Flowering Maple Shines

Flowering Maple - Magnolia Gift and Garden

Shade has met its match. The brilliant array of bloom colors, fantastic foliage and superb performance that have earned the Flowering Maple (Abutilon hybrids) a prominent position in our inventory brighten dim corners, treed borders and containers year-around. Evergreen and cold-hardy in Chico, this plant will take morning sun, filtered light or shade in stride, producing a plethora of pendent bell-shaped flowers from spring through fall. Hummingbirds find the vibrant cups irresistible, and humans are similarly drawn to their Crayola-rivaling spectrum of hues—white, yellow, gold and palest pink through oranges and deep reds. The leaves deserve the plant’s common moniker, as most display five toothed lobes, distinctly resembling the Acer genus. Given good drainage and regular water, Abutilon becomes a small to large shrub at maturity, depending on the cultivar. For best structure, staking is required in taller specimens, and periodically pinching the growth tips will encourage a denser, bushier habit in plants of any size. Though myriad cultivars are available, displaying astounding variety in bloom shape and color, leaf texture and pattern, here are a handful of our favorites.

‘Apricot’—Aptly named, the peachy petals of this selection form an open bell shape, highlighted by muted red sepals. One of Chris’ picks, it is a prolific bloomer, and will reach some 6’ high at maturity.

‘Cristina’—My newest fetish, this lovely strain sports fiery tangerine blooms with slightly fluted petals. One of the more compact varieties, expect a bushy plant in the 3-4’ range.

‘Mobile Pink’—Courtney, our resident Abutilon expert, adores this one. Out of her extensive collection, she claims this is the most robust and floriferous. Growing roughly 3′ high and wide, it displays pale pink flowers with an umbrella-like form and lustrous petals.

‘Nabob’—One of the taller cultivars, at around 10’ unpruned, this is undeniably among the most striking bloomers of the bunch. It produces large, strongly cupped flowers in some shade between blood red and wine, primarily in spring and fall.

‘Tiger Eye’—Less prolific than some of the varieties named above, but definitely worth the wait; golden bells with red-orange veins and protruding red stamens add an exotic flair to the garden. The leaves are similarly tropical in appearance; deeply lobed, glossy and dark green. A larger plant, it may reach 10’ in time.

‘Victory’—Irresistibly cheery, the dainty golden flowers have fluted petals that seem to swirl out of a burnished orange calyx. The plant is densely clothed in small, felted leaves, belying a rather vigorous growth habit that can result in 10-12’ stature when mature.

Whether you seek a punch of color or cool whites and creamy yellows, velvety green foliage or dappled gold, look no further. The Flowering Maple is the go-to perennial for shade performance. The nursery is flush with these vibrant beauties right now, but they won’t last long.

Garden Whimsy

Succulent Dinosaurus Planter - Magnolia Gift and Garden

It all started with a plastic dinosaur. Anyone who knows Magnolia’s co-owner, Chris Hunter, understands that he can be a bit… shall we say, obsessive?—when it comes to gardening. While making deliveries one day, he happened upon said children’s toy, transformed into a grin-inducing fountain for a small pond. And it inspired him. Well known for his striking custom container arrangements, which can be found throughout the nursery, he unleashed his eccentric creativity in the greenhouse.

You may have never imagined how charming a miniature scene of Yoda tending Sedum would be or C-3PO and R2-D2 traversing an arid landscape of crumbling stone and Echeveria, or Darth Maul rising from a glowing cauldron against a clump of Black Mondo Grass. A delightful living gift for gardeners of all ages, our whimsical container-scapes are created individually using beautiful glazed pottery, recycled glass or natural rock, one or more vintage figurines and a variety of flora, ranging from exotic Amorphophallus to succulent dwarf Agave. Suitable for indoor or outdoor settings, these tasteful plantings are guaranteed to brighten your day and be the envy of family, friends and colleagues!

