Thursday, May 9, 2013

Magnolia x 'Sunspire'

Old established suburban neighborhoods are often over planted with out of scale trees.  Trees that were likely only a few feet tall when some excited new homeowner selected and planted them many years ago, unable to imagine a time when they would grow large enough to fill the space and then outgrow the space.

If you're like me and this scenario sounds disturbingly familiar, not to worry.  All you need to do is embrace the knowledge that someday some future owner of your home will be cursing you as they fire up the chainsaw.

In my neighborhood sugar maples, oaks and sycamores tower over modest circa 1940s homes.  The street where I live is a dead end that runs from east to west and my house is at the end.  On a sunny summer morning, the short drive down the street to my house can often give the illusion that one is leaving the Emerald City and entering the Haunted Forest.

A couple of years ago the house next door to me to the east sold for the first time in 50 plus years.  Much to my delight, one of the first projects the new homeowners tackled was tree removal.  From the front yard alone they removed four dogwoods, a mature sugar maple, and a mature and declining blue spruce.  From the back yard another maple, a huge arborvitae and a diseased black walnut went to the old wood chipper in the sky.  A few trees remain on the less than quarter acre lot but sunlight now actually reaches the ground in most spots.

Shade is nice but even shade plants need light to thrive.  Whatever my new neighbors spent on tree removal will remain a mystery but the benefit to my garden is priceless.  Among the beneficiaries is a tree I selected to satisfy my desire to grow a yellow magnolia.


Magnolia x 'Sunspire'



'Sunspire' is a columnar form of Magnolia.  Although it will grow tall, it will only grow to be five or six feet wide-a perfect size for gardens like mine where space is at a premium.














Every year I try to get pictures of this tree in bloom that do it justice.  For some reason it's incredibly difficult to photograph (at least for a hack like me).  Now that I've figured out how to use my camera on manual settings I thought it might be a good time to give it another shot.

If you're wondering why my 'Sunspire' doesn't look all that columnar, blame the freak snow storm we had in October 2011.  Although the the weight of the snow didn't snap off branches like it did on some of my other trees, it permanently splayed them out at odd angles.  Light pruning last year did little to improve the form.  Just when I think I should take it out, it flowers and buys itself another year.





At any rate, if you're on the market for a yellow magnolia, don't live in an area where it can snow in October, don't have an arboretum sized garden, and perhaps don't want to lay awake at night worrying about the chain saw scenario, I highly recommend 'Sunspire'.  When I bought this one from Fairweather Gardens seven or eight years ago, they weren't widely available.  Now any good woody plant nursery should carry them.

Sue~



33 comments:

  1. Lovely, lovely tree, especially against the red house. My 'Elizabeth' yellow magnolia is similar, although not as columnar, and it too got all weirdly splayed from the October snowstorm. Branches did not snap off, but they were strangely twisted and drooped.

    Both of ours will eventually regain their shapes over the next few years I think. Those creamy yellow flowers make it worth waiting for.

    All the trees in this new neighborhood are little, but I can hear the future homeowners in 30 years cursing me, just as you describe in your older neighborhood --- it's gonna happen and I know I am to blame!

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    1. Yellow magnolias seem to hold an enchantment all their own. In my neighborhood all you see are stellatas and soulangeanas. They are beautiful too but I prefer the yellow.

      Plant away, Laurrie-by the time people are oiling up those chain saws you will most likely be long gone and won't give a hoot :).

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  2. This year, you got the shot, Sue. Those buttery yellow blooms look delicious against your red siding.

    As for the splayed branches, just remember nature's a superior designer; embrace it. I know, easy for me to say, but I love swooping, soaring branches, whether they started that way – or not.

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    1. As with most Magnolias the flowers are unfortunately fleeting. Last year I cut a few of the lower branches off. Maybe over time a snip here and a snip there will prove to be the way to go.

      I'm still trying to find a spot for that M. grandiflora 'Brackens Brown Beauty'. Somehow I'll find a way to shoehorn one in somewhere...

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  3. Though I have absolutely no space for another tree, I'm now trying to figure out how to make room for that gorgeous magnolia after seeing your photos. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. In my experience if you want a certain plant bad enough you'll find a spot even if it means ousting something else. Last fall I started getting rid of all the plants I dismissed as "filler" because I didn't have anything else. Then I consolidated and rearranged many more. All of I sudden space opened up in my garden that I previously would have told you I didn't have.

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  4. Beautiful magnolia.

    In the 1970s, I brought a sequoia seedling back from a Yosemite vacation and planted it in my postage stamp yard near Boston. If you are ever near Boston College and feel something huge over your shoulder, yup, I did that.

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    1. Are you sure it's still there?

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  5. Wonderful against the red-barn color. What a special tree, and thoughtfully chosen -- the thoughtful part being what's most rare!

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    1. Lately I've been putting alot more thought into plants before I buy them. If I'd done that all along I might be rich today...:).

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  6. oh my ! I have never seen this you sure have some great shots....I can see you really take time to appreciate this great tree.!

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    1. It doesn't bloom for long and there was a couple of days of rain in the forecast. Flowers can be so fleeting and a year is a long time to wait for another chance.

