Tag Archives: Magnolia laevifolia

Clipping the michelias

Starting on the left – the annual clip

This is what it will like when done – freezing the size of the plants in time with an annual clip

We have a row of lollipop michelias at our entranceway and it is time for their annual clip. Yes, one annual clip is all they get and we are maybe three weeks late on doing them this year. I did not intend to start yesterday, having other things planned. Besides, clipping the michelias feels like a Big Job. Well, it does involve a ladder for the taller ones.

I timed myself yesterday. It takes me 30 minutes a plant to clip with secateurs and to rake up the clippings. That is not long for annual maintenance on what are significant feature plants. You could do it faster with a powered hedge trimmer or even hand clippers but you lose the precision. Besides, I don’t like using the hand clippers because each time they snap shut it jars my wrists and the residual carpel tunnel syndrome I nurse in those joints.

Aesthetically speaking, cutting with secateurs means there is no leaf damage whereas the speedier clippers or hedge trimmer will cut almost every external leaf which will then discolour on the damaged edges. It is also easy to reach in at the time and remove dead wood and do a clean-up of the interior of the ball using secateurs and the finished result is less… brutally shorn, shall I say?

Most michelias can be clipped hard, especially these hybrids of Mark’s. The two smaller ones here are an unnamed hybrid from his breeding programme while the taller ones are Fairy Magnolia Blush. I have planted two Fairy Magnolia Cream in the vehicle entranceway to the left which will, over the next few years, be trained to lollipop standards.

Michelias are magnolias, just a grouping within that wider family. That is why Michelia yunnanensis has been renamed Magnolia laevifolia by the experts. Our position of continuing to refer to them as michelias is on shaky ground botanically but we find it a useful differentiation in common parlance. It is a handy point of difference to the big leather-leafed Magnolia grandiflora types which are what most people think of when evergreen magnolias are mentioned. Our agents chose to brand Mark’s hybrids as “fairy magnolias” to mark out that difference.

Magnolia laevifolia  (aka Michelia yunnanensis) defoliating in wet, cold climate

The aforementioned species, Magnolia laevifolia, is a lovely plant in bloom but not always the best garden plant. It has a tendency to defoliate in a wet spring and we have certainly had that this year. This plant is not in our garden. I photographed it at Pukeiti. It is neither dead nor dying. Nor is it deciduous. It has defoliated in the wet and that is a characteristic of this particular species that is not to its credit. Not far along the same track is a fine specimen of Mark’s Fairy Magnolia ‘Blush’ which, we were pleased to see, shows no tendency whatever to defoliate, even in the hard growing conditions of Pukeiti Gardens.

This is what Magnolia laevifolia looks like at its best, seen here in my friend Lorri’s garden 

As a piece of advice for local gardeners, if you into clipping camellias – and we clip a few now as feature plants as well as camellia hedging – the time to do it is right now. If you leave it much longer, you will be cutting off all next year’s flower buds.

We have renamed the area of our garden we used to refer to as “the park’. It is now The Meadow

Finally, for a spot of colour, may I give you a host of golden primulas (not daffodils) in our meadow garden by the stream. It is just common old Primula helodoxa but so very pretty in its season.

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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.

Plant Collector: Magnolia laevifolia “Velvet and Cream”

Now renamed Magnolia laevifolia

Now renamed Magnolia laevifolia

The naming of this plant is a complicated story. It was and still is widely sold as Michelia yunnanensis. It then had a fling with the name Magnolia dianica but is now Magnolia laevifolia. There are sound reasons for the changing name but it makes it confusing. In this country, it is almost a certainty that you will find it sold under its original name of M. yunnanesis. Michelias have now been reclassified as magnolias. Though evergreen, their foliage is much finer than the tough grandiflora types we normally associate with evergreen magnolias.

“Velvet and Cream” is a particularly good flowered form first released by former Cambridge nurseryman, Peter Cave. It has larger flowers in a beautiful cup form. M. laevifolia sets seed so prolifically that every man and their dog has raised seedlings and named them – some are better than others. Grown in open conditions with full sun, plants will stay bushier and more compact but generally these plants are a little slow to get established but eventually make small trees around the 3 metre mark if not trimmed. They are generally sold as fragrant, though I have yet to find one that has more than just a hint of perfume.

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