Gardener's notebook: a spotter's guide to London's most beautiful magnolia trees

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

This week, London’s magnolia trees are in their absolute prime.

Many flower en masse before they have produced this year’s leaves, known botanically as precocious flowering.

They are scattered through the front gardens and parks of the capital, these fragrant flowers are a reassuring sign of what’s to come and provide a welcome source of food for spring pollinators.

I’ve also just discovered, via TikTok, that the flowers can be pickled in just a few days, and have a gingery taste.

Chances are if you’ve got a magnolia in your local park it is likely to be the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana), but there are many hundreds of spectacular alternatives.

Here are a few that I’ve spotted while out and about in London:

Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

If bold colours are your thing, then Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’ might be for you.

Introduced to the UK from Japan in the mid-1800s, it is similar to its cousin, the saucer magnolia, but with large two-tone flowers that are purple on the outside and pink internally.

It is a compact tree, only growing to a height of around two metres, making it perfect for a small London garden.

Magnolia ‘Genie’

A truly maroon magnolia, the flowers of M.‘Genie’ are bowl-like.

The buds emerge nearly black, before evolving to deep purple. It is quite well-behaved, growing no more than a couple of metres wide and four metres tall.

Magnolia stellata

Flowers of Magnolia stellata (Alamy Stock Photo)
Flowers of Magnolia stellata (Alamy Stock Photo)

The star magnolia’s does not disappoint.

Each flower contains two or three times as many petals than a typical magnolia.

Usually white, although a pink cultivar is available, M.stellata flowers all at once at the beginning of spring. Another slow-growing magnolia, it makes a great front garden specimen.

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’

If magnolia makes you think paint, then M.’Elizabeth’ might just be the inspiration.

Unusually, Elizabeth has buttery-yellow flowers, still scented and flowering slightly later in the spring than other magnolias.

Magnolia grandiflora

Close up of Southern Magnolia flower (Magnolia grandiflora) (Alamy Stock Photo)
Close up of Southern Magnolia flower (Magnolia grandiflora) (Alamy Stock Photo)

Different to the other magnolias in this list, M.grandiflora is evergreen, never losing its polished, dark green leaves with their velvet-bronze undersides.

It does not flower all at once, but keeps growing new blooms all year, particularly in sheltered London gardens.