Category Archives: Tikorangi notes

Notes from the Garden of Jury, September 30, 2018

The early spring bulbs are over and we are now into mid-season. We garden with many, many bulbs and probably find them a great deal more fascinating than most who are less enthusiastic. I could wow a few readers with the Phaedranassa cinerea or maybe the Cyrtanthus falcatus in bloom now, but to the casual eye, a simple planting of bluebells and Narcissus bulbocodium naturalised around the base of an old eucalyptus tree is likely to be far more charming. That eucalyptus dates back to around the 1870s when Mark’s great grandfather planted several around the property. They are messy trees because they shed bark and small twiggy growth all year but look at that interesting twist in the trunk that some varieties develop with age.

Camellia minutiflora – a charming and graceful species

The flowers are delightful and abundant but small – C. minutiflora again

I do a lot of flower and garden photography although I would only describe myself as a gardener and writer who takes photographs, not a photographer as such. And some flowers are really difficult to photograph. I feel I have got to grips with magnolia images but making a series of flower shots of some genus can be particularly challenging. It is mighty hard to make a whole lot of full trussed rhododendrons, japonica camellias or hybrid tea roses look interesting rather than a series of blobs. More on rhododendrons later in the season. But so too is it difficult to capture some of the smaller flowered shrubs, conveying their charm. I have taken many photographs of the dainty camellia species, C. minutiflora, and they remain a dismal failure in capturing the simple visual delight to the naked eye. It is such a delightful plant that we have used it in a number of places through the garden. In the end, I decided I just had to pick a few sprays and lay them on a plain background to try and show just how sweet this little camellia is when you can see the detail.

Daphne genkwa – the blue daphne

Daphne genkwa with its corylopis backdrop

So too with the less common blue daphne, D. genkwa. I photograph it every year and then delete almost all the photos as not doing justice to the plant at all. This may be because it is not a shrub with much to distinguish it other than its remarkable lilac blue flowers. And so too the corylopsis, often referred to as witch hazels. I think we only have two different forms of corylopsis. One flowers earlier and makes a charming haze of creamy yellow behind a Daphne genkwa. The other is flowering now and may be a form of C. pauciflora but we have never taken much interest in unravelling the family. They just occupy a space and remain relatively anonymous for most of year except for their splash of dainty blooms in the two weeks or so when it is their turn to shine. Colder, drier climates appear to get a more extended flowering season on a number of these deciduous shrubs whereas, in our mild conditions, they are more of a fleeting delight. But on their days, what a delight they are.

Corylopsis

And the corylopsis in situ with Rhododendron spinuliferum to the right front and and the burgundy loropetalum behind

It was garden writer, Neil Ross, whom I first heard likening a garden to musical theatre. Don’t plan a garden full of stars only, he said. Those stars need the chorus to make them shine so don’t forget those plants filling the role of the chorus. That is how I see these plants which have a short season – chorus cast with a brief solo in the spotlight.

Just look at the lily border. It never looked like this last year when the rabbits won the battle on the emerging shoots. Mark is getting bored with his daily round of vigilance and looking forward to the time when the stems get tall enough to be out of the reach of the rabbits. But spraying the plant with water and sprinkling just a part teaspoon of blood and bone on each plant is working. The reason for doing it one by one is because it has to be reapplied after rain and we don’t want to be over fertilising the whole border by broadcasting the blood and bone freely and often. Besides, I was a bit shocked at the price last time we bought some. It would be easier to manage if we bought some liquid blood and bone so it could just be applied with one action but we will use up what we have first.

The price to pay for a lily display is clearly ongoing vigilance.

Yes, yes I know the advice is always given not to drive over hoses. Based on experience, it appears that you can get away with it when the hose is still relatively new but there comes a point in the age of the hose when one incident of driving over it can render it a very leaky hose. This of course means that over the course of the next weeks, any user of said hose gets wet legs until the right stage of being fed up is reached and the hose replaced. We haven’t quite got to this point but it is imminent. And I will try not to drive over the next hose length.

