The large members of this exotic genus are perhaps the most distinguished and magnificent of early-flowering trees that can be grown in gardens. They transplant more successfully from the open ground in the spring and grow well on good, well-drained barns and clays. A number of species are lime tolerant. Regrettably, some of the most magnificent tree species do not flower for many years after planting.
Perhaps the most remarkable and spectacular of the magnolias, Magnolia campbellii is a giant tree in its native Himalaya and it reaches considerable proportions in favoured gardens. The immense tulip-shaped flowers, in varying shades of pink, are produced early in the year on maturing trees. The flowers open like water lilies before falling. A number of varieties have now appeared which, unlike the type tree, may flower within ten or fifteen years of planting. In particular these are mollicomata, Charles Raffill and Sidbury. All have pink or rose-purple flowers and show signs of greater hardiness than the type. Lime-free soil is necessary.
One of the best small magnolias for general planting is M. kobus, producing quantities of white early spring flowers usually within fifteen years of planting. It is a very hardy Japanese species which is happy on all soils and particularly successful on chalk.
The hybrid M. loebneri (kobus x stellata) makes a handsome small shrubby tree producing its fragrant white strap-like flowers at a very early age. Like its parents, it succeeds on all soils. There are several varieties now available from this cross, particularly noteworthy are Leonard Messel, lilac pink; Merrill, an American selection with larger fragrant white flowers, and Neil McEacharn, white pink-flushed flowers.
M. salicifolia, an elegant Japanese species, forms a small broadly pyramidal tree with narrow willow-like leaves, usually glaucous on the undersides. Fragrant white flowers are produced in early spring, even on young trees.
Although often grown as a wall specimen in cooler localities, the magnificent M. grandiflora, from the southern U.S.A., can perhaps claim to be the finest of flowering evergreens, reaching the proportions of a small to medium-sized tree in southern European and similar favoured localities. The handsome, leathery, glossy, dark green leaves, 6 to 10 in. long, have attractive red-brown felt on the undersides and form a perfect background to the immense cream-coloured, globular, fragrant flowers which are produced continuously in late summer and autumn. The variety Exmouth flowers at an early age. Fortunately, this species is tolerant of all soils of reasonable depth.