Category Archives: Stop press

Daphne in white

Daphne Perfume Princess White

A new release! It has been a while since the last new Jury plant hit the garden centres (though there are more in the pipeline) but the latest one is here, albeit only in New Zealand at this stage. What is it? A pure white daphne – the white form of Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’.

Our new white daphne – ‘Perfume Princess White’

Had it been me naming this new daphne, I would have called it Daphne Snow Princess but it wasn’t which is why it is Daphne ‘Perfume Princess White’ which is at least descriptive. And it is true that it is like ‘Perfume Princess’ except in colour so it has the very long flowering season, the ability to flower down the stem, larger individual blooms, fragrance, vigour and health of its older twin sibling.

The original Daphne Perfume Princess, showing the typical colouring of D. odora

New Zealand gardeners love their white flowers but the rest of the world tends to prefer colour, especially those who live in areas which are under snow in winter.

I am told it will be available in Australia towards the end of the year and other countries will follow as stock is built up.

Just a reminder that this is a non-commercial site and if you want this plant, you will need to go to your local garden centres. We stopped mailorder in 2003 and stopped selling any plants at all in 2010. As we are removed now (retired) from production and distribution, I can’t even tell you which garden centres near you currently have it in stock (yes, I do get asked this sort of question on a frequent basis). All I can say is that if you are keen to get a plant, you are more likely to find it in one of the mainstream garden centres, rather than smaller specialist ones or nurseries. And supply will be limited in this first year of release. It is worth having, though. I can say that, at least.

Postscript: Sorry to sound grumpy. It is true, I do get a bit grumpy answering emails and phone calls from people who assume that because I write about a plant, they should be able to order it from us or, failing that, I can advise them where they can source it. Even from overseas, at times! What is it, I wonder, about my site that makes people think I am trying to sell them stuff?

Remembering Lara Bingle

Work is underway on taming the Wild North Garden in readiness for finally opening it

It is official. We have agreed to open the garden again but just for the ten days of the Taranaki Garden Festival – Friday 29 October to Sunday 7 November. I wasn’t at all sure we would during the months of preparation last year which took a high toll, but the addition of a new member to our team makes it all look more manageable. Besides, we want to show off our Wild North Garden, a 4 acre extension to the garden that has been in development for the last 30 years.

Last year was the biggest year ever for the Festival, exceeding all our expectations with New Zealanders on the move. It may not be very different this year as offshore travel remains extremely restricted. The full programme won’t be released until July but the initial information can be found on the Taranaki Garden Festival website.

At its best, the Wild North Garden can be very pretty but had grown steadily wilder until recently

The news of the trans-Tasman bubble opening this week is exciting for us personally. At last, we can plan on seeing our three children and only grandchild this year, after a long gap. All are currently living in Australia. For overseas readers, the trans-Tasman bubble is the first major quarantine-free travel bubble between two countries with no Covid in the community. If it works out and proves that we can keep NZ safe, I am assuming travel may open up again to other safe countries – many of our Pacific Island neighbours, Taiwan and Vietnam – later in the year. I do not think we will be opening to the rest of the world any time soon.

Mark and I are not rushing to book tickets to Australia just yet. We would like to be vaccinated first (I think our demographic is scheduled for next month) and we want to see what happens when there is a community outbreak either side of the bubble. This will happen and when it does, flights will be frozen and borders closed in a flash. Being stranded across the ditch (as the Tasman Sea is oft referred to here) for an extra 3 days would be fine but if it stretches into many weeks, that would be problematic. We have waited over a year already, we can wait another couple of months until the picture is clearer.

The bubble, however, will not just reunite families. It is also to kickstart tourism on both sides and it may be that some Australians would like to come over for our Taranaki Garden Festival.

So who is Lara Bingle, you might ask? For some reason, her name has stuck in my memory. She is the charming young woman in a bikini asking ‘So where the bloody hell are ya?’ at the end of the only Tourism Australia advertisement I remember. It came to mind as I was thinking about whether Australians may come over to our garden festival. The idea that it would be ripe for a spoof in the garden is one of those ideas that may have sounded better after a couple of glasses of wine.