Tikorangi notes: a week of pests and petals

Magnolia Honey Tulip

Honey Tulip is going from strength to strength as the tree matures

The magnolia joy this week has been ‘Honey Tulip’. Mark is a modest plant breeder and inclined to describe a number of his best plants as a stroke of luck. I know how hard he works to get these so-called lucky breaks and there is not much left to chance. As we looked at a prominent specimen of ‘Honey Tulip’ at our entrance this week, he expressed relief again that it is indeed excellent and that we have not released a dog of a plant on the market. And he mused (again) that out of that particular controlled cross, he only got two yellows amongst the offspring and only one of those was of merit. That is what he calls a lucky break. I don’t think he is happy unless he gets a run of several – or many – very good similar seedlings worth considering but even then he worries into the future whether he picked the best one at the time to name and release! So the annual display that ‘Honey Tulip’ puts on for us is both a relief and a delight as it continues to go from strength to strength.

The battle with the rabbits continues. After the new lily border was decimated last year, it was a priority to try and get them up this year. While the bulbs will likely survive one year with all their growth having been chewed off, two years is stretching it. First, I spent a day erecting a mesh fence along the border. It was more diversionary than rabbit-proof. In an environment filled with tasty edibles, I just hoped they would take the hint and change their route. But the little fockers laughed at me. When the first shoots were chewed back to ground level in a single night, I started putting cut lengths of drainage tubes over the damaged ones. That works but there are literally hundreds of bulbs in that border and Mark didn’t think it was a realistic option for the whole area. He tried the expensive rabbit repellent spray we bought last year but they laughed at his efforts too.

Netting and tubes in an attempt to deter rabbits

Blood and bone works. Mark now does a daily round. He sprays water on the fresh shoots and sprinkles a light application of blood and bone on the wet surface. The moisture makes it adhere which means that he will only have to repeat the application after heavy rain. It requires vigilance and routine. We need to get them above maybe 40cm so the rabbits can’t chew off the top and the shoots can keep growing. It won’t matter then if they chew off the lowest leaves.

Blood and bone lightly sprinkled on damp foliage is the best rabbit deterrent so far

The longer term solution is obviously to reduce the rabbit population. Mark does daily rounds with the gun. The dogs have found the odd burrow of small ones, to their delight, but are pretty useless once they are larger and on the loose. We got desperate enough to buy some rabbit poison but it is also poisonous to dogs so it requires putting out at night and gathering it back up in the morning. On the first morning, not only had the rabbits totally ignored the bait but our Dudley dog ate one bait before Mark’s eyes. It put him off using it again. The option of getting a cat again is still on the table. It is the first time we have ever hoped a stoat may move back onto our territory to do a clean out of the rabbits. Not for the first time, we have muttered curses at the early British settlers in this country who introduced this pest so they could continue their what-ho-jolly-hunting traditions.

A magnolia bud that has been eaten out, usually by possums but we are now wondering if rats are also to blame

While on pests, a possum – or maybe rats – have wrought havoc this year on some of the magnolias in the distant parts of our property. You can see from the photograph how the offender has eaten into the bud and nipped out the centre at the point when the flower buds were forming. Every single bud on this tree was taken out, which is why Mark is wondering about rats as well as possums. It is very discouraging. Mark is the chief pest control officer here and he generally manages to maintain some sort of equilibrium with a combination of ongoing trapping and the gun but this year appears to be particularly bad.

Doryanthes palmeri or the Queensland spear lily

Two months on from when I first mentioned the Doryanthes palmeri coming into flower,  I am coming to the conclusion that it does not open any more than this. I had envisaged that massive stem covered in open blooms but I think it may just gently continue for a long time yet, opening blooms in sequence without that mass display. The bees love it. Every time I pass, I can hear the audible hum and most of the open flowers have a bee foraging within them.

