The Garden has a number of magnolia species which provide a succession of flower from March through to the end of April, delivering up beautiful goblet- and star-shaped blooms. Finally released from their suede winter casings, the flowers dab the bare branches with vivid splashes of pale pink, deep crimson pink and white.
The first to brave the unpredictable March weather is the graceful lily tree, Magnolia denudate with its white goblet-shaped flowers perched upright along the branches. Its early flowers can be spoilt by frosts as unlike some plants like snowdrops, magnolias don’t have built-in anti-freeze proteins, only soft suede lobes which protect the satiny petals of the flowerbud which formed the previous summer. A few days of warmth will trigger the irreversible release mechanism causing the magnolia to bloom and open itself up to the perils of springtime weather. A dramatic cold snap will allow ice crystals to form within the petal cells which expand to destroy the cell walls, the damaged plant tissue turning brown and spoiling the flower.
Next to bloom is Magnolia loebneri 'Leonard Messel', a compact tree that becomes covered in tattered, white star flowers with the faintest pink blush.
Then the richer, deeper pinks join in: the large purple-pink flowers of Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva' have a rich vanilla scent while the deep burgundy pink, many-petalled huge flowers of the brazen cultivar ‘Vulcan’ are very showy, emerging from large brown, very furry felted sheaths.
Magnolias generally prefer an acidic soil, but the Garden is on free draining river gravels and chalk, so we have developed a reference collection that can tolerate these more alkaline conditions.