Category Archives: The Jury plant legacy

Introducing (drum roll please) Daphne Perfume Princess

Mark's Daphne Perfume Princess

Mark’s Daphne Perfume Princess

By the time a new plant bred by Mark finally gets released onto the market, it has been a part of our lives for so many years that it no longer feels new or exciting to us. Mark has long since moved on to the next generation of plants. But we remain excited by this daphne, named Perfume Princess.

Perfume Princess to the left, centre is a large flowered D. odora 'Grace Stewart', right is a normal sized Daphne odora

Perfume Princess to the left, centre is a large flowered D. odora ‘Grace Stewart’, right is a normal sized Daphne odora

It is “just a daphne”, as Mark is wont to say, but what a daphne. For starters, the flower is significantly larger than comparable odora types. The flowering season is also a great deal longer. This is both the first and the last daphne to bloom each year in our garden. The plant itself is noticeably more robust than other odoras. It looks like a particularly healthy odora – and many gardeners will know that the common daphne is not remarkable for vigour, health or indeed longevity so any improvement in that area is welcome. It smells like a daphne and is that not why we grow them?

But it also has the capacity to flower down the stem when growing strongly. I describe it as the eucomis look. This characteristic adds a great deal to its flower power. So yes, even we are still excited by this new daphne.
046The eucomis look

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back around 1996, Mark was taken to meet UK breeder, Robin White. Some readers will know him for his Daphne Eternal Fragrance although back then, it was his work on the Party Dress series of double hellebores that fascinated Mark more. However, that visit inspired Mark to renew his efforts with daphnes after he had been disappointed with initial efforts. It was not to be as straightforward as other plant genera he works with. The progeny were few. Poor Perfume Princess was nearly lost before she ever got to show her strengths and that, we think, would have been pity.

Please, admire my restraint in not using a naff heading such as “Birth of a Princess”. Any coincidence with the arrival of the British royal baby was just that – coincidence.

Perfume Princess was released in New Zealand last weekend, launched in Australia at the Melbourne Flower Show and is available in UK and Europe. It has yet to be released in North America. It is managed on our behalf by Anthony Tesselaar Plants. We do not handle the production or distribution so any enquiries regarding availability need to be directed to them.

The Jury Camellia Legacy

First published in the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2014 Journal of Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias

Camellia Water Lily (Felix Jury)

Camellia Water Lily (Felix Jury)

Long before the Jury name became associated with magnolias, there were the Jury camellias. There are rather a large number of these because there were actually two Jury brothers breeding them at the same time and a market which was very keen on new releases. These days we find that most of the Jury camellias are attributed to Felix when in fact the lion’s share was bred by his older brother, Les Jury. In his later years through to the 1980s, Les Jury had the greater reputation, partly because he entered an arrangement with the powerhouse nursery, Duncan and Davies, to distribute his material internationally. They took over the material from his breeding programme and continued to name and release cultivars well after his death.

By the time Mark Jury (Felix’s youngest son) showed an interest in 1980, Les Jury was elderly. He had little contact with Felix but was particularly encouraging to Mark, giving advice and making suggestions.

This made three Jurys on the quest for new camellias at the time of their heyday in New Zealand. In camellia terms, these were heady times. Only roses ranked higher in popularity, measured by sales volume. It was a rare garden in this country that lacked several camellia plants. This meant there was a substantial local market. In addition to that, there was considerable interest from overseas, particularly the USA, and both Les and Felix picked up awards. Camellia societies were very strong and both men were active at local and national level.

At the time when Les and Felix started breeding camellias, the range was dominated by large old varieties of Camellia japonica which grow so easily throughout New Zealand. Alas many of these don’t like the bright sun and the foliage can turn yellow. Worse is their failure to shed spent blooms so they are often covered in a mass of pink, red or white flowers interspersed with sludgy brown. Examples of these early japonicas can still be found, particularly on abandoned rural house sites where nothing survives but the house chimney and huge old specimen camellias.

Camellia Jury's Yellow (Les Jury)

Camellia Jury’s Yellow (Les Jury)

Nowadays, we wouldn’t even consider naming a camellia unless it was self grooming (the term used to describe dropping spent blooms) but it was a breakthrough fifty years ago. It was the extensive use of C. saluenensis that brought this characteristic to the fore. In addition to that, Les Jury liked large, showy flowers in abundance and was keen to extend the colour range. With the passage of time, he is probably best known for ‘Jury’s Yellow’. It isn’t a true yellow camellia but it came before the yellow species were even known to the west. Mark remembers him talking about his theory that he could get the stamens to bleed colour into surrounding petaloids and that is what he achieved in ‘Jury’s Yellow’ – a white camellia with pale yellow petaloids in the centre. Had Camellia ‘Sir Victor Davies’ been a better growing shrub (and given a more appealing name but it was labelled thus by Duncan and Davies management after Les’s death), he might have been similarly remembered for one of the early purple breakthroughs. I am particularly fond of his ‘Antique Charm’ which moves pink along the colour spectrum towards apricot. I should comment that Les gave this cultivar to Mark under the name of ‘Antique Rose’ but the Camellia Nomenclature only records ‘Antique Charm’. Alas there is nobody left to clarify whether they are one and the same.

Camellia Dream Boat (Felix Jury)

Camellia Dream Boat (Felix Jury)

Felix Jury also looked for self grooming characteristics and large flowers and he had a love affair with the formal shape. His most enduring cultivars fall into that category – ‘Water Lily’ was an early selection and is still around but it was ‘Dream Boat’ that seemed to capture the imagination of the gardening public. The incurved petals of the latter give it a distinctive appearance. We rate his ‘Mimosa Jury’ as probably the most beautiful flower he named. It is a very pretty shell pink and shows good weather hardiness in our conditions. Added to that, it has a particularly long flowering season. Felix clearly liked it because it is named for his wife (although equally, it may have been she who laid claim to naming rights).

‘Rose Bouquet’ is another that has stood the test of time. It has an abundance of large blooms which are rose form and rose coloured. It has been described as the closest thing in appearance to an herbaceous peony that can be grown in our climate.

Camellia Itty Bit (Felix Jury)

Camellia Itty Bit (Felix Jury)

Arguably, ‘Itty Bit’ was the most significant breakthrough from Felix Jury. Most of the japonicas and the hybrids that Les and Felix named grew to be substantial plants. After a few decades, some of the original plants are sitting around the four, five or even six metre mark in our conditions. As town gardens shrank in size, the demand grew for smaller growing plants. ‘Itty Bit’ was a breakthrough – miniature flowered and miniature growing. It has never reached more than a metre to a metre and a half, though there are sister seedlings here that are substantially taller. This is less desirable in colder climates because this type of plant is just too slow to grow, but in this country, camellias that flowered profusely but stayed small and developed a natural bonsai form opened up new possibilities for use as garden plants.

