Saturday, 9 April 2011

Magnolia season and memories of Wada

Magnolia maudiae
 - one of the finest Asian evergreen species
Earlier in the week I received a copy of Magnolia, the Journal of the Magnolia Society International, containing an article I'd written for them on the subject of Asian evergreen magnolias, that exciting group whose garden potential is only just being explored. Since MSI has kindly made me a member for the current year it seems appropriate that I should write something about magnolias while the spring display is at its peak.

In general the Cotswolds are something of a Magnolia-lite area. The combination of alkaline soil and the prevalence of spring frosts seems to have put people off planting them. On my usual routes I know exactly where the nearest specimens are: there's a M. × soulangeana on the outskirts of Cirencester, and another at Bibury, both about 8 miles away. I have to say I don't care for the standard clone of M. × soulangeana, floriferous though it may be: the combination of dull purple on a creamy white base and, all too often, a touch of brown from a tickle of frost, makes for a dirty-looking flower in my eyes, so the fact that I notice these individuals is a mark of the scarcity of magnolias hereabouts.

Magnolia campbellii 'Darjeeling'
A nice exception was to see a good range of magnolias at Batsford Arboretum last Sunday, including a splendid specimen of M. campbellii 'Darjeeling with rich pink flowers (as always near the top of the tree), and a shapely tree of 'Treve Holman' (M. campbellii subsp mollicomata ×  M. sargentiana var. robusta) flowering down to the ground.

Magnolia 'Treve Holman'
 Akthough I have planted several magnolias here at Colesbourne, being determined to give them a try, only one has so far shown that it is happy by growing well and flowering freely. This is M. salicifolia 'Wada's Memory', currently producing hundreds of pure white flowers on a small plant about 160 cm tall. If you like magnolias to produce waxy chalices this is not for you; the tepals are 'floppy' and don't present that 'perfect' flower - but as there are so many of them this is irrelevant anyway. Neither are they very scented, and I do love the scent of a magnolia, but one can't have everything.

Magnolia 'Wada's Memory'
As is well known, it is named after Koichiro Wada, a Japanese nurseryman of high repute who is also commemorated by the splendid Rhododendron yakushimanum 'Koichiro Wada'. Despite the valedictory tone Mr Wada was still very much alive when it was named by Brian Mulligan of the Washington Park Arboretum, where it had arrived as a seedling from Wada's nursery in March 1940.

Wada was well-liked and highly respected by those Westerners he came into contact with, as revealed in  a touching letter to the RHS Journal from Gwendolyn Anley, published in December 1947:

"The name of K. Wada is well known to many English gardeners as an exporter of choice Japanese plants. [...]

He visited this country about eight years ago and all who came in contact with him seem to have conceived a real liking for him. It came as a shock, therefore, when the rumour of his death at sea reached us. I have heard so many expressions of regret at his death that I think extracts from a letter recently received from him may be of interest to his many gardening friends in this country. It is certain that great sympathy will be felt for him in the loss of his wife and baby son in such tragic circumstances.

When I was in Japan ten years ago I saw a great deal of Wada San and visited him and his family at Numazu, where they showed me great kindness. His nursery... was then full of interesting plants as was also his private garden. [...] By some means he managed to get a letter through to us early in 1940 in which he expressed his sorrow for all that his English friends were called upon to endure at the hands of the Germans. He mentioned his great unpopularity in his own country on account of his pro-British sympathies. It has always remained a mystery how this incriminating letter escaped the very strict Japanese censorship.

It is obvious that he is still in the nursery business but it is problematical whether we shall be permitted to import plants for many years to come.

Mr Wada writes that during the War he was not levied into the army but was watched by the police owing to suspicion of being opposed to Japanese militarism. He worked in Tokyo, and both his house in Tokyo and later his house at Numazu were destroyed by bombs and his wife and son subsequently died from their injuries. He also writes "So far as the raising of new meritable plants of great future value are concerned the past seven years were not wasted. I have raised a wonderful strain of Azaleas, a wonderful coloured Rhododendron, a new strain of Rhododendron eminently desirable for gardens for the leaves, habit and flowers, a new hybrid Magnolia, a hybrid Hamamelis, many fine Camellias, etc." "


  1. Magnolias are my favorite flowering trees and I have quite a few. Magnolia 'Wada's Memory' is one of my favorites. It is its habit that is its best attribute with the branches going out to the side and pointing up in a regular pattern to form an elongated pyramid. The very old tree at Winterthur maintains this unusual habit. My 45' tree is evenly covered with flowers all the way down to the ground. The flowers remind me of handkerchiefs draped my Victorian ladies.

  2. I love this kind of long leave flowers. I like to see white lotus as well. Nice post, I enjoy photos.
    dean graziosi


    There's a majestic, old magnolia tree,
    That stands in my front yard;
    It's a tree that's grown there for ages,
    And whose beauty you can't disregard.
    She spreads her branches quite nobly,
    And her stance is that of a queen;
    She stretches her arms so commandingly,
    As if certainly crying out to be seen.
    She's the center of much activity,
    And I know a squirrel family lives there;
    I'm sure she affords them much comfort,
    For her branches don't ever go bare.
    There's so much that's gone on around her,
    I'm sure that so much could be told;
    But, she keeps all her secrets well guarded
    And, simply, remains a sight to behold.
    2008 Patricia Neely-Dorsey
    from Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.