Magnolia Gift and Garden

MIni Gardens - Magnolia Gift and Garden

Barbie Planter - Magnolia Gift and Garden

The whole collection will make the jump into hyperspace. If you can’t seem to find your favorite character on display, just ask. Because around here, it is considered a tenet of horticultural practice that gardening should be fun, and these container scenes are sure to bring out a little of the child in all of us. So transport your patio, home or office to a time long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

May the Force be with you.

Silver Takes Center Stage

The end of another warm week in Northern California—would it be overly optimistic to call it the last fit of summer? Each morning, dawn breaks just a bit later, as if the sun doesn’t begrudge me the luxury of a few more moments of sleep. And more often than not, dusk catches me out on my evening walk now. The leaves of the Chinese Pistache trees on campus are daily more suffused with amber and red, smoldering into the interior until the foliage will soon be alight with radiant hues of fall. My hands are itching to be in cool, moist soil again, planting spinach, lettuce, kale and arugula. The end of the first week of September—what a sense of anticipation is wrapped up in those words, both beckoning change and foreboding leaf rakes and pruning shears, woolen scarves and sweaters, leather boots, umbrellas. But in the interval between “leaf rakes” and “pruning shears” there is more than just an article; there is a prime gardening season. With that in mind, Horticultural Manager Jim Belles selected two exceptional performers for our Plants of the Week.

Perovskia ruscifolia ‘Filigran’ is an improved cultivar of a timeless favorite in our region—Russian Sage. Finely-cut, ferny foliage in shades of silvery green sets off the airy spikes of lavender-blue flowers to advantage. Due to its clumping habit and graceful spires that branch from the ground, this drought-tolerant perennial makes a lovely informal border to a lawn or walk. Jim favors ‘Filigran’ because it is more compact than the species—measuring about 3 feet high and wide at maturity—thrives in full sun, poor soil and harsh conditions. Perovskia shines in a perennial bed or landscape, drawing butterflies and diverse species of pollinator insects to the garden. Prolific blooms from mid-summer through fall make this one an essential, especially in cottage gardens, meadows, Mediterranean and Southwestern-themed yards.

Another silvery standout is Juniperus virginiana ‘Skyrocket’—the aptly dubbed Skyrocket Juniper. Fabulous threadlike texture on vertical shoots cloak its conical form, spreading only 2-3 feet wide, and growing rapidly to around 12 feet. In time, it may peak at 15-20 feet high, forming a superb maintenance-free hedgerow or regal columnar accent. Clean, tight habit is inherent to this evergreen, which requires no pruning, and needs very little water once established. It thrives in full sun, handles wind, and is not fussy about soil; as Jim pointed out, it is one of the best-suited conifers to our interior Northern California climate. He suggests pairing it with other drought-tolerant selections like New Zealand Flax, Grevillea, Rock Rose, Russian Sage (such as the one above) and Salvias for year-around texture, color, and low-maintenance beauty.

So whether the holiday weekend finds you in your garden, ours, or far away, all of us at Magnolia wish you a safe and relaxing Labor Day!

Summer Fountain

English-born writer and clergyman Sydney Smith could have easily been referring to the burning breath of August in Northern California when he famously exclaimed,

“Heat, ma’am!” I said; “it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.” –Lady Holland’s Memoir

Magnolia Gift and Garden - FountainsTending to my oppressed garden has become an activity that I only engage in before or after the sun rules the sky, and one which always involves liberal applications of water on me and the dog along with the plants.  But fortunately, there are other aspects to a well-rounded yard which are not suffering under the influence of our Mediterranean climate.  Fountains and water features serve many purposes in the landscape; among them, adding year-around color and defined structural elements; providing soothing background sounds; and attracting birds, butterflies and pollinators.  A yard doesn’t need to be spacious to showcase a fountain, either.  A well-proportioned water feature can be the capstone to a small plot, patio, or balcony; equally at home in the flower bed, a shady corner, or a container grouping.  The noise-masking effect of splashing water is perhaps best appreciated in close proximity to seating areas, as in small-scale urban outdoor spaces.

