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Starry-eyed over Magnolia stellata

March 31, 2011

We have two varieties of magnolia in the walled garden here. One is Magnolia stellata, the other is Magnolia something-elsa. (Lord, I am not worthy to be the custodian of this garden.) The one that isn’t stellata is a huge old climber that grows up the castle wall; it has to be pruned regularly or it would happily have grown over the roof by now. It’s absolutely beautiful and is already in bud, hurrayhurray, so I will no doubt be showing some photos of it before long.

The Magnolia stellata or star magnolia, on the other hand, is flowering now. After the scarlet Rhododendron barbatum, it’s the first really spectacular flowering of the year.

These great waxy blooms seem so exotic, so seductive, so unlikely, in a cool grey Scottish spring.

Even their fragrance seems out of place, with a velvety orientalism that reminds me of the frangipani blossoms which used to drop onto our lawn when I was a girl in Singapore.

To my mind, the more typical flowers of a British spring – the daffodils, violets, primulas and little blue scilla – are the essential markers of the season. In bleak February it is these I most look forward to, not the more voluptuous charms of the magnolia. Nonetheless, the flowering of the magnolias is a special event in the garden calendar, and the sight of these extraordinary blooms is always a thrill. Do they grow in your part of the world?


For more garden ignorance, see My Hysteria grandiflora is coming along nicely.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2011 10:46 pm

    Oooh thank you for that exotic reminder! There may be one or two secreted in sheltered spots in Orkney but I don’t remember seeing any! But I well remember those in my neighbourhood “south”. I can’t believe you have some in deepest Scotland. You are indeed fortunate 🙂

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 31, 2011 11:13 pm

      We certainly are. I believe they are meant to be quite hardy, and there are certainly a fair number of gardens in these parts that have one. But the BBC’s gardening page lists them as requiring ‘expert’ skill to grow, so it’s just as well the magnolia was established before I got here… 😉

  2. April 1, 2011 8:07 am

    Such beautiful, exotic blooms, Dancing Beastie. They’ve quite made my morning 🙂 There are magnolias in some sheltered gardens in Wales, but not up on our exposed hillside. Our equivalents are our two huge rhodedendron bushes which explode into ethereal pale-pink blossom for just a week every May.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      April 1, 2011 12:02 pm

      Oh, good, am happy to share! It seems so unlikely that the huge, extrovert blooms of magnolia and rhododendron should flourish in the thin acidic soil of gardens in the mountains of Scotland and Wales. (Did nobody tell them that this is a Calvinist country?!) Recently, though, I saw some stunning photos of the ‘rhododendron belt’ in the Himalayas (taken by a climber on his way back down from the peaks). They made me realise that our climate probably seems very balmy to these shrubs.

      Your pale pink ones sound heavenly – photos in May, please!

  3. Jean S permalink
    April 1, 2011 6:06 pm

    I am struck again by the Oregon/Scotland connection (though our magnolias haven’t started yet). Do you have Daphne odorata? that’s blooming now, along with daffodils, grape hyacinths, hellebores, and the trilliums.

    Also, I grew up in Miami, so I know about frangipane trees! A wonderful memory.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      April 2, 2011 3:51 pm

      All of these (except for frangipani, obviously!) can be grown in Scotland I think. (Scottish readers, please correct me if necessary.) We don’t have trilliums in our garden and I don’t think we have daphne, though I must go and have another look. We have darling little grape hyacinths and several hellebores, though, safe in the walled garden away from the ubiquitous rabbits and deer. The daffodils are all over the policies, in any number of varieties: it’s the only time of year when the dominant green is balanced by a blaze of another colour.

  4. April 2, 2011 12:20 pm

    By coincidence I was intending to post a photo of my magnolia stellata on my Slow Growing in Scotland blog this weekend. A much smaller garden! But the magnolia is lovely. I’ll probably get round to that tomorrow and we can compare our magnolias.

    We have friends who met while working in Nepal, and whose Christmas card is usually one of their own photos of the Himalayas, often with rhododendrons somewhere in the shot. Kind of outclasses all the other Christmas cards! Fittingly they now live in a house with loads of rhododendrons in the garden:

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      April 2, 2011 3:56 pm

      Thanks for this link, Linda: it was really interesting, and I have bookmarked it. I can see many similarities with our own estate, though their rhododendrons are truly stupendous. Scottish gardens (of all sizes) tend to look their best in May/June, I think, with rhodies, azaleas, laburnum and the occasional wisteria. A wonderful blaze of colour.

  5. April 4, 2011 1:20 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful. Magnolias of all types seem to be lining the streets of North London at the moment and I can’t get enough of them.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      April 4, 2011 2:58 pm

      Oh, how lovely. Town gardens are a pleasure at this time of year.


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