Author Archives: Abbie Jury

About Abbie Jury Tikorangi The Jury Garden Taranaki NZ

Pretty hellebores

IMG_3914Sunday was wet and gloomy so I picked hellebores to photograph indoors. And what a wonderful subject for photography they are. All I did was collect one representative bloom from a number of plants. This was more illustrative in intention than artistic endeavour.


Too often the reality of the hellebore plant can look like this

Too often the reality of the hellebore plant can look like this

These are all H. orientalis or orientalis hybrids, a mix of plants in the garden and some selections Mark has raised. We have been talking about them recently because our main 30 metre hellebore border is in dire need of major work. It has passed over from being a pretty, low maintenance area to being patchy and underperforming with too few blooms and too many of those are murky colours. We plan to gut it, replace some of the soil and replant with strong, new plants – each standing in its own space rather than aiming for the uninterrupted carpet look. This is because we have noticed that the plants we have thriving in other areas are in well cultivated soil, each on its own and not competing with its neighbours for space. We will fill the gaps between bulbs – Cyclamen hederafolium, narcissi and bluebells all combine well with hellebores.

IMG_3896Mark has been raising hellebores in the nursery, in preparation for the upgrade. And he is interested in whether he can get better performing selections for our conditions. Generally, hellebores like a colder climate and the best ones we have seen are in areas with much more winter chill. The very dark flowered ones with bluish tones – referred to as slate – are not exactly booming here. Similarly, the doubles that we, and every other keen gardener at the time, rushed to purchase don’t seem to get much larger and showier than they were when we bought them over a decade ago. Mark’s seedlings may perform better though the wonderfully large pink with petaloids is probably blown up by nursery conditions. In the garden, the flowers may scale down.

The merits of longer stems

The merits of longer stems

What he is most keen on is getting strong stems which hold the flowers above the foliage. So far, that seems to be one of the most desirable features of the recent releases out of the UK – Anna’s Red and Anna’s Pink. They display their blooms well. Because the reality is that when you pick hellebores and display them face up, they are hugely charming as seen in photos. But more often, they are nodding downwards and barely visible in the garden. You could of course follow the lead of a hellebore enthusiast we once met who had a mirror on a long pole so he could view the flowers without bending. Or you could glue mirrors to your shoes – but take care, gentlemen, never to wear such footwear to town lest the reason for the mirrors be misconstrued.
IMG_3909We have worked out that the desirable dark colours display far better as garden plants with the contrast of white flowers alongside. We will also banish all the murky ones to the compost heap. While clean pastel pink and green can be a charming combination, in hellebores these often lean to muted shades which are frankly of no merit. We also want plants that will fade gracefully and not to that dirty greenish brown which does not lift the soul.

We would like the hellebore border to shine again with the gentle charm that this plant family offers.

Earlier posts about hellebores include:
Hellebore Anna’s Red
The autumn trim (removing all the old foliage)
Helleborus x sternii – one of the few green flowers Mark is happy to accommodate here.
The double hellebores.

Full o’ beans

IMG_3803The bean mountain started modestly enough. It was just the surplus from the summer crops that Mark didn’t want to waste a few years ago. Dried beans had not featured large in our diet. Homemade hummus yes, but always with bought chickpeas. At least I started with dried peas and not the instant tinned version. Beyond that, we had never really moved on from the trendy mixed bean salads of the late 1970s. But the beans started to mount up at a faster rate than we were eating them.

At the same time, we made a conscious decision to reduce our meat intake. That started as one vegetarian meal a week, growing to be alternate evening meals of meat and vegetarian. Soon we found that the vegetable content dominated and meat-centred meals became rare. We are not vegetarian by any manner of means – I still use meat flavourings – but the meat content has become minor and often entirely absent. This change in eating habits has been driven both by environmental concerns and also evidence that as we age, a vegetable-centred diet is a great deal healthier. Bring on the beans!

