Tag Archives: evergreen magnolias

Magnolia – Michelia: the evergreens

Just another Magnolia laevifolia (syn Michelia yunnanensis) selection but in this case it is our selection which we called Honey Velvet

Just another Magnolia laevifolia (syn Michelia yunnanensis) selection but in this case it is our selection which we called Honey Velvet

I was surprised this week to have someone ask me what michelias are. I realised I have never written about them in a general sense. That is because I try and separate my published garden writing from our commercial interests and michelias are inextricably bound up with the latter.

Michelias are in fact a type of magnolia. They used to be seen as close relatives to magnolias, now they have been reclassified botanically as magnolias and this has involved a complete name change for some species.

Mention evergreen magnolias and most people think of the grandifloras from the southern states of USA. All readers will know these by sight, if not by name. They have big, tough, leathery leaves and they flower in summer with large creamy white blooms.

Personally, I am not a big fan of the grandifloras. They make big, chunky trees which are remarkably tolerant of harsh weather conditions. As such they have their place but I think that place is on golf courses and cemeteries. There is a row of them as you exit Huntly to the south and I am pretty sure they are on the edge of a cemetery.

Why am I not keen on them? They don’t mass flower, for one thing. In fact the flowering is generally random and intermittent. I find them a bit chunky in the landscape and if one is going to go chunky, I would rather have our native puka. The leaves are really tough and take forever to decompose.

That said, the varieties with deep velvety brown indumentums (the furry coating on the underneath of the leaf) can look attractive in the wind. Magnolia grandiflora “Little Gem” is a tough plant with exceptionally dark forest green leaves contrasting with cinnamon indumentum and is much favoured in modern gardens. Just be aware that it is only a little gem as opposed to an extremely giant gem. It will still get quite large over time and you will never get many flowers on it.

Fairy Magnolia Blush - bringing pink into the range

Fairy Magnolia Blush – bringing pink into the range

Michelias are very different. Their foliage is smaller and much lighter in substance so they are not an oppressive plant. And they can flower and flower because they set flower buds down the stem at nearly every leaf axel, not just on the tips. Most of them peak in spring but some keep on flowering for months on end and some will have a second blooming in summer.

There are a few michelias that are widely available here. M. figo has long been referred to as the port wine magnolia and many gardeners will know it. It has small leaves and is inclined to go a bit yellow in full sun. When it starts pushing out its scent in late afternoon, it smells remarkably like Juicy Fruit chewing gum.

There are various forms of doltsopa, the most common in this country being “Silver Cloud”. It has wonderfully large, pure cream blooms which are very fragrant. But, there are always buts, the flowers are floppy and often get frosted in colder areas, the tree tends to drop most of its leaves after flowering and it gets rather larger than most people expect. M. maudiae is a better bet as a garden tree but difficult to propagate so not generally available.

What we used to know as Michelia yunnanensis is certainly a popular addition to the garden plants of this country. It had a brief flirtation with being called Magnolia dianica before its current name was settled upon. It is now correctly known as Magnolia laevifolia but you are still more likely to find it sold as M. yunnanensis. It sets seed really freely so just about every nursery around the country has made a selection and named it (including us!). You can recognise it by its small leaves and creamy cup shaped blooms. You can hedge it and clip it but it is easier to start with a variety which is more generous in the leafage department.

Several decades ago, the late Northland plant breeder Os Blumhardt released Bubbles and Mixed Up Miss onto the market and these hybrids had many advantages over the species as garden plants. They are still tidy plants when juvenile, but nothing remarkable as they mature.

Now there is an explosion of new michelias on the market. Many are just the aforementioned M.laevifolia selections. Some are hybrids. I must declare an interest here. The ones you see being marketed as “Fairy Magnolias” are ours. For we are in the midst of a longstanding love affair with the michelias.

When camellia petal blight first showed up, my plant breeding husband immediately abandoned camellias and started on michelias. After about 17 years we have many, probably into the 1000s by now but we have never counted, as he has pursued breeding goals. They are in shelter belts, hedges, around the garden, through the nursery areas – anywhere there is space. Fairy Magnolia Blush was the first release a few years ago, bringing pink into the colour range. Cream and White are being released this year.

What we love about michelias is their versatility. They can be clipped tightly, even in topiaries. They make good hedges, even pleached into hedges on stilts. Some can become specimen trees without being forest giants. They give us masses of flowers, many are scented and they are pretty much free of all pests and diseases. They are an all round useful plant family.

We would not be without them.

Our new star - Fairy Magnolia White to be released this year

Our new star – Fairy Magnolia White to be released this year

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Not one but three new Jury magnolias this year

The sublime blooms on Fairy Magnolia® White

The sublime blooms on Fairy Magnolia® White

It is not often that we have three major new releases coming out in one year. And, to be honest, it takes so many years of trialling and then building up that by the time they are released, they no longer feel “new” to us. But there is a surge of pride with these three hybrids of Mark’s breeding.
Magnolia Honey Tulip, our new yellow version of Black Tulip

Magnolia Honey Tulip, our new yellow version of Black Tulip

Mark is very particular about deciduous magnolias and had only named three – all in red tones. The fourth, to be released this year, is his first in the yellows. Honey Tulip™ is a golden honey version of Black Tulip. Given the somewhat floppy nature of most yellow magnolias with their soft petals and tendency to become paler as the flowering season progresses, we think Honey Tulip represents an advance in flower form, petal substance and retention of its colour intensity through the season. In New Zealand, where most yellow magnolias flower at the same time as they come into leaf, it is to Honey Tulip’s credit that it flowers on bare wood. Trials suggest that it will remain a smaller growing tree.

Fairy Magnolia® is the branding attached to our new range of michelias. These have been reclassified as magnolias but we wanted to differentiate these new michelias from the usual evergreen magnolias which are the leather-leafed grandiflora types. These are much lighter in growth and fill a different role in the garden and landscape. The first release was Fairy Magnolia® Blush.

Fairy Magnolia Cream - many flowers over a long season

Fairy Magnolia Cream – many flowers over a long season

Fairy Magnolia® Cream is a free flowering, strongly fragrant pure cream, opening in early spring. While of similar breeding and performance to Blush, its foliage is a brighter green and its peak flowering season extends into months. Each bloom measures at least 10cm across. Cream will take clipping well to keep it hedged, compact or topiaried or it can be left to form a bushy ,large shrub around 4 metres tall by 2.5 metres wide.

Fairy Magnolia® White (pictured at the top) comes down a different breeding chain and is a selection from a run of seedlings we have been referring to as the Snow Flurry series. The fragrant, purest white flowers are sublime, opening from brown velvet buds. It flowers earlier than Blush and Cream, starting in winter, so it is not likely to be as hardy as those two. However, we think it will prove to be hardier than existing doltsopa selections, making a garden friendly, improved substitute for “Silver Clouds”. The foliage is smaller and the plant shows no signs of defoliating after flowering (a major drawback to many doltsopas). It is much bushier in growth and will ultimately reach around 5m by 4m if not trimmed.

All plants will be available in New Zealand in limited quantities and some will be available overseas. These plants are produced under licence (in other words we only have small numbers to sell to personal customers later in the year when we open for plant sales) so ask your local garden centre. Overseas readers may like to check out Anthony Tesselaar Plants for availability.

Magnolia (deciduous) Honey Tulip

Magnolia (deciduous) Honey Tulip

Fairy Magnolia Cream

Fairy Magnolia Cream