Magnolia Gift and Garden - Fountains

If you’ve spent any time around the grounds, you know we’re pretty passionate about unique water features at Magnolia.  But we’re equally passionate about environmental responsibility; energy conservation is just one of the reasons that we now carry a full line of solar pump products.  Versatility is another—remember the first cordless phone you ever bought?  (Yeah, they’re life-changing in that kind of way!)  Four sizes are available, each of which can be seen in functional fountains at the nursery.  Of course, some applications require conventional pumps, so we have just expanded our offering in that category as well.  Here is a sneak peak at a few of the newest displays, as well as some just-arrived pottery if you prefer to mix-and-match.

Don’t let the summer doldrums keep you from enjoying beauty in your garden!

Five easy steps for planting in the summer heat

1. Do not plant in the heat of the day. Early morning or late evenings are best. If you do buy plants when its hot, put them in the shade for a day and drench the entire plant with water.

2. Make sure the plant is acclimated to the climate and amount of sun you will give it. This is not the time of year to be testing the sun tolerance of plants grown in the shade.

3. Do mulch. Using composted mulch around your new plantings to ensure that your plants will maintain moisture even during the hottest days.

4. Plant in small groups. By planting in mass, plants can help each other out by shading each others roots, and protecting from dry winds.

5. Water, water, water. Even drought tolerant plants are used to being watered everyday (sometimes twice) in the nursery.  We encourage you to continue this practice through summer.


It Isn’t Dirt…

It is a seemingly harmless interposition of terms, but it carries a weighty implication. Never ask a gardener how their dirt is. Healthy soil is arguably worth its weight in gold. Perhaps the most crucial component of vigorous gardens and vibrant ecosystems, this oft under-appreciated substrate is responsible for anchoring, nourishing, hydrating and allowing atmospheric gasses to enter and leave the plant. It follows that establishing or supporting a healthy garden starts with sound soil management.

Here in the North Valley, the land is often high in Magnesium, a byproduct of decomposing mineral serpentine in the surrounding foothills. Though it is an essential micronutrient for plants, large quantities of this element can actually have a toxic effect. Where it is prevalent in the soil, the chemical receptors in the root tissue of plants will indiscriminately collect high concentrations of Magnesium instead of the reactively similar Calcium ions, which are a macronutrient in much greater demand. In proportion to plant needs, Calcium levels in native soils are much lower than those of Magnesium. While traditional horticultural wisdom would recommend applications of Agricultural Lime—Calcium Carbonate—in such instances, this will raise the pH, or make the soil more alkaline. All nutrients are available to the plant within a finite pH range, and as our flatland soils tend toward alkalinity anyway, this approach can create new problems.

Alternately, we suggest intensive applications of Gypsum, or Calcium Sulfate. By elevating Calcium levels in the soil, plants have ready access to the nutrient and are less likely to accumulate Magnesium instead, leading directly to increased vegetative health. Fruit quality issues, such as end rot in tomatoes, are often symptomatic of Calcium deficiencies and will be markedly reduced or eliminated come harvest time. Additionally, Sulfate has a mild acidifying effect, helping to maintain a lower pH—one more conducive to absorption of other nutrients.

Buffering of pH allows the soil itself to feel the real benefits of Calcium addition—deflocculation—without the detrimental effects on plants that Lime would produce. Deflocculation simply means that the Calcium ions break up the very dense, clumping soil structure indicative of clay content, allowing increased aeration, drainage, and leaching salts out of the soil. Or, as our Sof’n-Soil© bags read, Gypsum “works like millions of tiny hoes.” So if your garden gnomes just can’t seem to get it together, here’s a low-cost solution that is good for the gardener and the earth. Come in soon, and get a jump start on building rich, loose soil for a fantastic year in the yard!

