I cannot let the season pass without celebrating magnolias. At this time of the year we live and breathe these flowering trees and the settled weather has meant a particularly good season this year. Not all of them get as large as this glorious specimen of ‘Iolanthe’. In this country, it is a lucky tree that is permitted to survive into its sixth decade without being unceremoniously severed from its roots.
Iolanthe was the product of Felix Jury’s first attempts to hybridise magnolias. He was looking for larger blooms with good colour. Certainly the bloom is still exceptional with its large cup and saucer form. The colour has been criticised for its lavender hue, but I can tell you that it remains spectacular. Because it sets flower buds down the stem, it has one of the longest season of any of our many magnolias here. Some only set buds on the tips where they all come out at once. As soon as they pass over – or if they are hit by strong wind, heavy rain or frost – that is it for the year as far as floral display goes. Not so with Iolanthe. Twice we have seen the display turned to mush by extraordinary frost events but a few days later, a fresh flush of blooms has opened and the display is back. From first to last spring bloom, we get about two months of flowering, of which maybe three weeks is full glory. It repeat flowers in summer, though as the tree is then in full leaf, it is nowhere near as showy or prolific – more a bonus than a mainstay.
Iolanthe and Serene are the only plants for which Felix ever received external payment. We recall this because it was in our early married days when we were impoverished students. He gave the fee of a couple of hundred dollars to Mark. It was not the sort of event one ever forgets.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.