The new gardener soon learns that there is nothing typical about the timing of spring flowering. The early flowering magnolias illustrate this perfectly. In the natural order of this garden, ‘Merrill’ (below) flowers earliest of the magnolias, in early March, occasionally in late February, and as late as the last week of March as we see today.
The “typical” order tells us that ‘Merrill’ flowers four days earlier than ‘Royal Star’ (below), which is then ten days earlier than the purple ‘Jane’. The pale yellow flowered ‘Elizabeth’ flowers just before ‘Jane’, and while there is no track record on the recently planted ‘Yellow Bird’, today it’s flower buds are breaking open alongside all others. The native sweetbay and evergreen Southern magnolias flower long after frosts and freezes are past.
The gardener who must have a well defined order will surely be disappointed by the sometimes chaotic schedule. I’ll take my blooms whenever they come, though I prefer that ‘Merrill’ and ‘Royal Star’ flower the first week of March as a well earned reprieve from an always too long winter. In three of five years the two early magnolias will flower in the first ten days of March, and with this timing damage from freezes is not unusual. Those discouraged by occasional ruined blooms are recommended to plant later flowering varieties since protecting a large multi stemmed tree is a near impossibility.