Each year in late winter, deciduous magnolia opens up impressive blooms on foliage-free stems before the bright green leaves arrive in spring.
The large, fragrant flowers come in white, pink, purple or yellow, and can be on display for weeks at a time, cheering up a garden otherwise devoid of colour.
An ancient plant family that originated in China, Magnoliaceae has more than 80 species in the genus, and fossil records show some are almost 60 million years old.
Magnolias have been highly prized throughout history. Intrepid plant hunters from Britain braved dangerous journeys in the 18th century to search for the exotic plant in China, the Himalayas and Tibet.
Magnolias range from medium-sized shrubs to small trees up to eight metres tall, and many are too large for an average-sized backyard.
Compact varieties are better in small gardens, such as Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’, a pink-flowering tree that should only reach three metres.
With a mature size of up to five metres, Magnolia x loebneri ‘Ballerina’ is another favourite, featuring masses of white flowers tinged with pink from late winter through to spring.
The recently released compact evergreen Magnolia grandiflora ‘Teddy Bear’ is a popular choice, with glossy rounded leaves and large white blooms.
TIP: Even if size isn’t an issue, plant a single species of magnolia to better appreciate the colour and form.