The plant world is as driven by fashion as any other sector. By the time Mark started breeding camellias, he was reading the signs that the market wanted an abundance of small flowers on smaller growing plants. The love affair with the japonica was waning and New Zealand gardeners were working out that many of miniature flowered varieties then available grew into huge plants. The first project Mark undertook was saturation coverage of an established C. pitardii in a nearby garden but he was also after scent. He was reasonably dismissive of his first selection – Camellia ‘Fairy Blush’. While he rated it as a pretty little flower with good scent, it was open pollinated, not a controlled cross. The seed came from C. lutchuensis and appears to be a cross with C. pitardii.

Camellia Fairy Blush (Mark Jury)

Camellia Fairy Blush (Mark Jury)

Even today, twenty years after we released it, we still regard ‘Fairy Blush’ as the one that got away from us. If we knew then what we know now, we would have applied for plant breeder’s rights. It is particularly galling when Australian nurserymen tell us how well they do out if it. The realisation that it shows no ill effects from petal blight is an added virtue. Being small leafed with red new growth, satisfyingly fragrant, and with an extraordinarily long flowering season of several months, ‘Fairy Blush’ has many positive attributes. We find it makes a particularly good hedge, clipped to about 120cm.

Camellia Volunteer (Mark Jury)

Camellia Volunteer (Mark Jury)

Ironically, the second most successful selection of Mark’s was another chance seedling. ‘Volunteer’, as he is wont to say, volunteered itself. It was amongst the root stock to be grafted when it first bloomed and it was clear that it was something different. The solid flower is a pretty white and pink bicolour at the start of the season, deepening to a white and red combination as the season progresses with late flowers having the same anemone form but in red with no white. It is clearly a japonica and was named for the United Nations International Year of Volunteering in 2001.

Of his controlled crosses, ‘Jury’s Pearl’ is probably the one that has pleased Mark the most. The cream to palest pink flower has an opalescent glow which lights up dark areas of the garden and the peony form means it is a pleasingly full flower.

Camellia Jury's Pearl (Mark Jury)

Camellia Jury’s Pearl (Mark Jury)

Mark was in full flight hybridising camellias and had named and released eight different cultivars (now ten with two recent additions) when the news came that petal blight had reached New Zealand. We both remember the day, about twenty years ago, when senior members of the local branch of the Camellia Society arrived unannounced to break the news. Mark understood instantly what it meant. He stopped working with camellias and turned his attention to michelias (now magnolias) instead.

It took a year or two for Ciborinia camelliae to arrive here at Tikorangi. We collectively held our breaths and hoped that it would only affect late season blooms but it has settled in to making its appearance at the end of May or the very beginning of June which is the start of the season for all but the sasanquas. The effect has been devastating and cut the floral display substantially. Controls are not practical. Petal blight is a fungal spore which appears to travel unimpeded at least 5km in the air. The camellia is such a ubiquitous plant in this country that even if we could clear our own property, we would get reinfected from the neighbours. It was apparent we had to learn to live with it. Alas the worst affected types are the large flowered, show blooms so valued by both Les and Felix Jury. To keep a good display on these types of camellias, we have to groom the plants. The sought after characteristic of self grooming doesn’t apply with petal blight. The flowers stay solid, turn mushy brown and hang on unless removed by hand. This type of grooming is not a problem if you only have one or two plants but we have hundreds. Camellias here are used as utility hedging plants (both clipped and casual), wind breaks, small trees, back of the border fillers, topiary, clipped feature plants both large and small – they are wonderfully versatile in our conditions and we have too many to groom.

Only now, after two decades of petal blight, is Mark turning his attention back to camellias. We have not found any evidence of camellia petal blight on any of our sasanquas. Red blooms carry the disfigurement better. But above all else, the stars are the miniature flowered types which set a mass of flower buds over a very long period but where each bloom is short lived. It is not that they are immune, though some show a level of resistance. It is just that the individual blooms fall before they are taken out by the blight so the floral display remain clean.

Camellia Roma Red (Mark Jury)

Camellia Roma Red (Mark Jury)

In fact ‘Fairy Blush’ probably remains the very best camellia performer we have in the garden. It may forever be the one that got away from us but it is also the marker by which we will measure the next generation of camellia hybrids bred for the post Ciborinia camelliae era. I recall the customer who asked: “You know how Fairy Blush flowers from April to September? Do you have one that flowers from October to March?”. “What? A camellia?” I replied. “Yes,” she said. Such a question ranks alongside those customers who, looking at a plant in flower, ask: “Does it come in any other colours?”

Camellia Pearly Cascade (Mark Jury)

Camellia Pearly Cascade (Mark Jury)

Les Jury cultivars

As there are at least 71 registered cultivars attributed to Les (not including variegated sports), it seems excessive to list them all. Not all are significant and even fewer are still commercially available. Full details are available in the Camellia Nomenclature. A short list of his more popular cultivars would include ‘Anticipation’, ‘Avalanche’, ‘Ballet Queen’, ‘Debbie’, ‘Elegant Beauty’, ‘Jubilation’, ‘Jury’s Yellow’ and ‘Les Jury’.

Camellia Mimosa Jury (Felix Jury)

Camellia Mimosa Jury (Felix Jury)

Camellia Rose Bouquet (Felix Jury)

Camellia Rose Bouquet (Felix Jury)

Felix Jury cultivars
Debbie’s Carnation (saluenensis x japonica ‘Debutante’)
Dream Boat (saluenensis x japonica ‘K.Sawada’)
Dresden China (saluenensis x japonica ‘Joshua E. Youtz’)
Itty Bit (saluenensis x Tiny Princess)
Julie Felix (saluenensis x japonica ‘Joshua E Youtz’)
Mimosa Jury (saluenensis x japonica ‘K Sawada’)
Pearly Shells (saluenensis x japonica ‘K Sawada’)
Red China (reticulata ‘Trewithen Pink” x reticulata ‘Cornelian’)
Rose Bouquet (saluenensis x japonica ‘Tiffany’)
Softly (saluenensis x japonica ‘Joshua E Youtz’)
South Seas (saluenensis x japonica ‘C M Wilson’
(Spencer’s Delight an early saluenensis x japonica hybrid never put into commerce, as far as we know)
(Tiny Bit An ‘Itty Bit’ sister seedling never put into commerce although the original remains a fine specimen by our back door)
Waterlily (saluenensis x japonica ‘K Sawada’)

Camellia Fairy Blush (Mark Jury)

Camellia Fairy Blush (Mark Jury)

Mark Jury cultivars
Apple Blossom Sun (pitardii var pitardii open pollinated)
Cream Puff (pitardii x ‘Tiny Princess’)
Fairy Blush (lutchuensis open pollinated)
Gay Buttons (tinsie x ‘Snowdrop’)
Jury’s Pearl (pitardii x ‘Tomorrow’)
Moon Moth (C.pitardii var.pitardii x C.japonica ‘K. Sawada’)
Pearly Cascade (C. pitardii hybrid)
Purple Pompom (‘Fuyajo’ x ‘Zambo’)
Roma Red (tinsie x ‘Dream Boat’)
Topiary Pink (pitardii seedling)
Volunteer (japonica seedling)

The Jury Magnolias from New Zealand

First published in the spring journal of the American Magnolia Society, Issue 93.

