Magnolia Grandiflora

What, what is the true Southern Symbol,
The Symbol of Honor and Right,
The Emblem that suits a brave people
In Arms Against number and might!--
'Tis the ever green stately Magnolia,
Its pearl-flowers pure as the Truth,
Defiant of tempest and lightning,
Its life a perpetual youth.
--Albert Pike 1861
I can think of no better way to begin than to introduce "the noble Magnolia that only on Southern soil grows". This most dignified and iconic southern tree is native to the deep south from the coastal plain of North Carolina to Texas.
The southern magnolia can grow 60-90 feet and has a wonderfully straight trunk. The fragrant, voluminous white flowers appear in spring and summer and can grow to 12 inches in diameter. The leathery leaves are dark, deep glossy green with rusty, velveteen undersides. It thrives in acid soil, and will tolerate full sun and hot conditions if moist, peaty soil is present.
There are many varieties of this evergreen available, and the southern gardener will choose a cultivar based on the desired aesthetics. "Galaxy" and "Spectrum" are most often recommended, but the southern gardener will choose based on select characteristics. Choose "Cairo" for an early and long flowering period; "Mary" for its compact form, young bloom and bronze underside; "Charles Dickens" for its large flowers, large red fruit, and blunt leaves; "Bracken's Brown Beauty has a very dark brown lower leaf, which is excellent for decorative projects.
Magnolia trees provide a wonderfully dense blue/black/green foliage suitable for deep shade and wonderful screening so typical of our private and deliciously secrete southern gardens. The shading is so absolute that you will not find much grass around them. I suggest planting acid loving ferns, as they will provide an interesting, lacy contrast to the leather leaves of the magnolia. A magnolia and fern vignette will also provide a cool, moist immediate environment perfect for a seating area arrangement.