Notwithstanding that, we would love to welcome any Australians as well as New Zealanders who wish to come and see us at the end of October. Going into public situations with no need for masks or physical distancing, no restrictions and no fear is a privileged position for those of down here in the South Pacific.

The Court Garden this week in autumn. It will look very different again in November when we reopen for ten days only

Reopening the garden after seven years

The Rimu Avenue

It’s official, more or less. We are reopening the garden later this year but just for the ten days of the Taranaki Garden Festival.  If you have been hoping to visit, those dates are October 30 to November 8. After seven years of being closed, it feels the right time to open again but for strictly limited periods of time.

The old garden remains more or less as visitors from past times may recall – the Rimu Avenue, sunken garden, rockery, avenue gardens and other house gardens.

No longer mown park, now a meadow

The park has been transformed to a meadow over the past seven years.

Opening the new summer gardens for public viewing

The new summer gardens are ready to be seen. We refer to these individually as the borders, the court garden, the caterpillar garden, the Iolanthe garden and the lily border (although the lily border will just be lily shoots in November). Collectively, these are close to an acre of sunny gardens planted predominantly in perennials.

We will offer a series of garden tours and workshops to be scheduled at that time – details to follow.

There will be no plant sales – we are well and truly over that and no longer produce any plants except for our own use or as part of Mark’s plant breeding programme.

We are hoping to be really busy for those ten day and it will be a pleasure to meet some of the regular readers of this site.

Mark’s story

* as told to The NZ Rhododendron, the annual journal of NZRA Council and Pukeiti Trust Boad. December 2017. Photos are mine. 

Mark could perhaps be described as having chlorophyll running in his veins. He was the afterthought child in his family, quite a bit younger than his brothers. He remembers tagging along with his parents and visitors, listening in as they discussed plants around the Tikorangi garden in North Taranaki. “It was quite a lonely and isolated life in the country and I really wanted the social contact, even if it was with older people. It was only later that I realised what I learned in those early years.”

Mark was determined to head off to university, the first in his farming family to do so. It was not an easy path but he graduated with Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences, majoring in Psychology. He enrolled in a post-graduate diploma in guidance and counselling but withdrew half way through the year. “I was the youngest on the course and all the others were teachers with regrets. One would have liked to be a potter, another dreamed of running a country pub. I didn’t want to get to my late 40s and look back with regret. By that stage, Abbie and I had already been married a couple of years and I went home and told her I wanted to withdraw from the course and follow some dreams.”

From there, he taught himself to draw from a book by John Ruskin, taught himself to turn wood to a high quality and then set out to learn how to propagate and, from there, to build a nursery.

“When I started here, there was no nursery. Dad was a just a farmer and a gardener who liked to breed plants. He had taught himself the rudiments of propagation. I started to build the nursery from one wheelbarrow up and I set out to learn how to propagate and to grow plants commercially. It was a case of learning through trial and error. It has always surprised me how successful the nursery was.” Mark credits the access to his father’s plant hybrids for giving him new material to mark out his nursery as different to the rest. “Dad had pretty much stopped hybridising by then. It was only ever a hobby for him. I started more systematically to see how far I could push plant breeding. And as the plant breeding grew in range and scale, I had the nursery to cope with growing on the material.” He started with saturation coverage of a large plant of Camellia pitardii in a Urenui garden.

From an early stage, Felix made it clear that the garden he and his wife Mimosa had built would pass to Mark and his family. Mark and Abbie are demonstrably aware of what it means to be on a family property that is already on its fourth generation.

Arisaema seedlings are for the garden at Tikorangi, not commercial release

Mark is clear in his mind about the hybridising he does which has commercial potential and that which is solely to try and get better plants for their own garden. He is currently working with galanthus, aiming for later flowering cultivars which perform as well in Tikorangi conditions as Galanthus nivalus ‘S. Arnott’. He is continuing the efforts of his late father with cyclamineus narcissi, looking for sterile selections that bloom from every bulb, as Felix Jury’s ‘Twilight’ does. In the hellebores, improving garden performance and getting cultivars which hold their blooms above the foliage are the aims, as well as looking for sterility if possible. In the arisaemas, he wanted to extend the colour range and the season and to get some hybrid vigour into A. sikokianum types. He is often to be found out and about with his magnifying glass and paintbrush.

