs and looks exotic in any garden. The magnolias are a very diverse group of plants and encompass many shapes, forms and colours.
The most familiar of the Magnolia varieties is Magnolia soulangiana. This flowers before the leaves emerge and has a white tulip shaped flower with a rose stained base. These magnificent plants are really noticeable in gardens, and established specimens make a super display. The plant likes an acid soil with a large organic content. Yellowing leaves mean it needs a treatment with acid plant fertiliser. It will grow to a large shrub and needs space to spread its branches.
If your garden is smaller, then a lovely variety to pick is Magnolia stellata. This is a very compact plant with clear white star shaped flowers in March/April. It grows quite slowly which can be useful if space is at a premium.
One truly aristocratic variety is Magnolia grandiflora. This is an evergreen variety most often grown in the U.K. as a wall shrub. Some old castles and homes grow them on sheltered walls and they look great with huge white flowers up to 25cm across. The leaves are leathery and glossy on top with a reddish brown tinge underneath.
Late frosts can be a problem in some areas damaging the flowers before they fully emerge. Planting in a cooler place sheltered from the strongest sun helps delay flowering and keeps blooms in the best condition.
Current plant breeding techniques mean that new hybrids will undoubtedly appear and are worth looking out for.