Magnolia ‘Iolanthe’ is one of our star performers here and has achieved considerable stature after 50 years. It has necessitated relocating the vegetable garden

Magnolia ‘Iolanthe’ is one of our star performers here and has achieved considerable stature after 50 years. It has necessitated relocating the vegetable garden

The Jury magnolia reputation has been built on a small number of named varieties. Felix Jury only ever named eight of his own breeding – Magnolias ‘Apollo’, Athene’, Atlas’, ‘Iolanthe’, Lotus’, Milky Way’, ‘Serene’ and Vulcan™ . We don’t include the variety M. ‘Mark Jury’ in that list because it arrived here as a seedling of Lanarth purchased from Hilliers and all Felix did was to grow it and, in due course, name it. There is no record of how many seedlings he raised. Mark’s comment is that it wasn’t a huge number and he guesses somewhere between 50 and 100 in total. Mark curbed his father’s suggestion of naming a few more because they were too close to ones already selected, although we have a few fine sister seedlings from those breeding lines in the garden here.

In his turn, Mark has raised many more controlled crosses. He has never kept track of the number, but a rough guess brings him around the 1000 total of deciduous magnolias grown to flowering size so far. Of those he has named a grand total of four. He is discerning. All were chosen because they represented a breakthrough in some aspect: an ability to produce flowers on young plants, not grow so rapidly as to indicate that they will become forest giants, propagate relatively easily and flower reliably every year while setting buds down the stems to prolong the season.

Black Tulip - good form, solid, dark colour and heavy petals

Black Tulip – good form, solid, dark colour and heavy petals

Magnolia Black Tulip® was selected because it sets flowers freely on young plants and achieves a depth of solid dark color with heavy textured petals in an attractive goblet form which holds its shape. M. ‘Burgundy Star’ offered a totally different habit of growth, strongly fastigiate, and the large star-shaped blooms over a prolonged period are a purer red at their best.Being three parts M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’, he hoped it would also prove hardier and maybe hold its color in colder climates. Felix® is our personal favorite so far. It is big, up to 30cm (12 in) across. It is very showy. With us, it can appear a rich red, but even when the color gets bleached out in colder climates, it retains a good depth of deep rosy pink. It was everything that Felix Jury himself was trying to breed – a big, rich-colored M. ‘Iolanthe’ – and he lived long enough to see it bloom. This is a cultivar that we think is just going to get more spectacular with age and size.

Magnolia Honey Tulip™ is a soft golden version of M. Black Tulip® scheduled for release in 2013. The rounded flower form and heavy textured petals appear to be an advance in the yellow magnolias. (photo by Sally Tagg)

Magnolia Honey Tulip™ is a soft golden version of M. Black Tulip® scheduled for release in 2013. The rounded flower form and heavy textured petals appear to be an advance in the yellow magnolias. (photo by Sally Tagg)

This year will see the first release of Mark’s newest cultivar called Honey Tulip™. It is a golden honey version of Black Tulip® and represents a breakthrough in flower form and petal substance in the yellows. It retains its color through the flowering season where the comparators (Magnolias ‘Yellow Fever’, Sundance’ and ‘Hot Flash’) all become increasingly pale. Magnolia Honey Tulip™ is a soft golden version of M. Black Tulip® scheduled for release in 2013. The rounded flower form and heavy textured petals appear to be an advance in the yellow magnolias.

For our climate, it is particularly significant that it flowers on bare wood, whereas most of the yellow hybrids flower at the same time as they come into leaf. It is also less vigorous, which is to its credit, given that the yellows tend to compete with timber trees here in their rate of growth.

What takes time to sort out is how well these magnolias will perform overseas in different climates. M. Vulcan™ has been patchy at best internationally and washes out to a muddy purple in cold climates. M. ‘Iolanthe’, too, has not matched up in many overseas locations. Yet, here in New Zealand it is a flagship magnolia. The original plant is now somewhere over 50 years old and planted in the most prominent spot in our garden. Year in and year out it takes our breath away with its sheer magnificence. There is a lot of trial and error involved in how these plants perform overseas and we have been particularly delighted to see that M. Felix® seems to be measuring up across a range of climates.

Felix®, bred by Mark, fulfilled the magnolia breeding ambitions of his father, Felix Jury. It is heartening to hear reports of how well it is performing internationally.

Felix®, bred by Mark, fulfilled the magnolia breeding ambitions of his father, Felix Jury. It is heartening to hear reports of how well it is performing internationally.

Mark continues with breeding deciduous magnolias. The quest here is for a yellow M. ‘Iolanthe’ (in other words, a very large cup-and-saucer bloom in yellow). He is after pure reds which lose the magenta hue common to the first generations of new hybrids and he is getting very close to it. There is certainly room for an improved M. Vulcan™ which would bloom with better color in other climates and fade out with more grace as its flowering season draws to a close. There is a way to go yet in a pure purple.

The process here is to grow seed to a large enough size for planting out, which usually takes about 18 months. They are then planted wherever there is space. Our shelter belts (windbreaks) are rows of trial plants, including magnolias. Some are in groves, some edging a stand of native forest, some lining our road verges and he has now resorted to rows in the open ground. From time to time, Mark heads out with the chainsaw. If the seedlings haven’t flowered by five years old, they get the chop. If it becomes clear that a cross is of no particular merit, the batch will be felled. If one is looking very promising, others will be cleared to give it space. Over time, the first groves have been thinned down from about 120 to the best 20, which will remain in situ. Because, of course, if you are only naming about four out of a thousand, there are a rather large number of also-rans which are too good to cut out, but not good enough or sufficiently different
in the eyes of the breeder to release.

The Michelias

Venturing into the michelia branch of the magnolia family has been much more recent. The first crosses only go back about 17 years, but the turnaround is much faster so the total number raised is already larger than the deciduous magnolias. One has been widely released and is on the market as Fairy Magnolia® Blush. The next two are scheduled to be released this year – Fairy Magnolia® White and Fairy Magnolia® Cream.