Our beans have zero food miles and a very low environmental impact when it comes to production. I have nothing to do with the growing of them. That is entirely Mark’s domain. Fortunately he does the cleaning too. Sometimes I catch him sitting on a stool in the shed podding the dried beans while he listens to music. The compressor blows the detritus away from the beans in the 2015 take on winnowing. Having time for such simple activities is surely a sign of quality of life.

Borlottis are both decorative and excellent croppers

Borlottis are both decorative and excellent croppers

The one key element to increasing our bean consumption has been the discovery that soaking beans for a long time improves digestibility considerably. Our normal pattern is to soak for three days, changing the water twice daily. We took to adding the whey from yoghurt, acting on advice read from a moderately reputable source. It was only recently that I did a net search and found that whey is simply an acid and that vinegar or lemon juice can also be used. It is all about breaking down the troublesome oligosaccharides – complex sugars that the body can have trouble digesting.

I had NO IDEA that soaking beans was such a controversial topic until I did that net search. The internet is full of experts – hot soaks, cold soaks, soaking too long, not soaking at all, adding whey and/or other acids, adding baking soda, soaking on the bench or in the fridge, distilled water, rain water, soft water, added kombu. You can find whatever opinion you want. Alas, the one site I have failed to find again is the one I failed to bookmark – a scientific explanation in simple language, minus the woowoo and snake oil, explaining why soaking in several changes of water works.

All I will say is that we have found long soaking works for us. It also means that the cooking time is very short.

Variations on Phaseolus vulgaris with a little cross contamination

Variations on Phaseolus vulgaris with a little cross contamination

We have fava beans (broad beans), white beans, brown beans, an abundance of Borlotti beans and peas. For flavour, we favour the fava but without the addition of Chianti and body parts. They are also the most bother because each bean has to be individually de-husked. Generally, I cook them lightly (after the long soak) and then peel while warm. You get a feel for the timing and it is much easier if you get this right. Undercooked and the bean doesn’t pop out, overcooked and it breaks up. I am still trying to perfect the snack fava beans I tried in Malaysia – cooked then baked in the oven with a light spray of oil and a few flavourings. Bar snack style. I have reached the “these are quite nice” stage but not the “yum, these are delicious” goal. More often I use the fava beans for baked falafel.

There are a gazillion recipes out there but the other two standbys that I will mention are hummus and bean bread. Hummus does not have to be chick peas. Any bean will do. White bean hummus is probably my favourite. These beans can be a little bland in other dishes but are creamy and as tasty as any in hummus. Cornbread has become a favourite here, especially to accompany soup in winter, but required buying tins of creamed corn. Creamed beans, I found, are a perfectly acceptable substitute. I just whizz the cooked beans in the food processor with a little of the cooking liquid.

This is the blue pea but Mark is unconvinced by either crop yield or flavour so will keep to more traditional green varieties this season

This is the blue pea but Mark is unconvinced by either crop yield or flavour so will keep to more traditional green varieties this season

Peas are somewhat less versatile and a quick look on the internet tells me that most dried pea recipes are of the pea and ham soup genre or Indian curries. That said, apparently hummus from dried peas is just as successful as from beans but with a different taste. Once the soup season has finished, I will try that.

Botanically speaking, most beans are phaseolus and the largest number of beans grown by the home gardener are Phaseolus vulgaris. They are just variants within the same species although runner beans are P. coccineus. Soy beans are Glycine max (not such a productive crop here) and broad beans are Vica faba. Mark is planning to up the lima bean crop this year – these are P. lunatus. When beans become a staple in your diet, it is nice to have a variety of different types.

