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Landscaping With Magnolias

These days a great many people have small, or very small, gardens. The best magnolia for small gardens is the species Magnolia stellata, as it is small-growing with delicate star-shaped flowers in either white or pink. Normally this magnolia is not a tree, but rather a very bushy shrub. This limits our options, but with judicious pruning it can be turned into a small tree by removing the lower branches so that underplanting, particularly of bulbs, can take place. For a white magnolia 'Waterlily' is the best choice, as the beautifully scented flowers have more petals than the species stellata.

If your garden is very tiny, perhaps you might have to settle for just one of the magnolias mentioned above, but it will reward you by flowering for a long time and from a very young age. For a small garden that is not absolutely tiny, the Magnolia x loebneri cultivars are absolutely splendid.  Something a little different and very suitable for small gardens is the delightful species Magnolia sieboldii. This treasure has nodding, pendulous, white flowers with bright red bosses of stamens. The fragrant flowers are produced over many weeks and then intermittently for another month or so.

If you live in the country and have some land, or even a whole farm, you have a wonderfully large canvas with which to work. Groups of one variety look especially splendid, because you get a greater visual impact with the larger mass. You have to wait up to five to seven years for these beauties to flower, so it is an excellent idea to choose some magnolias that will flower almost as soon as you purchase them.

In the shade

Magnolias are absolutely ideal to provide shade. Deciduous trees are what you need, as once the leaves fall, the winter sun can sweeten the soil. The woodland garden should be a quiet haven without much wind, with trees making dappled shade and all sorts of treasures growing in their beneficial shelter. The magnolia fits into that environment making the early spring a glory, flowering before other deciduous trees, like maples, have come into lovely leaf, then returning into a leafy background until, with the turn of the seasons, the furry buds provide winter interest. Some magnolias, for example Magnolia loebneri 'Leonard Messel' have good fall color, too, but most unfortunately do not.

Companion planting

Underplanting
As magnolias do not like to have their roots disturbed, many of which are close to the surface, use of bulbs to underplant trees growing in the lawn or field, especially bulbs that are happy to naturalize. Daffodils and bluebells are splendid for spring display, making a delightful composite picture with the magnolias flowering above.
In the woodland garden, which is of course cultivated, you have a wide range of choice bulbs and plants. To herald spring you could have firstly the trillium, or the wood lily, sometimes known as the wake-robin. These native North American woodland plants, with their leaves and flowers all in threes, as the name "trillium" suggests, are elegant and beautiful, and require both damp and shade. It cannot be emphasized enough that it is necessary to rake off fallen magnolia leaves, as they do not break down quickly and could smother small, delicate bulbs. Daffodils and bluebells planted in fields under magnolias, however, are quite strong enough to look after themselves.
While the trilliums are still flowering, for their season is very long, another woodland treasure comes along, the frittillarias, with nodding bells of modest mien and subtle charm, often checkered and with some unusual colorings.
The delightful erythronium, so unattractively called the dog's-tooth violet, fits in beautifully with the other bulbs. These little treasures are also native to North America and come in shades of pink, yellow and white. They are easy to grow.
Cyclamen are also quite happy to grow under trees. They are dainty and most beautiful and, what's more, they can flower over many months. Cyclamen hederifolium flowers in the fall and C. coum in the late winter into spring. They may be planted close to the magnolia trunk, where the soil tends to be drier, because they don't mind being dry. When cyclamen are not in flower, you have their truly beautiful, often marbled leaves to study.
Flowering shrubs
It is said that all magnolias like company. However, as magnolias grow among other trees in the wild, this is no doubt true. The role of shrubs would be very adequately filled using kalmias, rhododendrons and camellias, and mollis (deciduous) azaleas. They all enjoy the same soil and growing conditions.
  • Kalmia - Kalmias reach a height of 6 ft  (1.8 m). They are beautiful flowering shrubs native to North America, whose flowers can be pink, red, white or bicolor. Flowering in the early summer, they do not flower at the same time as most magnolias (which flower in the spring), and so do not compete with magnolias for attention. The plant has a graceful shape and the buds, and then the cupped flowers, provide a wonderful display.
  • Rhododendron - Rhododendrons, with their wide range of colors and flowering times, make excellent companion plants for magnolias.
  • Camellia - Camellias are beautiful in leaf, stunning in flower and there is a very wide choice of varieties. Camellias start flowering in the winter and continue into spring. They are splendid complementary plants with colors that blend very well with those of magnolias. It is good, too, that they are generally trouble free and do not need a lot of fuss. There are literally hundreds of camellias to choose from and a spring visit to your garden center means that you can select them while in flower. This allows you to see what varieties will blend most pleasingly with your magnolias.
  • Rosa rugosa - It is a good choice of shrub for magnolias. This is a species that does not require spraying, is very hardy, and has simple, single, perfumed flowers in colors of white, pink, red and purple. There are many desirable hybrids of this species, and most have stunning hips in the fall. They don't require much in the way of pruning, just a bit of a haircut occasionally.
Trees
The choice of trees as companions for your magnolias is very wide. There are some examples:
  • Cornus - The first of these is flowering dogwood, the wonderful native North American Cornus florida and its cultivars. These are small trees (height 15-20 ft/4.5-6 m) that have beautiful "bracts" that look like wide-open flowers of simple design, in colors of white, pink through pinkish-red, to red. They are most delectable and adorn the tree's bare branches for many weeks. Then in the fall comes a truly glorious display of colored leaves-from reds, through oranges to yellows, depending on the cultivar. As some cornus have variegated leaves, the fall display is even more spectacular because the variegation means more variety of colors on each tree. In winter, the little knobby buds remind you that spring's flowers are not too far away.
  • Maples - Another excellent, small (15-25 ft/4.5-7.5 m) tree to keep your magnolias company is the Japanese maple - Acer palmatum, A. p. dissectum and A. japonica species and cultivars.
    The universally beloved weeping maples would also be just as splendid alongside or in front of your magnolias. They come in red, green or variegated colors, on standards of various heights. All these delightful maples are to be strongly commended as companion plants. Just remember that, although they are hardy, they cannot abide much wind, so site them accordingly.
  • Birch - Out of the huge range of deciduous trees, one of the loveliest has to be betula, the birch. There are many varieties of birch and all have in common the fact that they are graceful and elegant, with a light and delicate leaf canopy, leaves that are soft green in spring, gold in the fall, and stunningly beautiful bark. They would look very well among magnolias. Just remember that they are very greedy and so need regular feeding to prevent their robbing nutrients from surrounding plants.

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