Garden historian Min Wood tells us about the many varieties at Boconnoc

The Dorothy Garden is the oldest part of the Boconnoc Gardens. It is now also home to one of the oldest families in the plant world, the Magnolias; so old that they developed well before the evolution of flying insects and so relied for pollination on beetles clambering about in their flowers. When the landmass separated into continents the majority of magnolias evolved in South East Asia, but a significant number drifted off to North America. Fortunately for the plant breeder their common ancestry means that they can be inter-bred.

Magnolia flowers, hybridised and selected from different species are some of the most colourful to be seen in the garden in spring. There is a wide variety in the vigour and shape of these hybrids and the arrangement of their flowers. The planting in the Dorothy Garden allows visitors to compare a range of different hybrids with some of their parent plants, perhaps to see what might be most suitable for their own gardens.

Entering by the Church gate there are three examples of graceful, early flowering trees all stemming from the Willow Leaved Magnolia, M. salicifolia, including the remarkable ‘Wada’s Memory’. Next there are two other fine white flowering species M. kobus  and  M. stellata. These are parents to the popular Loebneri group of which Merrill and Leonard Messel are best known.

M. Kobus

Toward the top of the garden on the left hand side are the dramatic hybrids developed in New Zealand some of which echo the goblet shaped flowers of M. soulangeana lennei.

M. Iolanthe

On the right hand side of the garden leading to the gate to the Shrubbery there are some of the ‘American Girls’, although one is named after a boy. Bred in America, these bring the strong colour and flower shape of M. liliflora ‘Nigra’ to the densely branched habit of M. stellata, which once again is playing its part as a useful parent. Of these Susan, because of its tidy habit and vigour has become an ubiquitous street tree in England.

M Liliflora ‘Nigra

Returning down the garden the M. denudata of China and M. acuminata  of America join forces to produce the series of yellow flowered trees. It is in this section that one sees the greatest diversity of forms and the spreading M. Gold Starcan be contrasted with the fast growing, upright, M. Elizabeth.

M. Elizabeth

 Below that is a small group of the summer flowering Magnolias of which the strongly scented Magnolia x wieseneri is the strongest performer. In the centre of the garden are the long to flower, but magnificent, M. campbellii next to one of its most successful hybrid offspring. M. Star Wars.

M. Star Wars

Before leaving the garden one should salute the two M. soulangeana Alba and M. soulangeana Heaven Scent on the east side of the garden. It was Etiénne Soulange-Bodin, who, having won honours fighting for Napoleon turned his back on war to become a botanist saying it would have been better if everyone had stayed at home and planted their cabbages. It was he who crossed, M. liliflora with M denudata and named it M. soulangeana in 1827 thus inspiring all future breeders of magnolias to add yet more colour and interest to our gardens.

M. Soulangeana Alba

You can see many of these varieties at Boconnoc at our two remaining Open Garden events:

Sunday 19th May – 12 – 5pm – Raising money for Children’s Hospice South West £5 entry
Sunday 26th May – 2 – 5pm – Raising money for Marie Curie £6 entry