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  7. Those are some beautiful photos of your beautiful tree. Around here I have been seeing a variety known as "Yellow Bird."
    I'm thinking there has to be a place somewhere in my yrad for a yellow magnolia. Yours looks to be in the perfect location!

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    1. I had never heard of 'Yellow Bird' until the other night when a few of my friends were discussing it on Facebook. One of my extreme garden friends has a variety called 'March til Frost' that blooms sporadically all season. Too many trees, not enough space...

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  8. I do love me a magnolia and that is a beauty! Please put away the chainsaw for good.

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    1. Not to worry-no chainsaws exists in my arsenal of garden weapons. When I need one I have a friend I can call.

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  9. A yellow magnolia! I've never seen one. Yours is just beautiful!

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    1. Yellow seems to have become a popular color in Magnolias among the more discriminating gardeners and hybridizers are taking note.

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  10. The yellow magnolia is very lovely. I like it much better than the star magnolias that have become popular (thought those are nice, also). Though I must say the thought of having big old sugar maples, oaks and sycamores is rather appealing. That may be because my neighborhood is overshadowed by big old cottonwoods, silver maples, norway maples, and siberian elms.

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    1. We have the silver and norway maples too. In my opinion, Sycamores are poor choices for small suburban lots. I removed a huge one a few years ago and have never regretted it for one second.

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  11. A splendid plant Sue, I hope it makes it through those late spring frosts unscathed !

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    1. So far, so good. Despite the endless frost warnings, it's unusual for me to get a frost after May 1st.

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  12. What a beautiful Magnolia! I've never seen a yellow one before, it really is very pretty, and great that it doesn't get too big either, as some of the ones around my street have grown into monsters and taken over whole front gardens!

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    1. 'Sunspire' is a great yellow Magnolia cultivar for small space gardens. If my only options were the larger varieties I would probably not have chosen to grow one.

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  13. Lovely tree.
    I have to admit though, I would be of two minds on the removal of a sugar maple. We are losing so many each year now (as they reach natural old age, traffic, abuse, neglect) and so few are ever planted by people that I wonder if people a century from now will have a chance to see what was once the iconic New England village road, lined with towering sugar maples.
    But, I have an odd mindset, as I manage a property with a mandate of appropriate care so that whoever inherits a century can have the same towering trees that I currently have. So a sugar maple, a white oak, a sycamore, and two beeches all got planted recently...I'll never see them as giants, but they'll replace the giants that will almost certainly fall in my lifetime.

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    1. Unfortunately when you inherit a property that has been overplanted with trees, sometimes hard choices have to be made. Not only are the trees not doing well but nothing growing underneath them is thriving either. The sugar maple my neighbors removed was planted less than 10 feet from their house. A second remains but that one is further from the house.

      In my neighborhood, the average lot size is probably around a quarter acre. From my quarter acre lot I've removed over a dozen diseased Hemlocks (one was over 80 feet tall and planted very close to my house) and a large Sycamore. I still have a sugar maple, another Sycamore and a handful of oaks. Along the back, but not on my property is a row of large white pines and black locusts. I have planted many small ornamental trees but as far as I'm concerned I have more than enough large shade trees and have no plans to plant any more.

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    2. I hear you, ten feet from the house is a bit much! I hadn't realized just how many trees your neighbours had, sorry!
      I am just bitter because I have been watching a neighbouring town common get turned from sugar maples (which were dying and a real threat) to bare to...Norway maples, which are a personal nemesis of mine.
      Over planting is a real issue. The big trees have to be at least thirty five feet apart to grow decently. To grow well, they need to be more like sixty or seventy feet apart, or more, and at least thirty feet from a house. I am guessing that would be what, about one per house front on your street?
      I'd get out the chainsaw too at that point!

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  14. Hi Sue, I too see many trees in need of removal in my profession. We do have them taken down if they harm property. Like you, I had a neighbor who was born in her house 94 years ago. She had the city remove a Sugar Maple which afforded my property much more sun when it came down. When she sold the house two years ago, the new neighbors came in and cut down all the plants planted in the twenties, Kerria, Spirea, peonies, and shrub roses. It was sad to see all these old timers hacked off. Only one lilac remained.

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  15. Adorable tree Sue, even if it is a bit more than 5 feet wide! AND, its not a sycamore....

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  16. I love magnolias! I swear I must be a displaced southerner. Neighbors have one, and I hate when the first hard rain hits it and it loses all its blossoms.

    Oh, and I'm the person living with all the overgrown trees. We have barely a .25 acre plot (a postage stamp actually) and we have 4 maples. Every time I see a homeowner planting a sapling I want to run over to them and scream, "no, no! Don't do it!"

    We're saving now for their removal. Can't wait. One may survive my wrath...but not likely.

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  17. I like your yellow magnolia even if it is shaped a bit differently from your original vision. The blossoms show up so well against the red house.

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  18. Lovely!

    Since it can snow in September here, magnolias are out of the question.

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  19. That lovely magnolia would be a little less so if it were not for that barn red paint that backs it up.

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