Pure, unadulterated joy

Because Saturday produced a bit of unexpected sunshine I set off north to see if I could find the magnificent blooms of what is unarguably the world’s most beautiful hardy flowering tree: Magnolia campbellii. I popped into Kilmacurragh, the southern offshoot of the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin, Dublin and as soon as I drew into the car park I knew I didn’t have to look any further. There was an enormous tree covered in pink flowers, towering over the double borders. Magnolia campbellii was first described (in the west) by Joseph Hooker and Thomas Thomson in 1855. Hooker (the son of the Hooker who was Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) was traveling in the Himalaya and the tree was named for Dr. Archibald Campbell, the political resident in Darjeeling. ‘This superb tree which forms so conspicuous a feature in the scenery and vegetation of Darjeeling was chosen by Dr Thompson and myself to commemorate the eminent services of our fried Dr Campbell’ JD Hooker 1855 Although it was described in 1855 it was not introduced into cultivation until 1865. This is because, like all magnolia seeds, they are large and oily and do not store well. Although the tree is hardy, seedlings take a long time to flower and because the blooms open so early it really only thrives in mild-winter areas such as the south west of the UK and Ireland. It seems to have first flowered away from its homeland in 1885 in William Crawford’s garden at Lakelands, Blackrock in Cork, Ireland. This tree, which was obviously getting quite famous, was said to be 15m high in 1895. At this time the only trees that were known to have flowered in cultivation was this one and another at Fota, also near Cork. But others had been planted including Castlewellan and Kilmarcurragh. Maybe the tree I was looking at was this tree that was more than a century old. It is certainly a big tree and the age would seem to be right. I am not going to go into the different forms of the species and someone may let me know that this tree is not ‘straight’ M. campbellii at all. Typically the flowers are a cup-and-saucer shape with the inner petals forming a cup above the horizontal outer petals. The flowers I saw were more ‘fully open’ but that maybe because these were the last flowers and the ground was littered with fallen petals. The flowers are generally described as being from 20-25cm across and they are simply amazing if the weather is kind to them and does not turn them brown with high winds or frost. I was lucky that we had had a few days without wind or frost. Anyway, enough words. Just share the pleasure I felt seeing this magnificent tree in bloom. magnolia campbelli3 magnolia campbelli2 magnolia campbelli copy magnolia campbelli5 magnolia campbelli4

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5 Comments on “Pure, unadulterated joy”

  1. joy
    April 6, 2015 at 9:33 am #


  2. fernwoodnursery
    April 6, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    Gorgeous! Do you do any propagating? Always so fascinated with Magnolia seeds, beautiful as well!

    • thebikinggardener
      April 6, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

      I do lots of propagation but have only sown magnolias once. That is mainly because I have only ever had a fairly small personal garden and magnolias need a lot of room, and patience, to reach flowering size!

  3. digwithdorris
    April 10, 2015 at 3:42 pm #

    Such wonderful plants, if only they lasted a bit longer, or if only they offered something later in the season. They always seem so indulgent.

    • thebikinggardener
      April 10, 2015 at 7:21 pm #

      Yes that is very true – they are one-trick-ponies. But what a trick! Some of the new hybrids give you a similar fix without having to wait quite so long but somehow they don’t have quite the same magic. I doubt I will ever plant one myself but I am happy to travel to enjoy such a spectacle.

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