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A magnificent evergreen tree from Southern China that has little business surviving in our climate but it does. Very happily too. Huge tough grey-blue leaves and a lovely grey trunk to go with them. Its rarity in cultivation can (presumably) be explained by its rarity in availability. We produce all our own from cuttings and, we admit, they’re not easy but we always have a few specimens available. All the plants we produce came originally from the specimen at Borde Hill Garden near Cuckfield in West Sussex. The tree can be visited and admired because the garden’s open to the public. Better than that, have lunch at Jeremy’s Restaurant overlooking the walled garden and you can see the tree hanging over the wall at about 10 o’clock (bottom left) from where you’re sitting. Bear in mind it was planted in 1912. This means it shrugged off the horrible winters of 1916, 1947, 1963 and 1986. Not bad considering it comes from Yunnan. It’s probably best in relatively mild gardens and planted relatively big – if you can afford it. They grow on any soil including chalk (Highdown Garden near Worthing and Ventnor Botanic, Isle of Wight both have fine specimens on chalk) and the surprisingly tough leaves seem untouched by wind. Of all the extraordinary plants growing in the enormous Huntington Botanic Garden near Los Angeles, the tree they’re probably the proudest of is their Magnolia delavayi. A serious piece of botanical one-upmanship. The main picture here is from the campus of Exeter University. Fine old specimens can also be seen at Kew Gardens and within the grounds of Winchester Cathedral.
15ft after 12 years but eventually reaches 30 – 40 ft after many years. Fragrant white flowers in July and August. Similar flowers to Magnolia grandiflora but not as big (obv – as well you know, ‘grandiflora’ means ‘big flowers’.
When young it can become straggly – much like Magnolia grandiflora. What to do? Either prune in March (before new growth appears) to form denser foliage or cut off lower branches to encourage more height. Or both. Remember that cutting shoots on most woody plants causes bifurcation (where there was one, there will now be two) and this is the essence of making plants appear denser and – eventually – to creating topiary. The other thing worth mentioning is that when cutting back slow growing rarities like Magnolia delavayi, there always seems a tendency to be over timid and when you’ve completed the work you will probably put your hand to your mouth and ejaculate such expressions as ‘Oh my word, what ever have I done?’ Such traumatic events build confidence – especially when by the end of the summer it’s looking so much better and denser and happier. You still probably didn’t cut it back enough.
Propagated by us from cuttings originally from the tree at Borde Hill Garden in West Sussex.
N.B. When clipping several plants with the same tool, have a bucket containing a 5% bleach solution and swish your blades around for 30 seconds between plants to sterilise them. This will help avoid the chance of cross contamination of disease.
As with all woody plants, plant high, exposing as much of the taper at the base of the trunk as possible. Allowing soil to accumulate round the base of a tree can be fatal. Keep very well watered when first planted.
Last photo courtesy of google street view – Torquay sea front.
Hardiness level AmberFind out more
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