Tikorangi notes: narcissi, garden edgings and a happy plant breeder

The snowdrop season is all but over already. It is charming but brief. The narcissi, however, have a longer season, at least in part because we can grow a much wider range of species and hybrids. Yesterday felt like a winter’s day – the last gasp of winter, I hope – so I headed out to pick one each of the many different varieties in flower. We don’t grow many of the larger ones at all, preferring the charm of the littlies, the dwarf ones. Bigger may be better when it comes to magnolias – at least in our eyes – but daintiness wins with the narcissi. Most of these are named varieties though Mark is also raising cyclamineus seedlings to build up numbers for planting out and to get some seedling variation within them. The cyclamineus are the ones where the petal skirt sweeps back, sometimes completely reflexed, giving them a slightly startled appearance. He was intending to plant many of these down in the park but hadn’t got around to it so offered them to me for the new grass garden.

Drifting dwarf narcissi through the new grass garden. Camellia Fairy Blush hedge and Fairy Magnolia White edge the garden on both long sides. 

I have now compromised the big, bold, chunky planting in waves that is the hallmark of the new grass gardens by drifting hundreds of dainty, dwarf narcissi through them – though far enough out to escape being swamped by the large plants, for several years at least. It adds seasonal interest to an area that will not come alive again until later in spring.

Informal bark edging and bark and leaf mulch define the garden area

After much consideration as to how we wanted to complete the grass garden with regard to edging, mulch and path surfaces, we have gone for the casual, organic and local options. As soon as I started to load in the wood and leaf mulch that a local arborist delivered, I realised that the beds would need an edging to hold the mulch from spilling over. My idea of a seamless transition between bed and path was not going to work. We have pine bark to hand – left over from getting the firewood out from a fallen pine tree so I am constructing small edges out of that. It lasts for many years. The paths are still bare earth (we will probably use granulated bark on those) but as soon as I made the edgings and laid the mulch, it took on the appearance of a garden. It is a casual look but one that sits easily with us with the benefit of being low cost and, as Mark keeps saying, the use of organic materials adds carbon to the soils.

I am laying the mulch on fairly thickly – around a forefinger in depth which I measured to be about 7cm. Because it is fluffy, it will compact to less than that but if I see any weeds coming through, I can top it up.

Fairy Magnolia White – not only a beautiful flower form but a very long flowering season, beautiful velvety buds, good foliage and perfume

Mark is a quiet man, not given to blowing his own trumpet, but sometimes I hear him murmur a comment of deep contentment at a plant he has bred and named. So it was this week as we looked at the avenue of Fairy Magnolia White and Camellia Fairy Blush. “I picked White because it had a pretty flower,” he said. And it does. In a world of floppy white and cream M. doltsopa flowers, Fairy Magnolia White stands out with its beautiful star form. There were a lot of very similar sister seedlings to choose from in that cross and as a breeder, he always worries whether he picked the best one. I think he finally decided that he had indeed chosen the best which is just as well, when you think about it, because he will only ever name and release one of that cross

Camellia Fairy Blush also has a long flowering season, drops its spent flowers cleanly and clips well

Camellia Fairy Blush, planted as a hedge beneath the two avenues of Fairy Magnolia White, is also a continuing source of satisfaction and delight to us, even if it is a constant reminder of a missed commercial opportunity. It was the first camellia he ever named and sold. Back in those days, protecting a plant as our intellectual property was not even on the radar and now Fairy Blush is sold widely throughout the world and few know that it originated here and was Mark’s selection. We have even seen it branded overseas with other nursery names but we know it is ours. That is life and it is a very good camellia and continues to be a source of pride and pleasure to the breeder.

Fairy Magnolia White and a very blue spring sky

8 thoughts on “Tikorangi notes: narcissi, garden edgings and a happy plant breeder

  1. Tim Dutton

    I think our only cyclamineus is ‘Jetfire’: orange trumpet and swept back yellow petals.
    The new grass garden has certainly come along very nicely over the last few months, you must be pleased with it. We use a lot of natural edging to hold back the mulch from the paths too: most often short lengths of tree trunks or branches from whatever we’ve been cutting down (or that fell down). We place them vertically, just resting on levelled soil, and if we make them a little higher than the required depth of mulch the blackbirds don’t toss much of the mulch onto the paths as the logs get in the way. At least, that’s the theory…
    Mark should be very pleased with Camellia ‘Fairy Blush’ in spite of it not earning for you. We think it is fabulous and our small hedge of it outside the dining room window is flowering prolifically, even though it is less than a year old and hasn’t yet joined up to make a proper hedge.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Presumably you are working on cut lengths that are not much wider than, say, 15 or maybe 20cm? Nice look. We tend to scavenge anything over about 8cm for firewood, given our prodigious consumption of firewood.
      I am looking forward to seeing spring growth in the grass garden – there is not a whole lot there at the moment but I am hoping for great things this summer.
      Kind regards, Abbie

  2. Tim Dutton

    Sometimes even bigger: I’ve used lengths about 25 cms high and 30-40 cms wide as a low informal retaining wall to get a raised bed on a slope. We have rather more of these sizes than we need for firewood, hence their use for edging as well. I also use the bigger bits as stepping stones through wet parts of the garden: some of the Eucalypt and Douglas-fir seems to be very rot-proof.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I quite like big, flat topped offcuts as informal garden seats, too. I have used those through the grass garden. Just for perching on briefly but also quite decorative when not in use.

  3. tonytomeo

    Fairy Blush does not sound familiar from what we grew. We could have gotten it from Nuccio’s, but I do not believe that we did. None of our camellias came from there. They all came from Nuccio’s (if I remember correctly).

  4. Pingback: The plant breeder’s garden | Tikorangi The Jury Garden

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