Little rays of sunshine

The sun is out! Yay.

I am sure that most of you have forgotten all about your magnolias and they are in full leaf. But here, the cold spring destroyed the few flowers on the early magnolias so I am pleased that ‘Daphne’ has had the sense to delay her display until now. Most yellow magnolias bloom later than usual anyway, because of their M. acuminata ancestry (which flowers while in leaf). But ‘Daphne’ is later than usual this year too. Pink magnolia flowers seem rather diluted by appearing with leaves but, somehow, I think the yellows are actually enhanced. Which is just as well because most do flower after the leaves have started to expand. Even if the the flowers aren’t improved by being seen with the leaves I am trying to be philosophical about this and seeing the sunny side.

‘Daphne’ is a hybrid of ‘Miss Honeybee’ and ‘Gold Crown’. It was bred in Belgium by Philippe de Spoelberch. It is a compact plant and mine has grown painfully slowly but, in its defence, it is very free with its flowers. There is a delightful brightness in its blooms and I return to it again and again when I am out exercising the cat. It has been planted three years now and is only about 30cm taller than when planted but is a bit fuller and more bushy. I feel like giving it a good feed to buck it up a bit but at least it is growing and is healthy.

Not quite as unusual, but a plant that I was desperate to add to the garden, is Rhododendron ‘Narcissiflorum’. It is a plant from my childhood. We lived on chalky soil so could not grow any rhododendrons but we would go to some of the great gardens in the Weald, such as Sheffield Park and Wakehurst Place to see the rhodos and bluebells at this time of year. The deciduous azaleas (rhodos) were always my favourite plants and I loved their perfume. People collected the fallen flowers, often stringing them on sticks – maybe they still do. The one that I remember from all those years ago was a double yellow and once I knew it was this variety I wanted to grow it. And now that I have room and acid soil I can!

I have been kinder to my deciduous azaleas than my poor philadelphus (see yesterday’s post) and the soil was deeply dug with lots of organic matter and this spring I even collected leaf mould down the road to mulch them. Even so the soil is a bit soggy right now, and the hazels planted to provide light shade are barely taller than the azaleas. But it is growing and is in bloom and I am happy. Rhododendron ‘Narcissiflorum’ is a Ghent hybrid and was introduced in 1855 so it is pretty ancient. The flowers are rather small and narrow, decidedly sticky and sweetly fragrant. The flowers are neatly double with hose-in-hose flowers, with one flower inserted into another, a feature that is found in some other double azaleas but especially associated with the Ghent azaleas. The ultimate height and spread is about 1.5m. Like most of its kind it will have good autumn colour – if, this year, the leaves are not all blown off in September.

And from a plant that no one would deny garden room to something decidedly strange. I mentioned it a while ago when it was new and being protected in the polytunnel. The leaves of my Brassica oleracea var. ramosa ‘Luigi Leopold’ assumed that purple pallor associated with nutrient deficiency but it has grown out of this after planting out. The basic plant is a perennial kale and often (but not that often since it is not a common plant) called Daubenton’s kale. It rarely flowers so is propagated by cuttings. Because it is leafy, evergreen and hardy it can be picked all year. This variety seems to have pale green leaves with a dark green edge though I believe there is another variegated kind with white-edged leaves. I have no idea how attractive this will ultimately be. I have put it in the ‘ornamental’ garden rather than the veg plot but I am not sure what to expect because this is one of those ‘oh, that looks interesting – I must have it’ purchases! I suspect that much will depend on how much I eat and how much the caterpillars eat. If it gets mealy aphid I may have to give up any pretence of being organic and reach for the spray.

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9 Comments on “Little rays of sunshine”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    May 30, 2021 at 9:35 am #

    We have admired the magnolia and the rhododendron in Mount Congreve Gardens in recent weeks and they are both smashing plants.

    The rays of sunshine have reached Waterford and we are promised a beautiful day – but the ground is still too soft to run the lawnmower!

    • thebikinggardener
      May 30, 2021 at 4:39 pm #

      It has been a lovely day and it was just dry enough to mow – a big relief

      • Paddy Tobin
        May 30, 2021 at 8:01 pm #

        I also did my grass duty today!

  2. tonytomeo
    May 30, 2021 at 4:58 pm #

    Scale has been a serious problem for magnolias in California. Now, a new and voracious scale is attacking the Southern magnolias of Southern California, and actually killing trees. Southern magnolia is grown more for its distinctively glossy evergreen foliage than for bloom. The big flowers bloom randomly through summer, with a few possible at any time of year, particularly on large trees. Deciduous magnolias that are popular elsewhere are not very popular in California because of the pathogens associated with them. It will be a shame if Southern magnolia becomes unpopular as well.

    • thebikinggardener
      May 30, 2021 at 5:26 pm #

      That is a serious problem if scale is devastating magnolias, especially as there are so many native species. Is it is native scale? Magnolia grandiflora is usually grown as a wall shrub here because it needs the extra heat to bloom. Often large specimens are imported as standards from Italy but they won’t really bloom well here.

      • tonytomeo
        May 30, 2021 at 8:09 pm #

        Southern magnolia is native to the South, from Texas to South Carolina, but not here. It just happens to be very popular, particularly in Southern California. Although messy, it is a majestic evergreen shade tree. It has done well here for as long as anyone can remember, but the scale has been here for only a few years. I really do not know where it came from. It could have come from Eastern North America, where various species of magnolia are native. The deciduous magnolias are susceptible to various scale, but are not so easily killed by them like the Southern Magnolia is killed by this new scale.

        • thebikinggardener
          May 31, 2021 at 8:29 am #

          That is serious that the scale is actually killing the trees.

          • tonytomeo
            June 3, 2021 at 6:47 am #

            Yes, it was quite shocking when it started, because, as bad as scale had been before, they did not kill magnolias so quickly like they do now.

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