The decision to brand these with the trademarked name of Fairy Magnolia® was made by our agent, Anthony Tesslaar Plants. With the reclassification by taxonomists of Michelias to Magnolias, it seems important to highlight the difference between these and the larger, evergreen grandiflora types.

Michelias flower in two to three years from seed so it is possible to use them for further hybridising and to see directions quickly. However, there is an additional hurdle. Deciduous magnolias are usually budded and it is only the occasional one which falls at the propagation hurdle. Michelias are much more of a mass market proposition and have to propagate easily from cutting and in tissue culture. We have a far higher fall-out rate when it comes to trialing for ease of propagation. We were disappointed when a green-yellow full sister to Fairy Magnolia® Blush, which had very distinctive large green buds encased in brown velvet, fell at the last hurdle. It’s a good plant. It just doesn’t propagate reliably. With hindsight, it is a little sparse in foliage, too, so maybe it is to the good that it didn’t make it to international release.

While Mark is getting some interesting colors in the michelia hybrids, none has yet passed the propagation trials.

While Mark is getting some interesting colors in the michelia hybrids, none has yet passed the propagation trials.

Similarly, the colored varieties appear to be problematic when it comes to propagation. The breeding program has yielded some good pure yellows which are easily on a par, color-wise, with the yellow deciduous magnolias. None so far have propagated reliably. Even more disappointing have been the purples. Hopes are raised when a plentiful number of flower buds open to good-sized, distinctive purple flowers, but none of these seedlings has so far passed the propagation test with high enough percentages. If they are reluctant to strike from cutting, it appears that they are equally problematic in micropropagation.

Fragrance has been another issue. Even when using two strongly fragrant parents, a large proportion of the offspring are bereft of any scent at all. We have many visually splendid plants, some representing real breakthroughs in form or flower, but doubt the willingness of the buying public to embrace a michelia with no scent. Mark has been backcrossing some of these to scented species to see if he can get the fragrance back.

Others are rejected because they are too fertile, setting far too much seed, which will lead to a scraggly plant over time, and a scraggly plant with weed potential in some conditions. Some crosses have simply been too vigorous in growth to contemplate them as garden plants of merit no matter how lovely the blooms.

New Zealand’s borders are now well and truly closed to any imports of new species of any genera so Mark has not had access to recent introductions. In fact, he is working on a limited range – mostly M. doltsopa, M. figo, M. laevifolia and M. maudiae. M. alba and M. champaca have proven to be blind alleys so far and the obscure and as yet unidentified wild-collected michelia species brought back from Vietnam by the late Os Blumhardt has little merit or breeding potential. Mark observes that he has not seen other new species that he covets or that he thinks will add much of significance to the hybrids, so the closed borders have not been the problem that he initially feared. He has ruled out using allied plants such as Mangletias because they lack the floriferous characteristic that is a bottom line for any hybrid. By this stage he is down to about the sixth generation of crosses and back crosses using the sought-after characteristics of favored species and hybrids, so the genetic makeup of individual hybrids has become increasingly complex.

Fairy Magnolia® Blush clips very successfully. These plants are kept to this size with trimming in late spring and a light follow-up in late summer.

Fairy Magnolia® Blush clips very successfully. These plants are kept to this size with trimming in late spring and a light follow-up in late summer.

Fairy Magnolia® Blush brought consistent pink coloring into the range along with bushy growth and floriferous characteristics over a long season. The natural bushiness and the ability to take hard trimming are both important characteristics. The early M. doltsopa x foggii crosses from Os Blumhardt (particularly ‘Mixed Up Miss’ and ‘Bubbles’) make splendid juvenile nursery plants, but as they mature, they become leggy and open and most people would not look twice at them. We have had many seedlings the same and discard any which make only tip growths. Blush has a light and pleasant scent and, despite having doltsopa and figo in its parentage, it has proven much hardier in the US than we dared to hope and appears to be coping as low as zone 6 with winter protection and comfortably dealing with zone 7b conditions through the years of pre-release trials in the USA. It is hard to breed the perfect plant – the foliage can be a little more olive green than we would like and it would be good to get a larger, pinker bloom, but it is maturing well here.

Fairy Magnolia® Cream has very fragrant, large cream flowers over a long season and will be released internationally in 2013. (photo by Sally Tagg)

Fairy Magnolia® Cream has very fragrant, large cream flowers over a long season and will be released internationally in 2013. (photo by Sally Tagg)

Fairy Magnolia® Cream, to be released this year, is similar to Blush in breeding and performance, but with desirable brighter green foliage and a very strong fragrance. Its peak flowering season extends into months and the blooms are a little larger than Blush, measuring at least 10cm across. Fairy Magnolia® White is from a different breeding strain. It has been selected from a very consistent run of seedlings which we have long referred to as the Snow Flurry series. It is one of the earlier flowering michelias, opening in winter, and with a higher proportion of M. doltsopa it is not likely to be as hardy in cold climates as Blush and, we hope, Cream. Where climate and space allow, we think it should prove to be a big improvement on existing doltsopa types. It has smaller leaves and wonderful
velvet brown buds opening to the purest of white starry flowers with excellent fragrance. It is much bushier in habit and has never shown the tendency to defoliate after flowering which can be problematic with some doltsopa types (and indeed with many M. laevifolias here). While it forms a plant of some stature (maybe 5m x by 4m, or 16 ft x 13 ft, if not trimmed), it is not going to become a giant like the M. doltsopa, which now takes up a greater area than an urban house plot in our park.

Fairy Magnolia® White is from a different breeding line and we see it as a garden friendly M. doltopa type with very beautiful, perfumed flowers. (photo by Sally Tagg

Fairy Magnolia® White is from a different breeding line and we see it as a garden friendly M. doltopa type with very beautiful, perfumed flowers. (photo by Sally Tagg

In recent years, we have wound up the wholesale and retail nursery here in order to concentrate on the garden and plant breeding. At the rate he is going, Mark may eventually end up naming and releasing a few more cultivars than his father, but the selections will have been made from trials involving a much greater number of cultivars.

Magnolia Burgundy Star - as yet unproven overseas but we are hopeful it may prove hardy and keep good flower colour

Magnolia Burgundy Star – as yet unproven overseas but we are hopeful it may prove hardy and keep good flower colour

The Jury vireya legacy – first published in the RHS Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias 2012 yearbook

The original plant of R.macgregoriae, collected by Felix in New Guinea

The original plant of R.macgregoriae, collected by Felix in New Guinea

Back in the 1950s when Felix Jury first became interested in vireyas, they were pretty much unknown in New Zealand with few enthusiasts internationally.

When Felix started raising seed and trying controlled crosses, he was just after anything that was new and therefore interesting. There was so little raw material to choose from in those early stages. He named maybe a dozen and with the passage of decades, about four of that dozen have stood the test of time very well and may still be around in another thirty years’ time. Unfortunately, the finer details on his crosses were never recorded so it is not possible to state with certainty which were Felix’s own crosses and which came from seed sent to him from overseas and were therefore just raised and selected by him. We know that the Australian, Tom Lelliot was particularly generous with seed and there were others from that country.

