Magnolia grandiflora is a handsome evergreen tree that originates from the south eastern parts of the USA. Today numerous different selections are grown around the world as magnificent specimen trees for ornamental purposes. One of the major drawbacks with the ordinary species is the enormous size that mature trees can attain (15 to 18 metres). This makes them unsuitable for planting in smaller suburban gardens. ‘Little Gem’ is a compact, upright growing selection that grows to around about 6 to 8 metres tall and can be comfortably fitted into many a smaller garden.
The evergreen leaves are relatively small, approximately 12 cm long, dark green and glossy on the upper surface and brown and furry beneath. White, cup-shaped flowers with a delicious fragrance are produced sporadically through the year, with an abundance in late summer and early autumn. The blooms are relatively small, measuring 12 to 15 cm in diameter. (To put the size into perspective, another form, called M. grandiflora ‘Samuel Sommer’, has blooms 30 to 35 cm across.)
Magnolias grow best in rich, loamy soil that retains moisture through the year. A thick layer of mulch covering the root zone and extending out to the drip line of the tree helps to achieve this requirement. Regular applications of balanced garden fertiliser from spring to autumn ensure vigorous, healthy growth and a profusion of flowers. If necessary, larger trees can be pruned to keep them in check, but that reduces flower bud set in the shorter term. Remove spent flowers wherever possible to maintain a neat looking plant (the seed pods can be rather unsightly). Use ‘Little Gem’ as a stately specimen tree, for creating a background screen or as a stunning container specimen in a very large pot. It is fantastic for lending height, shade and shelter to exposed patios. The fragrant flowers add a very special ambience to outdoor living areas.
This is without doubt one of my favourite garden plants. It never ceases to amaze me every time I see one adorned with those magnificent white blooms. It is easy to grow, incurs very few insect attacks or diseases and is so, so rewarding.