I mentioned it as a nursery relic cast aside. And indeed, I found confirmation of that this week as I was clearing around the plant. Behold, the original black planter bag, still around some of the root system. Some plants are tough and determined. It was not going to stay constricted by a pathetic little PB as we call these nursery bags.

Dainty and fragrant Narcissus jonquilla

Finally, because we love the tiny as much as the large, here are two little scenes from the rockery. Spring is a glorious season here, never more so than when we get over a week without rain to enjoy the blooming. But suddenly we are on the cusp of the point where a long spring no longer beckons but instead we are under pressure to get the new plantings done before it is too late and we are too dry and too warm.

Moraea villosa or the peacock iris

The autumn camellias

Camellia sasanqua Crimson King in prime position

When Mark returned home to Tikorangi in 1980 bringing me and our first baby bump, the name Jury was synonymous with camellias. These days Jury = magnolias, but not back then. There is a whole chapter in the family history that is headed ‘Camellias’ but it is largely in the past now. Changing fashion, changing focus and the dreaded camellia petal blight has seen to that.

But every autumn, as the sasanquas come into flower we both derive huge delight, particularly from the Camellia Crimson King by the old mill wheel, which is just out from our back door beside the driveway. It is a picture of grace and charm.

Crimson King rests more on its merits of form and position than the beauty of individual blooms

Sasanquas are the unsung heroes of the camellia family, seen mostly as hedging plants, so utility rather than glorious. But if they are allowed to mature as specimens and gently shaped down the years, they stand on their own merits. Mark declared yesterday that it is the autumn flowering camellias that interest him now, not the late winter and spring varieties. For these autumn ones do not get petal blight whereas the later varieties are now a mere shadow of their former selves, faced by the extreme ravages wrought upon their blooms by blight. Our camellia trip to China in 2016 had us concluding that our mild, humid climate with high rainfall means that we suffer worse from petal blight in Taranaki than pretty much anywhere else, really. It is nowhere near as bad in dry climates.

The history of camellias from the middle of last century onwards has some parallels to the history of tulips – all about show and showy blooms. So it was predicated on the quest for the new – extending the boundaries of flower form, size and colour, prizing breakthroughs even when the results were more novelty than meritorious. Camellia societies had enormous flower shows where the staging of individual show blooms was the focus. It didn’t have much, if anything, to do with garden performance let alone longevity as garden plants. Sasanquas didn’t fit this show bench mould. They flowered too early in the season, individual blooms are often quite small, lacking rigid, defined form and falling apart when picked.

But fashions and conditions change and these days it is the softer look of the Japanese camellia family member, the sasanquas, that makes us stop and take notice more than the later flowering japonicas and hybrids on which the earlier family reputation was forged. The light airiness and grace of the sasanquas fits our style of gardening far better than the solid, chunkiness of many of the later varieties and the autumn flowers serve as another marker of the change of season.

The earliest of the sasanquas here – all named varieties

I did a walk around to see how many different blooms I could pick but it is still a little early in the season and some have yet to open. Some plants we leave entirely to their own devices, some we will clean up the canopy from time to time -to take out dead wood and create an umbrella effect, two we clip tightly once a year to a cloud pruned form. With their small leaves, the sasanquas clip well. It just pays to do it soon after they have made their new growth after flowering. Leave it until late spring and you will be clipping off all the flower buds set for next autumn.

Camellia Mine No Yuki

It takes a few decades of growth to get sufficient size to shape as we shape ‘Elfin Rose’ and ‘Mine No Yuki’ but these specimens now function as distinctive shapes within the garden all year round, rather than melding into the background as most camellias do when not in bloom.