Golden Charm

Golden Charm

In 1957, Felix went plant collecting in the highlands of New Guinea. He brought back a few interesting plants. Ficus antiarus is still the most asked about tree in our garden. Schefflera septulosa is one of the most beautiful members of that plant family you will ever see. His form of Rhododendron macgregoriae is still rated as one of the best in circulation and, astonishingly, the original plant is still surviving. This is an achievement because vireyas are not noted for being long-lived in our climate. It was that plant of R. macgregoriae which gave rise to one of Felix’s best cultivars – Golden Charm (R.macgregoriae x Princess Alexandra). We still rate it highly after several decades. The foliage is dark and glossy, the new stems are red, the habit is compact and healthy and the many flowers, while relatively small, are in good sized heads and attractive apricot to orange tones. It is also relatively hardy.

Buttermaid

Buttermaid

With the benefit of hindsight, we now wonder whether Felix’s other two notable R. macgregoriae hybrids, Buttermaid (R.aurigeranum x R.macgregoriae) and Orangemaid (R.laetum x R.macgregoriae) might not in fact be Lelliot seed, raised and selected by Felix. Alternatively, he may have been sent pollen. Mark is not at all sure that Felix had R.aurigeranum at that stage and he is sure he did not have R.laetum. The R.macgregoriae parentage shows dominance in both the flower form and colouring of these selections but hybrid vigour makes them more reliable and tidier garden plants. Queen of Diamonds (R.viriosum x R.macgregoriae) was indubitably Felix’s own cross, a pink version this time but rather too tall and leggy to be of great merit. [Apparently R.viriosum was misidentified for 70 years as R.lochiae. Most records use the R.lochiae name when it appears that they are all in fact R.viriosum. I will defer to those with a great deal more expertise in this matter and have according changed to using R.viriosum.]

Satan's Gift planted by the Schefflera septulosa

Satan's Gift planted by the Schefflera septulosa

Satan’s Gift (R.konori x R.zoelleri) and Silken Shimmer (R.konori x Dr Herman Sleumer) were selections from Australian seed, raised by Felix. These were spectacular for their day, being big and lush, colourful and fragrant. Satan’s Gift is the stand-out plant which has passed the test of time and is still a wonderful performer. The name amuses us. Felix was a completely non-religious man and to him, Satan merely evoked hot colours. Over the years, more devout nurseries have clearly had a problem with the name and this cultivar has been marketed variously as Jury’s Gift, Satin Gift and, best of all, Santa’s Gift. One wishes nurseries would understand that it is fine to reject a plant because of ethical issues with the name, but it is not acceptable to rename it willy nilly.

Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie

Felix was very taken with the big, scented blooms of R.konori and his own hybrids were the pink Cherry Pie, red Hot Gossip – both sister seedlings of a viriosum hybrid x R. konori – and Lipstick. Cherry Pie is particularly lush and has good bushy, spreading growth along with a good flower (though much of the scent has gone) and we still rate it as a good garden plant.

Red Rover (R.viriosum x R.javanicum) is another of Felix’s early hybrids that we continue to rate for its bushy growth habit, healthy characteristics and plenty of good red flowers in a mid-size. However his R.jasminiflorum hybrid called Lullaby has dropped off the radar now and, while a good performer, Lulu (unknown) has probably been superseded by modern selections with more flowers to the truss.

By the time Mark started hybridising vireyas, there was a veritable explosion of recently discovered species and newly imported species becoming available. He collected every single one he could lay his hands on at the time and propagated a few to distribute to collectors. Our nursery records show that we produced over 60 different species at that time, and very difficult most of them were too. The death rate in the species was far higher than in the hybrids, both in the nursery and when planted in the garden. It was with some relief that we decided after a few years that the few collectors in the country (there were probably only 5 or 10 of them) had everything we held so we stopped feeling obliged to produce them. Similarly we decided that it was not critical to keep every species represented in the garden. We have never coveted a national collection of any plant genus because we would prefer to garden with plants which justify their position as being garden worthy. Only some of the vireya species perform well for us – we would be sorry to lose varieties such as R.himantodes, R.goodenoughii, R.taxifolium, R.hellwigii, R.macgregoriae and R.konori but many of the other species are either too difficult for us to keep going, or not worth the effort (R.inconspicuum, we have always felt, was particularly well named).

Sweet Cherry

Sweet Cherry

So Mark had a much bigger plant palette to work with and this included an ever increasing number of new hybrids as well as the species. Vireyas were suddenly a fashion plant in New Zealand. They were seen as a wonderful alternative for warmer areas of the country where the hardy rhododendrons do not thrive. Added to that, in a country where we would like to be tropical but aren’t, vireyas fitted that exotic look and often obliged by flowering throughout the year. From being an unknown plant family with no market at all, they were a gardening sensation for a few years in the nineties. Fashions change and vireyas are no longer as popular as they were – they are somewhat harder to keep alive, let alone looking good, than many people realised. But in those heady days, there was an insatiable demand for new varieties which had large luscious blooms with heady fragrance and large, heavily felted foliage. Unfortunately, this sometimes meant using breeder parents which, with the passage of time, have not proven to be particularly resilient in our climate.

Mark was also keen to extend the flower form of vireyas into full trusses which more closely resemble the hardy rhododendrons. Many of the species and early hybrids are quite sparse in their flowering and have few flowers to the truss. He also wanted to explore what could be done with colour.

Mango Sunset

Mango Sunset

With the benefit of twenty years experience, he has gone full circle and come back to the point his father reached earlier – a conclusion that it is more important to produce healthy plants which stay alive, with compact growth and masses of flowers as top priorities. More hardiness and less flash and dash, one could say. This tends to mean sacrificing individual bloom size, foliage size and often fragrance. It may end up that his R.macgregoriae hybrid, Mango Sunset, proves to be one of his best. While he achieved the much fuller truss, he was looking for, it is just a good all round performer without being spectacular.

Jaffa

Jaffa

Market demands meant Mark made the same mistakes as many other vireya breeders – selecting new cultivars on the beauty of their blooms and on initial performance as a nursery plant. The test of longevity rests, for us, on long term health and performance as a garden plant. More than we would wish have fallen by the wayside. Candy Sunrise (R.konori x Halo series) had beautiful, big fragrant flowers with good colour but was very susceptible to phytopthora. Ditto the red Sweet Cherry (R.konori x R.hellwigii) – wonderful as a garden plant but not easy in the nursery, Strawberry Fields (Satan’s Gift x R.brookenaum) – gorgeous big red flower but leggy growth over time and inclined to die, Orange Sparkles (R.retusum x R.macgregoriae) and cute little Jellybean (Red Rover x R.stenophyllum). Frosted Candy, another of the R.konorii x Halo series hybrids, is performing very well as a large garden plant (now two metres plus which is large for a vireya) and it has huge blooms, but again is difficult in the nursery with an unacceptably high death rate from phytopthora.

