a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Magnolia grandiflora, a survivor


Last winter was unusually harsh in the Charente –Maritime.  In February the temperatures were under zero for about two weeks and fell as low minus 17 degrees centigrade.

I was resigned to the fact that I would lose a large number of plants unaccustomed to this severe weather.  One of the plants that I had little hope would survive was my Magnolia grandiflora.

9th. February 2012

As the temperature rose I ventured into the garden for damage assessment.  There was ice on the surface of the magnolia leaves which was being rapidly melted by the bright sun.  Not good!  A plant has difficulty accommodating such rapid changes in temperature.

July 2012

To my surprise it has survived unharmed and I have been able to take these photographs  over the last few days.

My Magnolia grandiflora was an early edition to the garden.  I felt it would be an appropriate tree to have in a French garden as I had seen magnificent specimens of old large Magnolias in France.  However, I have now discovered that Magnolias are not natives of Europe but of the southern states of the United States, the only French connection is that they have been named in honour of the French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715)

Opening Magnolia flower

The obvious attraction of the Magnolia grandiflora is its flowers.

The flower opens to release its perfume

An even greater attraction for me is their perfume.

The flower opens revealing the heavy stamens

The perfume is distinctive with a slight citrus hint and appears perfect to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies.  Another false assumption!  The genus Magnolia evolved long before bees and butterflies had made their appearance and the Magnolia had already forged its pollinator relationship with beetles.  This has never changed over the ensuing millions of years so it is not a tree to attract bees and butterflies into the garden.

Magnolia at the end of the day

The Magnolia flower is short lived and only lasts for a day.  The tree will produce several blossoms at one time, replacing the faded blossoms on a daily basis and the number of flowers produced will depend on the size of the tree.

Fertilised flower forming fruit

The flowers are followed by a candle-shaped seed head but if I see them I snap them off to encourage the tree to produce more flowers and avoid a waste of resources on the part of the tree.

So for me the Magnolia is a very valuable ornamental tree in the garden giving me beautiful perfumed flowers and leaves that stay green and glossy even in the heat of summer.  An addition benefit of Magnolia grandiflora is that it is evergreen and in winter it continues to ornament the garden with its glossy green leaves

Last year was the first year my Magnolia flowered and I was overjoyed with my two blossoms.  This year I have had many more flowers despite the small size of the tree and its trial by ice in the winter.

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

10 thoughts on “Magnolia grandiflora, a survivor

  1. Lovely tree, I think my garden might be too windy for it, for it sums up the Mediterranean for me, even if it isn’t native!Minus 17 is very cold indeed, our minus 9 or 10 was enough to damage several plants. Christina


  2. Stunning. A plant I’ve long had my eye on but feared it wouldn’t relish the frost pocket that is the Priory. But … -17C. That’s pretty damn cold. Perhaps I could try it after all – in a sheltered spot. How old is yours? I’m guessing they are slow growing? Dave


    • I think this is its fourth summer in the garden. I was surprised to see it flower last year as I thought they had to be big and mature before they flowered. It was really quite small when it was planted, in fact it is now really too close to the conifer which was the previous owners ex-Christmas tree.
      I don’t think it will be bothered by the cold in the UK but I do not know if it needs heat and sunshine in the summer to thrive.


  3. Good to hear your magnolia grandiflora survived. I think they are tougher than their reputation would allow. I have seen them growing in gardens around here.


  4. Such a beautiful tree, terrific to see that it survived the winter.


  5. hello, very nice to read about your beautiful magnolia plant, and glad it survived. I always dreamed of having a magnolia tree, yesterday finally I found one, i got it in a garden centre in a pot, it has one flower. I am in Carcassonne it is my first time to have a garden and my first time experiencing summer in France (arrived February 15) so far it has been cruel, very dry, the soil is hard and difficult to dig into, the plants are struggling. My question to you, if you don’t mind is, how to plant the magnolia? which is best location? I been reading but it seem quite complicate. Thank you very much in advance.


    • Firstly. I am not a gardener so my comments are only based on my own experience. Magnolia grandiflora is a beautiful tree and each time I pass it (5 July 2015) at the moment I find myself surrounded by the perfume of its flowers, even though it is sometimes hard to see them. The main thing to think about is situation – it grows big and rapidly after the first couple of years while it is putting on roots. It would be a shame to put it somewhere and then have to cut it down because you did not have enough room for it. Next you have to chose a spot in full sun. I know you can get very strong winds in your area so a sheltered place would give it a better chance. Mine was quite small at first and so easier to look after and you would have to water it during the hot, dry summer for the first two years. After that you dig a hole and put it in it. Amelia


  6. Thank you! I have just planted my dwarf gem magnolia grandiflora (here in Brisbane, Australia) and was awaiting the opening of two flower buds it had on it when planted. When they opened and were gone within two days I thought it was a very unhappy tree… thanks for easing that worry! They were beautiful while they lasted. 🙂


    • I have never heard of dwarf Magnolia trees. They must be very useful trees to have. Our tree is getting very big and would not be suitable everywhere. Yesterday, I walked past it and the perfume made me look up and see a flower had opened high up. Did you notice whether your tree’s flowers were perfumed and attracted bees? Amelia


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