29 May 2022

Gardening With Jo: Sweet magnolias and more in your spring garden

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening With Jo: Sweet magnolias and more in your spring garden

This week I wanted to concentrate on those spring flowering trees and shrubs that make the spring garden in Ireland such a delight. There are so many things that add interest and colour in the coming months that they really are worth celebrating.


What can we say about magnolias that hasn’t been said before? They are just a beautiful spring flowering small tree. I am so attached to mine that I have moved it twice and held up the paving in my garden for a full season so as not to disturb it.

You have to be patient with a magnolia but, boy, if you do it will reward you handsomely. The range of magnolias is great and it is very hard to pick my favourite one.

Leaving aside the evergreen magnolia group, the deciduous ones really do flower well. The simple stellata is a more feathery white bloom that flowers really well. Purpurea has a more tulip shaped-flower, with not quite as many blooms but they are of a larger size and have a great colour.

We have a few new varieties to us that are well worth a mention. Kobus is similar to stellata but with even more flowers. Star Wars a really beautiful dark pink flowering magnolia. My current favourite is the honey tulip, which has goblet-shaped blooms similar to the well-known variety Black Tulip, but with beautiful pale gold petals and butterscotch anthers. The blooms retain their shape and keep their colour well, flowering in early spring upon bare stems well before the foliage emerges.


My camellias are well in flower at this stage in the year, and the best thing about these camellias is its range of shapes.

The nature of the camellia means that it is easy to cut and prune into all sorts of shapes and styles. They make great standard trees, including half standards or lollipop trees as they are sometimes known. We also create cones and balls out of this versatile plant, and more recently, we have cloud pruned the tree so it looks like a number of balls or plates going up the stems.

Lastly we have created parachute forms, which are multiple stems with a semi-circle of foliage above, showing off the beauty of the stems whilst having the glossy green leaves with the abundance of flowers.

Cherry Trees

There is nothing better than the sight of cherry trees during their flowering time. I have rows of cherries up either side of my driveway and come the spring, when they flower, they are a real sight to behold. When we planted up the amazing Galgorm Hotel in Ballymena some years ago, we added a cherry walkway and now it has reached some maturity it has created the most beautiful effect which is worth visiting for - not that you’d need a reason to visit this fantastic resort.

My favourite cherry trees are kanzan for a lovely pink flower or tai haku for a wider, more tabletop cherry tree.


All our rhodos and azaleas on the nursery are just ready. These group of plants are really floral centrepieces with an abundance of flowers in shades of whites, creams, pinks, yellows, purples and reds. That's a great colour palette with a huge amount of flowering interest.

Rhododendrons come in a variety of sizes with some that grow only to about 60-80cm tall but others that, as anyone who has seen them growing wide in the south west of the country will know, can grow to two to three metres in height with the same width. There aren’t too many cultivated varieties that grow quite as uncontrollably as this though. The beauty of these, like the camellias, is that they have lush evergreen foliage all year round.

Apple Trees

Malus trees cover a multitude of different blossoms, including both apple trees and crab apple trees as well as ornamental trees too. Each one is different and beautiful in its own right.

The flowering fruit tree has a less significant flower, concentrating more on attracting those pollinators with its simplicity and scent rather than a flamboyant flower like the ornamentals.

Malus evereste is probably one of my favourites, as the name suggests it is a lovely white flowering tree.

Crab apple trees are worth the effort as a good crab apple jelly is beautiful. Fruiting apple trees clearly have the benefit of lovely fruit and there is nothing better than being able to pick fruit from your own tree. I have loads of ways of using that glut of fruit as the trees mature to a bountiful crop. There's no point in sharing those now, but I will in September when you start to harvest them.


With so many choices to keep your spring garden at its best, you now have to decide what to leave out. Planting any of these now will have them flowering in your garden rather than in the nursery or garden centre. Until next week, happy planting!

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