Jaffa (Halo series x R.javanicum) is in the right direction for a full truss. There are now up to 15 large blooms per flower head (which is a big increase from the 2 to 5 range of many of the species and early hybrids) and a good, strong orange combined with large, lettuce green foliage. It is more frost tender and sensitive than the tougher cultivars (which tend to be those with R.macgregoriae, R.viriosum or R.saxifragoides in their parentage). It certainly has the right tropical look and is a better nursery plant than many.

Pink Jazz

Pink Jazz

Pink Jazz (R.konorii x Halo series) is another splendid large grower with enormous blooms – bright pink with a central star of cream and scented too. It also has the stand out feature of deep maroon new growth and even the old foliage keeps the burgundy tint. It is not easy as a nursery plant and it is too big for many gardens, but the plants we have in our garden are standing the test of time. We have a special fondness for this one. Mark rarely names plants after people, but this one is for our older daughter who, in her teens, was called Jazz by many friends and who nursed a penchant for wearing hot pink.

Mark has always been lukewarm about Peach Puff ([R.phaeopeplum x R.leucogigas] x R.viriosum selfed) because he regards the pastel peach colouring as insipid. It was an interior fashion colour a decade ago and I still find it very pretty. Again the truss is satisfyingly full with big blooms, good scent and felted foliage.

Sweet Vanilla

Sweet Vanilla

Of that type of larger flowered, scented hybrid, Sweet Vanilla ([R.leucogigas x R.viriosum] x Silken Shimmer) is probably the best garden plant for fragrance. Its flowers, while not huge, are a good size, opening soft pink and fading out to cream. This is one plant which garden visitors regularly ask about when in flower – always a good indicator of showy performance. Sherbert Rose (Hot Gossip sister x R.herzogii) matches Sweet Vanilla for scent and it is very floriferous but the small tubular mid pink blooms simply aren’t showy enough for most people. We still like it because we don’t want only big showy or blowsy vireyas in the garden, but we stopped producing it commercially because scent alone was not enough to sell the plant.

Practical Matters:

Preparing vireya cuttings - wound both sides

Preparing vireya cuttings - wound both sides

Vireya rhododendrons must rank amongst the easiest of the woody plants to propagate but one of the hardest to produce commercially. Neither are they bullet proof as garden plants. As long as you have firm, green material, it is easy to get cuttings to root. You don’t even need rooting hormone. In fact it is so easy that we routinely showed customers how to take autumn cuttings so they could have back up plants lest their specimen get taken out by a hard frost or wet roots. The one critical issue is to remember to have a generous sized cutting and to take the sliver off two sides of the stem (wounding). Vireyas put their roots out from the exposed cambium layer and having two wounds gives a more balanced root system and therefore more stability. It is keeping them alive after rooting which is the tricky part, especially in nursery production. Vireyas are not only frost tender and deeply intolerant of wet feet (sodden root systems), but they are vulnerable to pretty much every strain of phytopthora and a fair range of other diseases common in nursery production. In the wild, many of the vireya species are epiphytic or semi epiphytic which is an indicator that their roots need open conditions. This is what fits them to a role as permanent pot plants though they appear to last better in pots which are more permeable (terracotta or wood) than in containers which are impermeable (glazed pottery or plastic) and dependent for drainage on one or two holes in the bottom. When producing commercial runs of vireyas, we maintained a rigorous spray programme to keep disease at bay. Even so, we tolerated a far higher mortality rate in nursery plants than we would in any other crop. We have always produced them outdoors, under protective shade cloth and overhead irrigation – identical conditions to most of our nursery crops.

Vireyas tend to put on a lot of top growth, supported by small, inadequate root systems (an indicator of their epiphytic origins), and new growth is often very soft and brittle. As nursery crops in our climate, they grow very rapidly at all times of the year and it is possible to get a saleable plant through in half the time of a hardy rhododendron, but they are correspondingly more vulnerable to damage by mishandling and disease.

Vireyas used in a garden border

Vireyas used in a garden border

We are blessed with a climate which enables us to use vireya rhododendrons as garden plants. We are not entirely frost free so we use them on the woodland margins where temperatures may get cool but never cold enough to cause significant damage. Any frost at all can burn the most tender varieties which includes anything with R.leucogigas, R.konorii, R.hellwigii and sometimes even R.laetum in the breeding. The hardier types will take two or three degrees of frost without damage but more than that can be a problem. Get it up to five degrees of frost and plants can be killed stone dead. The beauty of vireyas as garden plants is that they do not have a set flowering season so if you have sufficient numbers, there are always plants in bloom – even in the depths of winter. Added to that, they are tolerant of hard pruning so easy to renovate. Even when cut back to bare wood, most will force out dormant leaf buds from old wood and can be bushy and fresh again within a matter of months, even if it takes longer for them to set flower buds. It is a misconception that vireyas are all tropical plants. While natural habitats are often in the tropical latitudes, they are in elevated sites which cool the temperatures.

With their climatic limitations, vireya rhododendrons will never have the geographic distribution of hardier plants and, no matter how good the hybrids, they are unlikely to achieve international standing. There is a long way to go yet in breeding reliable cultivars which are likely to stand the test of time but it is certainly interesting to have been in from the early days on the development of new selections and Mark will continue to work with them here, albeit on a rather casual basis.

A promising  lemon seedling - the breeding continues

A promising lemon seedling - the breeding continues

The first instalment of this series was the 2011 article on Jury rhododendrons.

The Jury rhododendron legacy – first published in the RHS Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias 2011 yearbook

When Felix and Mimosa Jury laid out their gardens here at Tikorangi, near the Taranaki coast of New Zealand, it was the early 1950s and rhododendrons were one of the most highly prized plant genus. There were not many different cultivars available but keen enthusiasts around the country imported whatever they could, mostly as seed, and there was considerable exchange of material. In those early years, the species dominated. It was the disappointing performance of many of those cold climate plants which provided the initial impetus for Felix to start hybridising in a quest to create plants better suited to our very mild conditions.

Rhododendron Bernice

Rhododendron Bernice

Gardening on volcanic soils with regular rainfall throughout the year, one could be forgiven for thinking we are ideal rhododendron territory. However, while we do not have hot summers, neither do we have the winter chill necessary to many of the rhododendron family. Frosts are very light and few in number. The lack of winter chill means that thrips stay alive and multiply. Silver leafed rhododendrons are common. Added to that, the bright, unfiltered sunlight which gives this country the dubious honour of being the skin cancer capital of the world, can burn and crisp both foliage and flowers of vulnerable plants.