Lachenalias part one: the early bloomers

Left to right: Lachenalia aloides quadricolor, bulbifera, reflexa hybrid, aloides

Left to right: Lachenalia aloides quadricolor, bulbifera, reflexa hybrid, aloides

Pity the early-blooming lachenalias for none of them are blue. And the blues and mauves are the sought after members of this plant family. But as winter draws to a close, it is the cheerful red, orange and yellow combinations that light up a grey day. It is all in how you use them.
Nothing subtle about aloides but great in semi-wild areas

Nothing subtle about aloides but great in semi-wild areas

I had not been a fan of the most common form of Lachenalia aloides. It lacks refinement and reminds me of cheap, fake flowers. But when I relocated surplus bulbs out to an open area near our entrance, I changed my mind. They are a bright splash of colour around an old tree trunk which makes me smile. The addition of the undervalued muscari (grape hyacinths) that remind me of my childhood adds a splash of pure blue, making the colour seem even brighter, along with an early flowering scilla. We have a particularly strong growing form in New Zealand which you can still occasionally find under its completely incorrect name of Lachenalia ‘Pearsonii’. It is just a strong-growing, tall strain of aloides with its distinctive orange and red colouring.
Same species, aloides. Quadricolor to the right.

Same species, aloides. Quadricolor to the right.

L. aloides is a variable species and one of our early bloomers is another form – L. aloides quadricolor. It has a little more subtlety than its more vibrant, stronger sibling. The individual flowers are little smaller and finer, although still on a strong stem. Quadricolour refers to the four colours – red, yellow, green and interesting maroon or burgundy tips. There is a complexity to these flowers which counters the somewhat garish effect that can be evident in the more common form.

L. aloides tricolor flowers later for us and is smaller in size and basically green with red tips. The most desirable of this set is probably L. aloides var. vanzyliae but it is the one we are struggling to get growing well. I will keep an eye out for flowers as the season progresses because it is an unusual white with pale blue at the base and bright green tips and it is just as lovely as it sounds. When I find it again – and I have it in about three places – I will lift the bulbs because I think this one will be best kept to a pot.

Lachenalia bulbifera

Lachenalia bulbifera

Red L. bulbifera is the first of the season to come into flower for us. It is easy to grow and sets a multitude of little bulbs, though not to the extent that we have classified it as invasive or dangerous. It is another one that I like planted around the trunk of an old tree giving a bright spot of colour in the distance and drawing one over for a closer look.
Mark's reflexa hybrid is stronger growing than the straight species

Mark’s reflexa hybrid is stronger growing than the straight species

The yellow is Mark’s L. reflexa hybrid. Because we struggle with the dreaded narcissi fly, he was casting round for alternative yellows to daffodils for naturalising. While not quite a pure yellow (the tips can have a red tinge), it is a strong and reliable grower and gives the yellow carpet effect though we have yet to get a major drift established in grass conditions.

Lachenalias are South African bulbs, mostly from the Cape Province. Some are very easy to grow, others less so. Naturally the very choice varieties are the ones that are less amenable but that is always the way. Some are desert plants and we struggle with those, but the ones that grow in areas of winter rainfall are generally easy and reliable in our conditions. A few, like L. glaucina, are particularly frost tender. Lachenalias last very well as a cut flower and will out-bloom most other late winter and spring bulbs in the garden. L. bulbifera is already in bloom by the beginning of July while the white L. contaminata flowers through November. A family of easy-care bulbs which gives us a full five months of blooming across the colour spectrum – what is not to like?

The silver fern

IMG_3735IMG_3738 - CopyAll New Zealanders know the silver fern, but usually as the logo or motif, not the real thing. Sure it is closely associated with our national rugby and netball teams, but how many realise it is a ponga? A native tree fern.

Botanically it is Cyathea dealbata. New Zealand doesn’t have a world monopoly on tree ferns but we do have some special ones which are native only to our lands and the silver fern is one. It has a wide distribution through the North Island and in the north and east of the South Island. We have it seeding down in our garden in that wonderfully casual way that pongas do. It can reach as high as 10 metres but it takes a while to get there, at which point it may also measure a huge 8 metres across.

It is only silver – or white, really – on the underside of the leaf and it takes about two years for that white colouring to develop. Maori were reputed to use the white undersides to mark tracks for travelling at night although they also stand out during the day and bush walkers often know this trick.

