Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Magnolias: Ideal for the greenhouse?

Magnolias are highly versatile plants that can be very adaptable to a wide variety of environments.

Indeed, the genus – which takes in an estimated 210 flowering plant species – is an ancient one, which appeared in the world before bees did. As a result, they evolved in such a way so as to encourage pollination by beetles. This is how their carpels of Magnolia flowers became very tough, as it was necessary to prevent beetles from causing damage to the plant.

Evidence of fossilised remains of Magnolia acuminata have been found and dated back an estimated 20 million years. Further evidence of the plants ancestry is more widely visible, as its flower bud is enclosed in a bract rather than in sepals.

French botanist Charles Plumier gave the genus its name in 1703, although English botanist William Sherard – a student of Plumier – is thought to be the first to have adopted the name.

Professional garden and landscape designer Dan Pearson said that despite the fact magnolias are typically found in a forest, they can very easily adapt to a built urban environment. In an article for UK national newspaper the Guardian, he went so far as to suggest that the fleshy tones of the Magnolia x soulangeana have become a signature of certain kinds of town garden.

Indeed, this could make them ideal for greenhouse growers who prefer to cultivate plants in this kind of controlled environment. The start of spring is a great time to start planting seeds of magnolias – but the use of a greenhouse means that the individual does not have to worry about the timing as much, given the greater freedom this gives them over weather limitations.

Mr Pearson said that when it comes to magnolias, his personal preference is for hybrid cultivars of the plant. He explained that they can retain the dramatic look of their parent, but bloom at an earlier age and are more modestly proportioned.

The expert noted that the Magnolia x loebneri is a good choice for those who live in more unpredictable climes, as it is one of the most adaptable forms of the genus. He singled out the Pirouette as something that can retain a neat and well-behaved form that is ideal for the smaller garden. Alternatively, the Merrill boasts larger flowers that are loosely formed and can grow to the size of an old apple.

"A frost pocket is the worst situation for the spring-blooming magnolias so grow them where the frost doesn't linger or on the west side of a building where early-morning sun won't thaw buds quickly," Mr Pearson commented – and this is clearly another great reason to get the plants off to a strong start in a greenhouse.

"This can be lethal and one of the few things to blight an otherwise reliably wonderful race of beauties," the expert continued.

He advised growing "the later-blooming summer-flowering magnolia, such as M x weisneri and the sun-loving M grandiflora if you suffer from frost but still want to bask in their glory."