Magnolias have always been right up there on my list of favourite trees. Go virtually anywhere in Auckland during late winter or early spring and you can’t help but notice the pink, white or dark red tulip shaped blooms of deciduous magnolias bringing life and colour to the often dismal landscape. I get so excited when I see the first magnolia flowers in winter I can’t help pointing them out to all and sundry. So much so that my daughter Miranda recently commented, Mum you’ll have to plant a magnolia tree in your Waiheke Island garden.
I would love to, but would they thrive in a sunny, coastal environment where water is scarce in summer I wonder? Most deciduous magnolias prefer well-drained but moisture retentive soil and shelter from strong winds. But in my years of writing about and designing gardens I have often been surprised by the number of plants that do very well in conditions they are technically unsuited to. I've always admired those enterprising gardeners who push the boundaries with their plant choices so I think I'm going to risk it and find a place for a magnolia on Waiheke, ideally one of the dark red flowering types such as Vulcan or Genie.
I'm also a fan of star magnolia (Magnolia stellata), with its beautiful bird-like white blooms which appear in winter when there’s very little else in flower. You do need plenty of space for these though as they have a rounded form which never looks its best when crowded by other plants. Best to plant star magnolia in a bed with low planting around it so you can appreciate its lovely shape. Sadly I don’t think I have the room for one but I’ll continue to admire them and the many other wonderful magnolias from afar.