Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture (Inc.)

Mark Jury receives the Plant Raisers Award for 2007

Mark Jury is one of this country’s foremost breeders of ornamental plants, and in recent times he has received international recognition for his achievements.

Mark was born in 1951. He graduated from Massey University in 1974 with a BA in psychology, and could well be the only person with such a qualification in the NZ nursery trade. Early plans for a career in counselling changed, and he took time out to be a rock drummer (he still has his drum kit), to teach himself to draw and paint, and to make a living as a wood turner before deciding to set up a plant nursery on his father’s property at Tikorangi.

The late Felix Jury is one of the most esteemed plant breeders and horticulturists this country has produced. Felix was a farmer who took early retirement to garden and breed plants, and the numerous outstanding hybrids he produced are now internationally acclaimed. The nursery, however, is entirely Mark’s effort, one that he ‘built up from one wheelbarrow’. Contrary to popular belief, Felix never had a nursery.

Despite having no formal training in horticulture, Mark learned enormously by working alongside his father for 17 years. He also benefited greatly from having access to Felix’s plant material, and from being able to tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience that Felix freely shared.

His uncle Les Jury was also an early mentor, particularly in the breeding of camellias.

The nursery, however, has only ever been a means to earn a living for Mark, who claims he is not a dedicated nurseryman. Rather, it is plants and the garden that matter to him, and when breeding plants his quest is invariably to produce better garden subjects.

No new plant is ever released by Mark until he has full confidence in all its attributes. Trialling is an integral part of the breeding process, and new hybrids are grown in the field or the garden, as well as the nursery, to assess their performance over a number of years before they ever get put into production.

Following is a representative selection of hybrids bred by Mark Jury:

Camellias

‘Fairy Blush’ is regarded by Mark as the best of his camellia hybrids currently on the market, followed by ‘Volunteer’. ‘Jury’s Pearl’, however, is the one which brings Mark most pleasure because it achieved what he was looking for; compact growth, abundant flowering over an extended period, healthy foliage, good flower form and an almost luminescent flower colour. He has named a number of others, including ‘Gay Buttons’, ‘Pearly Cascade’, ‘Topiary Pink’, and ‘Apple Blossom Sun’. Two promising new selections yet to be released are a compact and very free flowering red formal double, and a purple pompom flowered miniature.

Rhododendrons

‘Floral Sun’ is Mark’s pride and joy. When he told his wife Abbie that he was crossing Rhododendron sino nuttalli with R. ‘RW Rye’, she recalls quipping that he would probably get offspring which were a mass of tiny white flowers and no scent. Instead he did get the yellow colourings into the nuttalli trumpets, compact growth and nuttalli foliage. He has also named ‘Floral Gift’, ‘Meadow Lemon’ and ‘Platinum Ice’, and has various others under consideration. Mark specifically strives for healthier performance, resistance to thrips and where possible fragrance.

Magnolias

The new ‘Burgundy Star’ could prove to be the best Mark has produced. It ‘loses the purple tones’ of ‘Vulcan’ and ‘Black Tulip’ and is described as carrying a very large Magnolia liliifora type flower on a fastigiate tree. ‘Black Tulip’, however, is the cultivar that has caught the imagination of the market place, while ‘Felix Jury’ is his personal favourite. Mark thinks he may have exhausted what he can do with red flowered magnolias, but he has some pinks and whites under trial. In 2004 the International Magnolia Society conferred upon Mark the prestigious Todd Gresham Magnolia Award.

Vireya rhododendrons

‘Jaffa’ and ‘Sweet Vanilla’ are regarded by Mark as probably the best cultivars he has yet named, although he has produced quite a few others. These include ‘Sherbet Rose’, ‘Peach Puff’, ‘Jellybean’, ‘Mango Sunset’, ‘Pink Jazz’. Sadly some of the others have already been dropped from production. Despite fairly rigorous trialling, when in production some are considered to be too vulnerable to root problems. ‘Festival Ruby’ is scheduled for release later this year for the 20th anniversary of the Taranaki Rhododendron Festival. Part of the vireya rhododendron breeding programme has focussed on trying to get full trusses reminiscent of the hardy rhododendrons, whilst also aiming for compact growth, fragrance and abundant flowering.

Michelias

A range of unreleased new hybrids is currently generating great excitement and anticipation amongst those who have seen them. This series extends the colour range of the flowers, growth habits, foliage and flowering season. Mark is optimistic of a great future for these, seeing them fitting a market niche similar to camellias but without most of the problems such as camellia petal blight and yellowing of foliage. The first two cultivars from this series are scheduled for release next year.

Cordylines

‘Red Fountain’ is a hybrid produced by Felix, while Mark introduced it. The next generations of Mark’s cordylines are currently under development.

Dianella ‘Golden Chance’ (so-named because it was a chance discovery) seems to have entered the marketplace with ‘a bit of a whoosh’, somewhat to the surprise of Mark and Abbie.

Mark often ‘plays’ with other plants to produce even more high quality garden subjects. His Arisaema hybrids are regarded as particularly fetching, extending the colour range and holding their blooms above the foliage, but sadly they are unlikely to enter commerce. Unfortunately for gardeners, the same applies to a number of other plants that he ‘wields his paintbrush around’.

It is appropriate that the Institute recognises Mark Jury for his considerable contribution to amenity horticulture. He is a most worthy recipient of the Plant Raisers award.