Leaves of Magnolia grandiflora © Forest & Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons

Some will say I am slightly obsessed. Only a couple of weeks after a first article dealing with magnolias, I am back on the topic. However, I would like to talk today about foliage instead of spring bloom.

In the most general terms, foliage plants are very interesting in garden design, as they provide long-term interest, less ephemeral than any flower. How come then does a plant deserve this particular status? There are many features that attract gardeners’ attention: leaf form, size or color, the pleasant reflect of an evergreen…

Coming back to our topic, Magnolia grandiflora is an evergreen tree whose leaves are leathery deep green on top and reddish brown below. Creamy white flowers are only an additional bonus. It is often seen planted in orangerie containers, which suggests it is not fully hardy. It is absolutely not the case and certain cultivars such as M. g. ‘Treyvensis’ or ‘Gallissonière’ are known for their added hardiness. To my opinion, the best way to plant it is pleached against a south-facing wall.

There is only another evergreen magnolia, Magnolia delavayi. I learned this the day of my interview at Louis Benech’s studio. Louis has one of them in his small Parisian garden. What a show! The leaf is huge, one of the biggest for a tree hardy in the temperate regions. It looks like one of a ficus and this tropical look is exactly the reason to plant it in a garden. This magnolia is not fully hardy in Paris already. In Switerland, I would only plant it in one of the hottest region, like the shores of Lake Geneva, and even there, in a very sheltered spot, like a building courtyard where it would be protected from North wind.

Magnolia macrophylla is another fabulous foliage plant on top of its strongly scented flowers. As the name suggests, the leaf is big and looks like one of a banana tree. It is again this tropical look that underlies its charm. I have always thought this magnolia was not fully hardy until I saw it lately at Aubonne’s national arboretum. There grows a superb M. m. ‘Gwavas’, in a rather sheltered and south-facing spot. I add it to my (already long) wish list…

To conclude, I would like to mention the foliage of Magnolia virginiana. Leaves are elliptical, green on top and slightly glaucous beneath, measuring up to 13cm. Foliage is semi-evergreen here, which means that it is evergreen in mild winter and deciduous otherwise. No hardiness problem here, it is truly a plant everyone should have in his garden.