It was TV gardening host and now National Government minister, Maggie Barry, who presented a little piece many years ago on the silver fern which falls into the “once seen, never forgotten” category. Surrounding herself with a circle of cut fronds placed pale side up, she advised us that if you are ever lost in the wild then using this technique makes you easy to spot from the air. So there you have it – a survival strategy from Maggie.

Maggie Barry's tip, my gardening shoes

Maggie Barry’s tip, my gardening shoes

The Magnolia and the Maunga (or Mountain)

August 9, 5.07August 9 at 5.00pm as the sun is going down.
August 10, 12.38August 10, just after midday.
August 12, 9.45amAugust 12, at 9.45am.

Magnolia campbellii and Mount Taranaki, photographed from our garden.

IMG_3678At the risk of destroying the perception, this is the reality. In the bottom right hand corner, you can see the mountain which is at least 35km away from us. We do not have an alpine climate here – far from it, given that we grow oranges and avocados – but a zoom on my new camera is very good.

All the reds

Magnolia 'Felix Jury'

Magnolia ‘Felix Jury’

August belongs to the red magnolias here. They start flowering in July for us but peak this month with September leaning more to the pinks, whites and yellows. While others may delight in one or two red magnolias, we get them en masse. For every named variety, there are many sister seedlings that will never be released but keep on growing and flowering each year. Magnolia trees just get bigger and better as the years go by so the annual display keeps on getting more spectacular.

Magnolia liliiflora 'Nigra'

Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’

When Felix Jury, transferred the pollen of Magnolia ‘Lanarth’ onto Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’ in the early 1960s, I doubt very much that he contemplated a significant breakthrough in the international world of magnolias which would bring fame – though not fortune. He just wanted to see if he could get to large red flowers. Lanarth (technically M. campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’) has lovely flower form and at its best is a magnificent purple on a handsome tree. M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ can have good red colour but with small flowers on a shrubby, spreading plant, it is not showy.

Magnolia 'Vulcan'

Magnolia ‘Vulcan’

The best of the progeny he named Magnolia ‘Vulcan’ and for the next decades, it stood proudly on its own as a major step along the way to red magnolias. Sure, it is not a pure red and the later season flowers fade out to a somewhat murky purple. There is always room for improvement but Felix laid the foundations for what is following now and he showed that a determined, self-taught, hobby plantsman at the bottom of the world could make a major contribution to the international magnolia scene.

Magnolia 'Black Tulip'

Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’

Magnolia 'Burgundy Star'

Magnolia ‘Burgundy Star’

It is perhaps not widely recognised in this country that New Zealand has led the way with red magnolias Our spring display is arguably the best in the world. For reasons yet to be determined, we get deeper and stronger colours here, certainly than in the UK and Europe. There, they are accustomed to white, pink and now yellow magnolias, but the impact of the red types that are now relatively common here never fails to stun international visitors who come in spring. Felix Jury paved the way with Vulcan. His youngest son, Mark – the man to whom I have been married for more decades than we like to tally – continued building on this foundation, as has fellow Taranaki magnolia breeder, Vance Hooper.

Mark’s quest is a pure red magnolia, losing the purple tones that dog the earlier hybrids. He is getting very close – not quite there yet, but close enough to think that it is achievable. Like his father before him, Mark prefers large flowers with solid colour both inside and outside the petals (technically tepals).

Magnolia 'Genie'

Magnolia ‘Genie’

Vance Hooper is going down a slightly different track and shows a liking for bicoloured flowers. In magnolias this often means a paler inner petal. He is also actively selecting for smaller growing trees which are floriferous over a long period of time, often with smaller flowers. His best known red cultivar to date is Magnolia Genie but he too has a whole range of red seedlings under observation and a number of other named varieties already released.

Felix named one purple – Apollo – and one into the red tones, Vulcan. Mark has named only three reds so far – Black Tulip, Burgundy Star and Felix Jury. Of these, Burgundy Star is arguably the reddest but it is the one he named for his father that brings us greatest pleasure. As a juvenile plant, it started off with OTT giant pink blooms but as it matured, the colour deepened and we now get enormous red flowers – though I admit they fade out to pink. This magnolia represents what Felix himself was trying to get to – a rich coloured, very large bloom of the Iolanthe-type.