While many of the species merely dwindled away here, we certainly tried our best. Our computer data base shows that over the thirty years of the nursery, we have produced and sold around 60 different rhododendron species, although some are merely different forms. Not many of them last the distance as garden plants of merit for our conditions. One of the stand-out species, however, is Rhododendron polyandrum. It keeps good foliage in the garden, its flowers are beautiful and showy (though rather soft so inclined to weather mark), the peeling bark is attractive, the fragrance is such that it hangs heavy in the air several metres away. We don’t mind that it is an open, some would say leggy and rangy, shrub because we don’t want all plants to be the tight, rounded bob that defines R.yakushimanum.

R.polyandrum was the star breeder plant for Felix. Taking its strengths, he thought that it should be possible to extend the range of flower colour and to select for more compact and better furnished cultivars. He was right. The polyandrum hybrids share several characteristics: the foliage is visibly derived from polyandrum being small, dark and almost leathery, showing excellent resistance to thrips and leaf burn. The hybrids, however, are blessed with rather more leaves than the mother (which can be a little sparse in the foliar department). Typically, the hybrid flowers are held in flat trusses like R. polyandrum but there are more flowers to the truss, so many that the plants can look like a wall of bloom at their peak.

Felix only named one of the cross with Royal Flush Townhill and it stands out after several decades as a top performer. Bernice was named for Mrs Bernice Kelly, a dear friend of Mimosa Jury and a favourite of Felix’s. With a crimson throat, the tones change through pink to near white on the edge and it remains one of the more colourful in the maddenii range. It has a light but pleasant fragrance and relatively compact growth to about 2 metres. Year in and year out, it performs consistently well.

Rhododendron Felicity Fair

Rhododendron Felicity Fair

Rhododendron Moon Orchid

Rhododendron Moon Orchid

Felix was not as restrained in the selection and naming process of his polyandrum x Sirius series. In fact he named too many of them but it was an enormously successful cross and we still have other sister seedlings performing every year in the garden. Barbara Jury, Felicity Fair, Katie and Moon Orchid are all a little different, but maybe not so very different that all warranted registration. There were fifth and sixth selections, registered as Christine Denz and Sunset but these were never propagated. Barbara Jury is the prettiest, cleanest yellow with a narrower bloom and good scent. Lovely though it is, we discontinued producing it commercially because it is weak in the roots and succumbs to phytophthora – described by Mark as too ready to whiff off. Moon Orchid is a superior garden plant. It has a larger flower with frilly lobes and slightly more apricot toning because the base colour of yellow is suffused with pink on the outer petals and the throat is green. Katie is the most peachy orange in colour because the yellow is now mixed with red tones on the backs of the petals. The flowers are a little smaller, the scent a little less pronounced and the growth a tad more vigorous but the differences are reasonably subtle. The last of the quartet was Felix’s personal favourite – we know this because the name Felicity Fair is a play on his own name. The flower is pastel creamy yellow with definite pink tones on the outside of the throat, combined with excellent foliage and good fragrance. Of this particular cross, with the benefit of experience, we would name Moon Orchid and Felicity Fair as the best selections.

Rhododendron Katie

Rhododendron Katie

The polyandrum selections are all late season flowering. The first of the Jury hybrids to open in early season is White Doves (scopulorum x formosum var. inaequale). While not overly spectacular, it is extraordinarily floriferous with white bells held loosely hiding all foliage and it is a consistent, healthy performer.

We have an ongoing love affair with the showy R. nuttallii family here in our garden at Tikorangi, particularly the more tender sinonuttallii which could be described as a Rolls Royce rhododendron with its heavy, bullate foliage, wondrous peeling bark and simply astounding long, lily-like fragrant trumpets of heavy substance. Felix’s Floral Legacy (nuttallii x sinonuttallii so technically still a species) gave an increased robustness of constitution and yet larger blooms. Where space and favourable climate allow, this is a spectacular rhododendron.

Rhododendron Floral Dance

Rhododendron Floral Dance

Both Felix and his wife Mimosa laid claim to the original cross of sinonuttallii x edgeworthii which came to be called Floral Dance. While Felix certainly raised the plant, by a process of deduction, Mark worked out that his mother must have done the cross so these days we credit it to her posthumously. It brought a somewhat more compact habit into the nuttallii family, though only relatively so. The really bushy, well furnished plants such as the yakushimanum family hold onto their leaves for at least three years whereas most in the maddenii group are only carrying two years of foliage at any one time so they are always going to appear a little more sparse. Floral Dance shows the most appealing characteristics of both parents – very deep forest green bullate foliage, mid sized, good textured mostly white trumpet flowers with frilly lobes flushed darker pink and strong fragrance. It is simply a beautiful rhododendron.

Rhododendron Floral Sun

Rhododendron Floral Sun

This particular breeding direction was continuing the efforts to get more colour into the maddenii group. However, it was not until later when Mark came to grips with the fact that diploid and tetraploid rhododendrons can not be crossed, that he was able to better predict potential outcomes. It explained his mother’s failure to successfully cross sinonuttallii with Bernice.

In his turn, Mark looked at extending the colour range in nuttallii, in combination with more compact growth. I can still recall when he told me he had crossed sinonuttallii with RW Rye, because I quipped that he would likely end up with a run of seedlings with small white flowers and no fragrance. At the time, when I was at home raising preschool children, I was just secretly proud that I actually knew both parents. I was wrong because what emerged was a run of soft yellow, scented seedlings with nuttallii trumpets. From these, Mark named only one – Floral Sun. At last we had a compact habit combined with some of the best sino nuttallii characteristics. After two decades, the original plant has barely reached 130cm in height and about the same in width so it is sturdy and compact. The bullate foliage is mid green but the real joy are the flowers – frilly, fragrant and in soft honey yellow tones. It is still a source of delight here.

Rhododendron Platinum Ice

Rhododendron Platinum Ice

Working the theme of extending the colour range, Mark crossed augustinii with the excellent white form of maddenii we have here, hoping to introduce blue tones to the good performing maddenii characteristics. He named Platinum Ice which is a lovely rhododendron but, to the hybridist’s disappointment – lacking in some of the better features of the parents. The lilac buds open to flowers with the augustinii form but in maddenii size in a pastel shade which fades out to white. It is a good looking plant with good foliage but it lacks the fragrance and the pest resistance of the maddenii and the intensity of hue from augustinii (which is a beautiful species that does not like our conditions – it is a race between the thrips and the bronze beetles as to who can take it out first). So while Platinum Icemarked a colour break, it is still less than was hoped for in performance.