Melynn’s Favorite Plants

Melynn’s Top 5 Must Have Plants


Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’
· This small shrub has all season color. In warm weather leaves have a soft chartreuse variegated color. In the cooler weather leaves take on a pinkish maroon color.
· Low maintenance plant. Growth habit is neat and compact. Plant reaches 2′-3′ tall and wide.
·Great evergreen shrub for small areas.


Loropetalum ‘Burgundy’
· Holds beautiful burgundy leaf color all year.
· Withstands full sun to almost all day shade
· Unique neon pink fringe flowers
· Low maintenance and little pruning required
· Although evergreen this shrub gets great fall color


· Endless array of color combinations

· Brightens up dark shady areas

· Fast growing and has many different height selections

· Can be a stunning houseplant

· Last a very long time in flower arrangements

Acacia baileyana
· Tough drought tolerant evergreen tree

· Beautiful soft texture leaves with a grayish-blue color

· Spring flowers are in bright yellow globular clusters

· Good choice for small yards reaching only 20′-30′ tall

Gingko biloba
· Spectacular glowing yellow autumn color

· Fan-shaped leaves are very unique

· Disease resistant and very few pests

· The oldest tree in the world. Over 2oo million years ago these trees kept the dinosaurs company.


Chris’ Favorite Plants

Chris’ Top 5 Must Have Plants

Arbutus ‘Marina’

· All season interest

· Attracts hummingbirds

· Superb evergreen mid-sized garden tree

· Drought tolerant

·Well suited for North Valley conditions


Kumquat ‘Nagami’

· Very hardy (So hardy because unlike most other citrus does not grow in winter months)

· Nice and neat uniform growth habit

· His favorite fruit, it tastes great and is nutritious (can be an acquired taste)


Muhlenbergia dumosa – Bamboo Muhly

· Excellent silhouette

· Reflects the sun well illuminating in sunlight

· Drought tolerant

· Has a reputation for reseeding (however he has never had any problem in his yard)

· No need to cut back when dormant stays attractive in winter too


Polygonatum o. ‘Variegatum’ -Solomon’s Seal

· Tough shade perennial (withstands abuse from his rambunctious dogs)

· This variety is particularly vigorous

· Great spring emergence from the soil (looks really neat)

· Variegated leaves stand out in dark shade

· Great companion plants are Variegated Aspidistra and Rhodea


Butia capitata- Pindo Palm

· Distinctive nicely silhouetted fronds

· Very cold hardy palm that looks great even in winter

· Nice fine textured gray foliage


Courtney’s Favorite Plants

Courtney’s Top 5 Plants


Agave vilmoriniana- Octopus Agave
· Drought tolerant

· Beautiful curved and twisted bluish-gray leaves

· Impressive silhouette

· Hardy (Many sources claim it should not survive in the North Valley yet it has happily for several years in Courtney’s yard)

· Improves with age

· Evergreen plant that makes a statement


Sedum ‘Lemon Belle’

· Drought tolerant

· Easy care low maintenance

· Striking chartreuse foliage contrasts beautifully with other plants

· Usually evergreen in North Valley

· Looks great in containers spilling  over edges


Grevillea ‘Long John’

· Drought tolerant

· Hardy (Many sources claim it should not survive in our zone yet it has happily for several years in Courtney’s yard)

· Flowers are very unique and beautiful

· Foliage is long and feathery

· Yet another evergreen plant that makes a statement



Hakonechloa macra- Japanese Forest Grass
· Graceful grass that prefers some shade
· Many color selections most chartreuse and golden which stand out in shady gardens

· Contrasts well with burgundy and green plants

· Tolerates moist soil

· Beautiful new growth emergance from soil spring



Cornus florida- Flowering Dogwood

· Beautiful spring flowers announce the joyous arrival of spring

· Winter berries attract birds

· Young trees needs a bit of extra care in North Valley but  worth the effort

· Stunning autumn color

· Branching is airy forming a wonderful canopy


In A North State Garden Interview

Local Garden Aficionado Jennifer Jewell from KCHO 91.7 FM invited us into the studio to find out more about our love of tropical plants. Check out the interview HERE.