Sunday, August 23, 2009

Michelias


It is still late winter for vegetable gardeners. Most of the summer cropping plants are only just being sown – tomatoes and the like – and many vegetable gardeners will only start to think seriously about their garden in two months time, at Labour weekend.
For us flower gardeners though, spring has well and truly arrived. The daffodils are in flower or heavily in bud, and even the tulips are showing buds. The plum blossom is at its height, and golden forsythias are flowering everywhere.
In my garden my sweetheart is putting on a great show in her bed – and I do not mean the Head Gardener. I mean my Magnolia ‘Sweetheart’. This is one of the best of the hardy Magnolias, bred by the Jury family up at Tikorangi, north of New Plymouth. A few years ago Mark Jury showed me the original seedling tree of ‘Sweetheart’, now a large specimen in the standing out area of the nursery. It is certainly a spectacular sight with big beautiful bowl-shaped flowers held erect on the branches. The flowers are rich pink on the outside and pale pink on the inside. The tree is absolutely stunning, and a feature of our backyard at the moment.
Just as spectacular is a beautifully scented tree just around the corner from us. A friend who writes a very interesting blog about her children and her craft activities wrote about the tree, as she and her children had stopped to admire it on a walk. She called it a Magnolia, and I gently corrected her, telling her that it was in fact a Michelia, one of a large family of plants very closely related to Magnolias.
Imagine my horror when I went to look up for some information on a new plant I am considering planting in my garden, and finding that the botanists have changed their minds, and have now included Michelias among the Magnolias.
It is a good idea for gardeners too, as the differences between them seem minor And inconsequential for those who want to grow them. The most commonly commented on Michelia is the large shrub/ small tree Michelia doltsopa. This is a late winter/early spring flowering treasure, with large strappy white flowers (perhaps like a Magnolia stellata but bigger) with the most interesting lemony scent, which will waft across the garden on a warm day. The tree is slightly reminiscent of Magnolia grandiflora, and the fragrance is similar.
There are a number of forms of this plant, some of which are grown from seed and as such are uncertain as to flower type and quickness to flower. I think the best bet is to obtain cutting grown plants of the variety called ‘Silver Cloud.’ This is very floriferous from an early age, the shimmering flowers popping out of furry cinnamon buds.
This tree will eventually get up to ten metres in the right conditions, so make sure you leave it a bit of room, but it is a rapacious grower.

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