Willowood Arboretum Magnolia Tour

John Beirne, a Willowwood Arboretum Magnolia expert.

John Beirne has been and is currently working on the Magnolia Verification Project at Willowwood Arboretum but now as Superintendent of Horticulture at Willowwood. He is a registered horticultural therapist and is an instructor of Horticulture and Horticultural therapy related classes at the New York Botanical Garden. He also has worked as an assistant garden editor at Martha Stewart Omnimedia. John has displayed his work at the Sussex County Spring fest garden show and continues to lecture for garden clubs in the tri-state area and organizations. John apprenticed and later served as a garden guide and workshop leader at Wave Hill, a public garden in Riverdale New York.

But John’s first love and greatest passion are Magnolias which he has studied for years. He is truly an expert now on the Willowwood Magnolias where he has verified and photographed each of the plants and has recommended many new plants to expand and rejeuvenate this Collection.

According to John —

— The Willowwood magnolia collection is large, diverse and varied. The sheer number of documented accessions is staggering (over 128, not including accessions since Spring of 2011). As more accessions will be added again this spring, the collection is growing and will make Willowwood a destination for Magnolia enthusiasts. With continuing care and management, this “Key” collection will continue to prosper and become one of the resplendent jewels of the arboretum, while paying tribute and deference to the arboretum founders and their vision.

— Rolling meadows which were used as farmland in the 1700’s were developed into gardens at the turn of the century by Robert and Henry Tubbs. Their shared passion included growing rare and unusual plants, which were bought and imported from around the world to create the distinctive plantings that surround us today. Magnolias were clearly one of their and Dr. Ben Blackburn’s passions and the venerable specimens that abound throughout the gardens have been recently joined by new and exciting cultivars, hybrids and species.

— One of the most interesting magnolias in the Willowwood collection is M. x loebneri ‘Willowwood’ which was selected and named by Dr. Blackburn around 1940 from a seedling he found in the Arboretum. It flowers in early spring, has fragrant white flowers and becomes a pyramidal tree about 40 feet tall. The original tree, now dead, was located near the cypress Poll. fortunately staff propagated several new plants from the original, three of which are now established on the grounds. Also on the grounds are Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, ‘Edith Bogue’ and ‘Tulsa’ added in 2009.

— Magnolias are popular ornamental plants in NJ due to their showy, fragrant blossoms, easy culture and resistance to deer browse (at least one hopes…).

While strolling through the Magnolia collection it is worth noting, experiencing and savoring the following (Notable species, hybrid groups and cultivars of deciduous Asian Magnolias):

  • Magnolia x soulangiana ( Magnolia denudata x liliflora hybrids dating from 1820 )
  • Magnolia denudata, sp, ‘Purple Eye’
  • Magnolia x soulangiana ‘Lennei’, ‘Alba Superba’, ‘Rustica Rubra’, ‘Norbertii’, ‘Veitchi Rubra’, ‘Brozzonii’, ‘Grace McDade’, ‘Alexandrina’
  • Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, ‘Rosea’, ‘Waterlily’, ‘Rubra’
  • Magnolia x loebneri ( Magnolia kobus x Magnolia stellata dating to 1914 ) Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’, ‘Merrill’, ‘Willowood’
  • Magnolia salicifolia ‘Wadas Memory’, ‘Iufer’
  • Magnolia kobus
  • Magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’
  • Magnolia kobus x liliflora ( little Girl hybrids dating back to 1950’s) Magnolia ‘Betty’, ‘Susan’
  • Newer hybrids recently planted: Magnolia ‘Angelica’, ‘Apollo’, ‘Athene’, vetchii x ‘Columbus’, ‘Dark Diva’, ‘Daybreak’, ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Felix Jury’, ‘Franks Masterpiece’, ‘Galaxy’, ‘Golden Gift’, ‘ Gold Star’, ‘ sprengeri ‘Eric Saville’, ‘Ivory Chalice’, ‘ Lois’, ‘Pink Royality’, ‘Roseanne’, ‘Sayonara’ ‘Alexandrina’, ‘Athene’, ‘Black Tulip’, ‘’Blushing Belle’, ‘Verbanica’, ‘Butterflies’, ‘Coral Lake’, ‘Golden Sun’, liliflora x veitchii, ‘Lois’, ‘Marilyn’, liliflora ‘Nigra’, ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Rose Marie’, ‘Royal crown’, ‘ Yellow Fever’, ‘Verbanica’, ‘Vulcan’,

Click here for a list of Willowwood’s magnolia collection as of March, 2014.