Tag Archives: Magnolia Little Gem

Sydney notes: Friday 13 November, 2015

IMG_7117I spent the past week in Sydney, helping our second daughter move into her new apartment. This was a larger task than either she or I had anticipated so left little time for things horticultural. But oh the jacarandas were lovely, used widely as street trees and in front gardens in the eastern suburbs. Sydney is a great deal warmer than Tikorangi – our jacaranda will not bloom here until mid summer. IMG_7111

IMG_7141Daughter’s apartment is on the third floor. No lift. It’s not too bad – the stairs are well designed to make it easy. But I mention the third floor because that is several Magnolia Little Gems and a handsome red bougainvillea growing level with her apartment balcony. I have written about this evergreen magnolia before and have for many years suggested that its name is only ‘Little Gem’ as compared to a hypothetical Extremely Giant Gem. Three stories high so far, and these trees are not fully mature. What is more, whenever you see it photographed, it is usual to see a pristine white bloom and it certainly has a beautiful form. Alas each flower only lasts a day or two so one ends up with brown blooms – still with an attractive form – until they disintegrate, but never a tree covered in a mass of pure white. IMG_7138

IMG_7135Over the years I have seen a number of small English backyards where the only access way is via the house and thought that would be tricky. I can now say that these are eclipsed by apartments with no lift. ‘I will repot her container plants while I am here,’ I thought. Or at least the kentia palm and the tired peace lily which looked as if it was on the point of surrendering. I briefly toyed with carrying the plants down to the potting mix where there was a bit of communal garden so the mess wouldn’t matter, but decided it would be easier to carry the potting mix up and do it on the balcony. I wasn’t sure there was an outdoor tap and the rootballs needed a good soak. Logistically, it is harder than you think. Believe me. I was trying to contain the mess but even so some of the debris and the water went over the edge and I worried about alienating the lower apartment residents. The spent potting mix then had to be carried downstairs to spread. These were new challenges for me and I will look upon apartment gardeners with even greater respect. Undeterred, Daughter reclaimed her closed unit worm farm from a previous dwelling and located it discreetly at the back of the ‘landscaped’ communal area. Her kitchen scraps need to be carried downstairs anyway, so she figured she might as well keep them separate, feed the worms and use the liquid fertiliser they generate. It makes you proud to be the parent.

IMG_7132The kentia palm, I noted, is in fact three kentias (Howea forsteriana from Lord Howe Island) and there were at least five seeds sown in the original pot. That is a nursery technique to get a larger plant in a shorter space of time. Naturally I wondered about separating them but daughter needed one attractive kentia, not three smaller ones going into shock from such brutal treatment.

IMG_7128Greater love hath no mother than shopping for plastic items in Kmart but I did also get to wander through the plant section of a Bunnings store while we were doing a mission in search of home handyperson supplies. For $A26.90, you can buy a novelty houseplant of germinated “Black Bean” seeds. These are Castanospermum australe. I use the word novelty because these are not designed to grow to maturity but to be a disposable houseplant. More gratifyingly, I spotted a stand of small  plants of Mark’s new daphne, Perfume Princess.IMG_7130

There is nothing quite like finding a little bit of home in a Sydney garden centre.

Garden Lore: May 23, 2014

“Momordica – Cucurbitaceae – The Squirting Cucumber. An annual gourd-like plant, with woolly leaves, and yellow flowers, the fruit of which resemble a small cucumber; and which, when ripe, bursts the moment it is touched, scattering its seeds, and the half liquid, pulpy matter in which they are contained, a considerable distance. This quality made it a favourite, in gardens, a century ago, when some people were yet in a state of sufficient barbarism to find amusements in the annoyance of others; but it has now deservedly fallen into disrepute, and is seldom grown.”

Jane Webb LoudonThe Ladies’ Companion to the Flower Garden” (1840)

Vegetable time bombs, we call them

Vegetable time bombs, we call them

Garden Lore: Magnolia Little Gem

I stopped to photograph this driveway in town because it is like a vegetable time bomb waiting to give its owners no end of problems. What you are looking at is a narrow driveway flanked on either side by avenues of Magnolia Little Gem. At this stage, it still looks quite attractive. Little Gem is a good looking plant with glossy, dark green leaves and brown felted indumentum beneath. In summer, it will sporadically produce attractive white flowers. The mistake often made is in thinking that the descriptor “little” in its name, means it will stay small. While it will not get as large as some of the other grandiflora magnolias, it is still going to be an 8 metre tree and have a spreading canopy. You can already see it spreading.

In narrow spaces, you need narrow, columnar trees (technically ‘fastigiate’) which can give height and structure, without width. If you are going to choose a plant which forms a canopy, you need to keep the branching above the height of vans and small trucks – probably 3 metres up. Clip and shape from the very start so that you don’t have to undertake radical work when the trees become a problem.

It takes a lot more effort and expense to remove established trees which have outgrown their allotted space than it takes to plant them in the first place. It is better to get the selection right at the start.

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