The garden is always the star in Mark’s mind. “This is a poor man’s garden,” he says. “It was never made with a big budget and if we had to buy in all the plants we want, we could never afford to keep it going, let alone expand as we are. To get masses of snowdrops to the point where they naturalise themselves to or to get a new 40 metre of border of auratum lilies, we have to raise our own from seed. And when raising from seed, I often like to start with controlled crosses to see if I can get better outcomes, rather than just using open pollinated material.”

The garden is a treasure trove of plant material, some of which may or may not go into commercial production at some stage in the future but which currently has no market. “We have some thrip-resistant rhododendrons with full trusses if that plant genus comes back into fashion. At the moment, the market is so small that there is no commercial advantage in releasing them.” The same is true of coloured and variegated cordylines and a range of camellias.

Magnolia Felix Jury

The creation of new cultivars with international potential has been a major focus. In the deciduous magnolias, Mark has named and released four out of many hundreds that he has raised. But he says he has the next three possibles under trial. Of those released, the magnolia that he named for his father is his greatest pride. “It is what Felix was trying to get to – good colour in a large cup and saucer bloom, so I called it ‘Felix Jury’. This one is doing really well internationally which is particularly pleasing. It has already been given an award of garden merit from the RHS.”

A range of michelia seedling blooms

Fairy Magnolia White, with bonus kereru

The michelias are a source of frequent disappointment to Mark. “We have raised so many of them now and have a good range of new colours. But it is so difficult to get everything in one plant – clean colour, good size of bloom and plenty of them over an extended period, compact, bushy growth, easy to propagate and scented. Keeping the scent is the most elusive attribute of all.” Mark has named three so far, marketed under the ‘Fairy Magnolia’ brand, but there is a long way to go yet and he keeps persevering, often with several hundred new seedlings a year.

Camellia Fairy Blush, Rhododendron Floral Sun and Magnolia Honey Tulip

Amongst the camellias, Mark names his selection of ‘Fairy Blush’ as his personal favourite. He and Abbie have chosen to use it extensively for clipped hedging in their garden because of its long flowering season and its good habit of growth. ‘Floral Sun’ remains his pick amongst the rhododendrons.

Daphne Perfume Princess

Ironically, it is a daphne, a one-off plant from a speculative breeding effort, that may prove to be the most lucrative cultivar internationally. ‘Perfume Princess’ basically looks like an odora although it often flowers down the stem like bholua. It is the size of the flower, the vigour of the plant and the length of the flowering season that sets this plant apart from other daphnes. “It is just a brilliant plant to grow and a terrific nursery plant to produce,” Mark says. “That is not true of most daphnes which can be very difficult to produce in containers.” Both the local and international markets for a daphne eclipse the market for magnolias, even if the plant itself is less spectacular.

“We stopped doing mailorder in 2003, stopped wholesale in 2008 and phased out retail after that. The phone calls and emails in search of plants haven’t stopped in the time since but we were really glad to shut all that down. Abbie always described nursery work as being like factory work but in better surroundings. There was no fun in it but it enabled us to get to where we are today.” Mark is quietly proud of the fact that royalties on plant sales, particularly overseas, are what enabled them to retire from the nursery trade and pursue their interests in the garden.

The garden is still expanding. They closed to the public 3 years ago and have been enjoying the freedom to experiment.  “We’ll open again at some stage, maybe 2019. For the annual garden festival, at least. Though we are unlikely to ever open again for extended periods during the year.”

Mark and the Magnolia Felix Jury tree at Wisley on the left. Mark with a collection of blooms from different seedlings at home in Tikorangi

Seasons greetings

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An antipodean Christmas is different – a blend of southern summer with northern traditions, which gives it a flavour all of its own.

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I wish all readers and subscribers a merry and festive time and good gardening wishes for 2016.

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