Plant Collector: Magnolia Athene

Magnolia Athene in her glory

Magnolia Athene in her glory


Thank goodness for the mid season magnolias this year. There we were, as usual, admiring the early season ones in flower when a once in a hundred year event hit here – snow followed by a killer frost in late August. The early bloomers did not like it one bit. But the next flush rose to the challenge and their flowering was unaffected. This one is Magnolia Athene, a particularly lovely variety with big ivory white flowers sporting a violet pink base. It is what is called a cup and saucer form. When open, the outer layer of petals drops a little to form the saucer, while the inner petals keep a tight cup form. Botanically, magnolias don’t actually have much in the way of petals, they have tepals which look like petals but that tends to confuse all but the most enthusiastic gardener.

Bred in the early 1960s, Athene is one of a small series from the late Felix Jury in his quest for new plants which would carry the good aspects of the classic campbellii magnolias but flower on young plants and not grow as large. It should flower within a year of planting out. The parents are magnolias lennei alba (which is a very tidy, smaller tree with pure cream flowers) and Mark Jury (which is a large growing tree with very large, heavy textured flowers in lilac tones). Athene was a significant advance on the parents and puts on a magnificent display with its bi-coloured blooms. It will eventually reach about 5 metres with an upright habit and the flowers are pleasantly scented.

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