Rhododendron Floral Gift

Rhododendron Floral Gift

Returning to polyandrum as a breeder, Mark tried a number of crosses and has named one, Floral Gift. His records at the time state quite definitely that this was Michael’s Pride x polyandrum but the seedling shows nothing of Michael’s Pride and bears no resemblance to other crosses done at the same time. However, there is no doubt about the polyandrum parentage. Sometimes cultivars can take a long time to prove themselves. There was sufficient that was good about Floral Gift to warrant selection – sturdy habit of growth, compact, healthy foliage, an intense fragrance which is the equal of polyandrum but with heavy textured flowers which resist weather damage. It set flower buds on very young plants and flowered earlier in the season. Floral Gift’s blooms are white with a slight pink flush on the petal backs and a yellow throat. We lost a little confidence in this cultivar because it proved to be a tricky nursery plant – easy enough to strike from cutting and grow but fiendishly difficult to get a decent looking plant for sale when grown in containers. It looked sparse in the foliage and generally scruffy. But as plants in settled in and grew around the district and particularly in our local botanic park, we revisited Floral Gift and decided it is a very good plant. In a garden where we shun mass planting of single cultivars, we think this one is good enough to warrant planting in groups throughout the garden.

Faced by a somewhat sceptical buying public who think that rhododendrons should be nice bushy shrubs with full ball trusses (forget all these lovely walls of loose trumpets and bells exuding fragrance), Mark turned his attention to trying to get healthier foliage in the more traditional rhododendron appearance. Meadow Lemon is one of this ilk. It is Percy Wiseman x Lems Cameo, showing greater health than its parents without the need to spray. Pink buds open to a classic full truss of frilled soft yellow flowers. We are told that this cultivar is impressive in the New Zealand Rhododendron Association trials of NZ raised cultivars.

Rhododendron Meadow Lemon

Rhododendron Meadow Lemon

We have other successful seedlings from this particular hybridising direction in the garden – attractive full trusses in lilac, various pinks, reds and colour mixes but at this stage, that is where they are staying. While the genus of rhododendron has retained some of the status of its glory days in this country, it has had a huge slide from grace in terms of market share and a corresponding drop in value. These days a podophyllum raised over a few months from tissue culture will command a higher price in a garden centre than a rhododendron which has taken three years to grow and has decades of breeding history or plant hunting behind it. It simply is not worth putting a new cultivar on the market. We are philosophical. Plant fashions come and go and in the meantime, we derive a great deal of pleasure from the rhododendrons in our own garden.

Mark continues to dabble with rhododendrons which perform well in our climate, of late working with arboreums which show high health characteristics but tend to achieve giant status. Whether any of these reach the market remains to be seen. Alongside this, he has continued with vireya rhododendrons but these are another story altogether.

For the record, other cultivars registered by Felix include Abigail Jury (yakushimanum x Dido) – lovely plant with a beautiful bloom but too difficult to propagate so never a commercial viability, Soft Shadows (yakushimanum x argrophyllum) and Lollipop Lace (williamsianum x loderi) – in the last case merely raised from overseas seed and registered by Felix. The form of Saffron Queen (xanthostephanum x burmanicum) throughout New Zealand is, as far as we know, the Felix Jury form from repeating the earlier Williams cross. In those early days, he felt he had to stick to the grex name. The griersonianum x grande and macabeanum crosses attributed to the Jury family can be traced back to Felix’s brother, Les Jury, who was better known for his camellias. None of Les’s rhododendron hybrids were commercially viable although there are some handsome plants amongst them.

Mark has never registered his hybrids, although Felix and Les Jury were more meticulous in this aspect. Mark does not do paperwork. We do, however, make an effort to keep the information on our website current and accurate.

The Jury Plants – Cordyline Red Fountain

CORDYLINE RED FOUNTAIN (syn. Festival Grass and Festival Burgundy).

A flagship Jury plant, this one, the result of many years of effort which started with two different plant genus altogether. Initially there was the work Felix did with coloured and variegated flaxes (phormium). One of the most successful plants internationally became Phormium Yellow Wave – widely grown to this day in British gardens. We have always joked that had Felix received just one cent royalty for every Yellow Wave sold, we would never have had to earn a living but back in the 1960s, there was no protection of intellectual property rights and no expectation that a breeder be rewarded financially. There were other coloured cultivars (including Misty Sunrise and Pinky) from the breeding flurry but these have not stayed in the marketplace as Yellow Wave has. However, these coloured phormiums perform better in other places than our climate with its high humidity. We struggle to keep good foliage and they look pretty tatty and badly marked by insect and rust damage along with growing too large for a small garden. So Felix moved on to the next plant genus which offered similar clumping habit and pointed leaves without being spiky.

Over 30 years ago, Felix and Mark were both fascinated by the habit and appearance of our native Astelia chathamica (often sold under a cultivar name of Silver Spear). There was little that needed improving in the pointed silver leaves of this clump forming plant, but both father and son saw the potential in trying to create a different colour-way with red foliage. So began a twenty year effort before Mark pulled the plug and decided that his red astelias were simply too difficult and too unreliable to market widely. We still have them in cultivation in the garden here and a few of the selected clone were released by us onto the market. Other seedlings found their way onto the market by devious means on the part of a third party (that is a story best kept in-house) but clearly others found the plant just as difficult to build up – and indeed to keep alive at all – because it has never been a huge commercial hit despite the demand. Sometimes breeding directions are more blind alley than interesting path and Mark reluctantly abandoned the red astelia.

Undeterred, Felix looked to the cordyline genus where he crossed two lesser known NZ forms – banksii and pumilio. In this country where Cordyline australis is by far and away the most common form around (called cabbage trees and an icon of our country), cordylines are expected to have trunks and grow several metres tall. When Mark raised the seed from this cross, there was the lucky break which came to be called Red Fountain in the first instance (but also marketed in the US as Festival Grass and Festival Burgundy).

It is clumping, rarely putting up a trunk much above 10cm with exceptionally good colouring in shiny burgundy red which lasts all year round. The narrow strappy leaves are relatively soft and fountain out around the base. In early summer, the tall, arching flower spikes are in pale lilac and highly fragrant.

Cordyline Red Fountain – one of our flagship plants here

We have been delighted at the success of this cultivar on the international market, thanks to the efforts of Anthony Tesselaar International in the capacity of our agent. Less delighted, one might say with the efforts of competitors to come in behind it with ring-ins and substitutes, some even raised from Red Fountain (how we wish they would show some originality and come up with their own ideas) but we are confident that nothing has yet appeared that is the equal of Red Fountain.

Mark has continued with the cordyline breeding, but with the market being flooded with different cordylines from other sources, many proving difficult and unreliable, he has put any further releases on hold.