An appreciation of magnolias

Lorainne Beswick

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Magnolia stellata 'Rosea' photographed by Lorraine Beswick
Magnolia stellata 'Rosea' photographed by Lorraine Beswick
Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’ photographed by Lorraine Beswick

Fifteen years ago, a small but passionate group of horticulturists, community members, nursery people and gardeners began to plant magnolias in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. Their goals were beautification and education, as well as extending the tourist season. Over the years, many of the original members of the group dispersed, but the trees kept growing.

Now in early spring, as one drives into Annapolis Royal from any direction, it is hard not to notice the blossoming of these magnolias. Not only are the original plantings by the Court House and at the crossroads of St. George and St. Anthony Streets coming into their own, so too are the trees in the allée alongside the Catholic cemetery, as well as the individual specimens planted in front of local bed and breakfasts, restaurants and in private gardens. Those in the Historic Gardens’ collection are also very beautiful. Currently, more than 100 magnolias are identified on a GPS map of town and indicated on a handout map for visitors.

More magnolias are planted each year, not only in Annapolis Royal, but throughout the surrounding communities of Granville Ferry, Victoria Beach, Lequille, Bear River and beyond. As many of these will ultimately attain serious tree stature (60 feet or more) in the years to come, their addition to the streets and gardens of the Valley will be quite glorious.

The goal of the current group who facilitate the annual Celebrate the Magnolias of Annapolis Royal is to make Annapolis Royal a National Collection of Magnolias. Interest in these trees beyond this community has become more serious with each year. Nurseries from below Digby to Blomidon’s in Wolfville now bring in new varieties for customers each spring. A handout printed each year lists magnolia varieties for sale at various nurseries.

As research continues to find ways to save our last elms and our possibly endangered ash and pines, it is important to keep planting in order to maintain a healthy green canopy. Planting magnolias is one way to accomplish this.

Magnolias not only provide romantically fragrant blossoms, they are also great shade and bird trees. In blossom and without, they give four-season interest to the landscape.

Each year attendance at local garden tours and the Historic Gardens increases. We have been honoured by having Captain Dick Steele, Jodi de Long, Kristl Walek, Jeff Morton and Jamie Ellison as guest speakers over the past three years. The owners of private gardens in the community, who have opened their properties to strangers, have also been very generous with their time, and have shared their knowledge and passions.

Magnolia art show in Annapolis Royal, NS
Magnolia art show in Annapolis Royal, NS

The 2010 special events included a mixed media show at the Chapel Gallery, organized by our local arts council, ARCAC.

Two delightful private gardens will be open to tour and the Historic Gardens will be open by donation. Kristl Walek of Gardens North Seeds will describe starting species magnolia from seed and Jill Covill of Bunchberry Nurseries will illustrate other means of propagating hybrid magnolias. Monday, May 10, Angelika Waldow and Karen Achenbach will lead magnolia walks through town and the Historic Gardens. Refreshments will be served afterward, hosted by the Champlain Garden Club.

Sommelier Sean Buckland and chef Paula Buxton offered a culinary experience at Hillsdale House Inn, recently named one of the top 10 inns in Canada.

A magnolia ‘Ann’ was planted following the 300th Anniversary Concert at St. Luke’s Anglican Church.

Nova Scotia has many attributes. Its historical background in agriculture is now complemented by a growing interest and acknowledgement of the importance of horticulture. The Historic Gardens are among the garden treasures of Canada, not just of this province. That members of our immediate and outlying communities appreciate and take all of such work seriously is of note. For many, it is one of the reasons that they have chosen to live in this part of the world. Many members of our magnolia committee are recognized internationally, and certainly all are recognized in the community and province for their dedication in their own fields. It is a small but great team.

Each Celebration of the Magnolias of Annapolis Royal only adds to the acknowledgement of the importance of this area as an educational as well as beautiful and historical destination. Precise information on the above events can be found via or through the blog

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