It is a source of quiet satisfaction to us that Felix lived long enough to see his son achieve this outcome and it was for this reason that Mark named it for his father. We were most gratified to learn that it has been given an Award of Garden Merit by Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society.

I have never forgotten the customer who came in to buy a magnolia some years ago. She didn’t want a red one, was sick of seeing them – too common, she declared. No, she wanted a white one. I think I remained steadfastly polite but as our forest of colour blooms each August, I rememer her blissful ignorance.

First published in the August issue of New Zealand Gardener.

'Lanarth" is in full flower and looking particularly fine this week

‘Lanarth” is in full flower and looking particularly fine this week

Tui, kereru and korimako

Tui in the cherry tree

Tui in the cherry tree

It is the time of the year when I spend a great deal of time trying to get the perfect images of the scores of tui we have feeding in the Prunus campanulata. Because we have a number of trees, the birds migrate between them but never sit still long enough for us to count.
Too many to count. All the black shadows are tui.

Too many to count. All the black shadows are tui.

These early flowering cherry trees from Taiwan get a mixed reception in New Zealand. There is no doubt that our native birds find them hugely appealing. In an environment filled with food sources, it is the campanulatas to which they head en masse. But, and it is a huge but, most campanulatas set prodigious amounts of seed and because these form as little cherries, tasty to our fruit-eating native birds, they are spread far and wide. Indeed, seedling cherries are one of the worst weeds we have in our own garden and it takes constant management to stop the spread. So bad is it that the councils further north have banned seeding campanulata varieties and some folk would like to see total eradication across the country.

Shy korimako in Prunus Pink Clouds. It was soon banished by the bullying tui

Shy korimako in Prunus Pink Clouds. It was soon banished by the bullying tui

We would be very sorry to see all campanulatas banned but certainly the future lies in sterile selections. Sterility means that they don’t set seed so they won’t spread but we get to keep the mass blooming and the tui – and indeed korimako, our shy bellbirds – get to keep their favourite food source. Pink Clouds and Mimosa are both sterile varieties which date back to the work Felix Jury did on them, but the sugar pink colour is often less favoured to the cerises and reds. Unfortunately, the good compact growing, dark flowered variety named for Felix by Duncan and Davies – Prunus Felix Jury – is not sterile.

Acrobatic tui in a campanulata that is sterile but much too large for most gardens

Acrobatic tui in a campanulata that is sterile but much too large for most gardens

We have a sterile cerise red which is a great performer but at over 12 metres tall and 10 metres wide, it is far too large for domestic gardens. But there is hope. Mark has identified one which is sterile, has good colour and does not look as if it will get anywhere near as large.

Kereru feasting on Magnolia Vulcan buds

Kereru feasting on Magnolia Vulcan buds

“Now look ‘ere, Mr and Mrs Kereru, we need to have words about this latest taste treat you have found. This just won’t do at all. There is plenty of other food here for you but magnolia buds are off limits, especially the first flowers opening on Magnolia Vulcan.”

Poor kereru died after flying into a window

Poor kereru died after flying into a window

I would make jokes about Mr and Mrs Kereru dicing with death on this latest escapade, but some sensitive soul would take me seriously. Kereru are our large native wood pigeon and were a valued food source for Maori in times past. But they are very slow breeders and are suffering from habitat loss so are now totally protected. 056There has been a bit of a scandal recently about kereru being served as part of a traditional feast – did the Parliamentarians know they were eating kereru? – so it is poor form to even make jokes about eating them. Besides, even when a beautiful plump specimen died before my eyes after flying into one of our house windows, we could not bring ourselves to try cooking it. Instead we bought window decals from Bird Rescue to try and prevent such a thing happening again.

Apparently Vulcan scores highly on the kereru taste test

Apparently Vulcan scores highly on the kereru taste test