Tag Archives: Plants

Magnolias – prehistory in suburbia

alexandrina-magnolia-600x600Cycling around York over the last week has been a complete pleasure.  The sunshine and steadily rising mercury have really lifted the spirits after what felt like a never ending winter.   I couldn’t help feeling that Spring this year looked a little grey and colourless with plants that should normally be flowering not showing themselves. Then something seemed to happen, the daffodils on the city walls exploded into life and put on one of the best displays I’ve seen in years. It wasn’t only the daffs, everything seemed to suddenly wake up. It was as if the alarm had just sounded and the whole of nature bolted up, blinked and said ‘is it that time already ?’

Among the fashionably late to the party this year have been magnolias. Their flowering is brief but dramatic, a classic harbinger of spring. It’s been lovely to see so many finally reveal themselves from winter anonymity not least in my clients’ gardens where the consensus seems to be that they’re around three weeks later than usual.

They’ve developed an undeserved reputation over the years as something of a suburban staple and (like lilac) possibly a bit dull even downright naff. Fashions in gardening come and go and what most people who dismiss them don’t realise is just how long and fascinating their history is.

They were named in honour of the 17th/18th century French botanist Pierre Magnol at a time when there was only one type of magnolia grown in Britain the Magnolia virginiana which as its names suggests came from North America via a botanically minded missionary called John Bannister.  It was later discovered that  the Chinese have been cultivating magnolia type plants since at least the 7th century principally for medicinal use. But the plant itself traces its roots back to the cretaceous period a longevity that explains its distinctive large flowers and robust carpels. At the time bees were yet to evolve instead the ancestors of the magnolia were pollinated by large clumsy beetles.

file-20170731-22126-8ddii2In fact the oldest fossil of a flowering plant ever found suggests the ancestor of most of the plants in our garden probably  resembled a magnolia some 140 million years ago.

Given that kind of history shouldn’t every garden find room for one ?

 

 

Lenten Rose

hellebore_pink_frost.jpgThis time of year flowers are a little thin on the ground in these northern climes. There’s snowdrops and winter aconites breaking through the earth, and buds are starting to form on the early spring flowers but the real stars of the show at this time of year are hellebores.

Popularly known as Christmas or Lenten roses (if anyone knows of a hellebore that flowers for Christmas please let me know !?) they’re part of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup or crowfoot) family and flower in shades of white and burgundy.  Their flowers hang down demurely and can sometimes be hidden by the large leaves that developed the previous year. The trick here is to carefully remove the leaves before the buds break.

If you visit your local garden centre you’ll see plenty for sale at this time of year.  I find them relatively expensive to buy fully grown as a result of other flowering options being so thin on the ground. The good news is they’re very easy to grow from seed and once you have one or two you will never be without new ones springing forth.

They take two to three years to flower when grown from seed but for less than the price of a coffee you can have a garden full of hellebores brightening your January and February days and flowering on until Spring.  Buy a packet, sprinkle them in semi-shade and watch hordes of them start to emerge from the soil. When they’re fully grown they can easily be relocated around your garden.

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The ones in my garden that have prospered have had virtually no intervention from me. I leave them to make their own way. It’s amazing how they find the right spot to be seen from the house.