White and pale pink Magnolias need a dark background to be seen at their best. On flat ground those of tree habit need a backdrop of other trees or else you are looking at their flowers against the sky, which in the early months of the year is more likely to be cloudy than clear.
Magnolia ‘Heaven Scent’ has pale purplish pink flowers which stand out even less well against a cloudy sky than pure white. It flowers from about mid March, late enough to be fairly safe from frost in Cornwall, but from mid April the leaves start to unfurl, reducing the impact of the flowers significantly by the month’s end.
Even so , as garden plants go, magnolias are undoubtedly heavyweights and a tree standing well over twenty feet is a very significant presence in a garden of modest size.
Surprisingly though, the decision to remove it was not a difficult one. The long axis of our garden runs south-east to north-west, open down the middle and with trees along both sides. Those on the south-west side are taller and further into the garden than those on the north-east side, most of which are in the neighbour’s garden. The magnolia was the furthest in of any, growing rapidly and carrying a dense canopy of leaves that cast a very solid shadow over an area we have populated with sun loving plants.
Even without it, there is a fairly large area, approaching half the total garden, that is in shade for most or all of the day. I have a good collection of shade tolerant plants and want to keep the balance between them and the sun lovers about equal. Trees inevitably grow and I accept that the pattern of light in the garden will change. Sometimes it is possible to limit the size of a tree, though it is often difficult and can be expensive. Sometimes lifting the crown will let light in beneath. The magnolia has had both approaches use on it but has mainly responded with strong and increasingly dense regrowth. I was fighting a losing battle.
These sorts of decision are easier if you can do the work yourself. No cost implications, no concerns about collateral damage, no need to hesitate. About a third has already gone. I will borrow a long arm pruner, pole saw and chain saw to get the rest. It will have to come down in small pieces to minimise damage to the plants beneath. Everything up to about ½ inch will go through my shredder and be composted, the rest to the council tip. It will be missed, but not for long. The adjacent Ligustrum japonicum ‘Excelsum Superbum’ will fill out to partially fill the gap.
Even in the two pictures, I see in the Schefflera and Pittosporum a new generation of trees coming along. They are on the north-east side of the garden so will cast their shadow onto the neighbour’s garden, already in shade from a massive hazel on his land, so unlikely to be a problem for quite some time.