The latest casualty in the ongoing saga of treemageddon

Alas poor schima, we knew you well. In early spring you would drop all your leaves in one big whoosh (and there were A LOT of leaves because you were a large tree) and startle us for a few weeks with remarkable lime green fresh growth. You were a way finder for garden visitors. We could point you out – “see the lime green tree – you will find the sunken garden in front of that”. In early summer you covered yourself with small white blooms but no more. True, we had noticed that you were not looking too healthy on one side but now you are gone. Awkwardly – getting you down is a challenge because you are resting against other standing trees but our gratitude that you fell the way you did is great. Had you fallen the other way, you would have brought down the power lines to our house and that would have been A Major Repair.

A root ball close to 2 metres across

The catalyst for the fall was ex-Cyclone Gita – the ex is because it was no longer of the same force that hit the Pacific, particularly Tonga. Pity poor Tonga. It must have been simply terrifying and the damage to that island is vast. Cyclones usually peter out before they reach New Zealand but this one kept barrelling on, though losing its intensity. It was still fierce enough, as bad as we have known when it comes to wind here. We are grateful that the damage is just the one big tree and a bit of smaller stuff down. And grateful that our electricity is back on after a 19 hour power cut, unlike about 5000 homes still waiting to be reconnected after two nights and more than a day without power. We are even more grateful that we have our own deep water bore as half the district on town supply has now run out of water – their taps are the merest trickle or totally dry and water tankers are trucking in supplies. It is harder to manage without running water than electricity. That is one thing I learned. It is a sobering reminder of how dependent most of us are on infrastructure which is not always as robust as we might think.

At least Mark has a spare Schima wallichii ssp noronhae that he can plant out. The fallen specimen was coming up to 60 years old and that root ball is close to 2 metres across. It will leave a big hole to be filled.

Before the fall

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

Tikorangi Notes: Things that go crash in the night, recommended hostas and our pretty meadow

It was not Dudley crashing in the night but he did look somewhat noble down in the meadow yesterday

Things that go crash in the night. On a dead calm night, both of us heard the unmistakeable noise of a large branch falling to the ground. I was pretty sure it was not an entire tree because there was no whump as it hit the ground so it clearly did not bounce, as large trees usually do. Morning light revealed that it was as expected – a branch from one of our old man pine trees. In this case it must have fallen 30 or 40 metres to the ground and it appears to have taken out the two camellias that had more or less staged a revival from being clipped by the last two falling trees.

The damage from a falling branch

As usual, we will gather all the pine cones and get out what firewood we can but it appears that there is some surrounding damage this time.  We are philosophical. It is just part of gardening beneath huge trees that are now up to 145 years old. The fallen epiphytic collospermum may be a clue as to why the branch fell. There will be a big weight in just that chunk of vegetation sitting on the branch. The birds spread the seeds and they can germinate, grow and hang on for grim death up high.

It may have been this massive epiphtye that caused the branch to break

Blue hostas raised from seed

After last week’s post on Hosta Jade Cascade (which is settling in just as well in other parts of the garden where I planted it out), I have been looking anew at the varieties that are thriving on zero maintenance. Some of the enormous clumps will have been in 20 or more years now and just keep reappearing a little larger each season. A lot of our big blue clumps are unnamed, raised from seed – some of them from Hosta seiboldiana.

Hosta undulata variegata is getting smaller, I think, over the years

In a big garden, we need big clumps of plants to have an effect. In this area, the stand out gold is Goldrush, raised and named by Felix Jury. It is a terrific performer and puts up a good floral display of purple flowers. The blue is a seedling. Neither of us can name the variegated hosta which is not the showiest of varieties but it has done well and that is not to be sniffed at. There aren’t many variegated hostas that we have planted that have thrived in garden conditions under a regime of benign neglect. Too many, like this poor little specimen of H. undulata variegata have reduced in size over the years, rather than grown larger.

In the smaller growers, variegated Golden Tiara is again not particularly exciting but a very good garden plant. The blue green, little Flora Dora has increased freely and gold Blonde Elf has also surprised me with how well it has established for a very small grower. On the other hand, I haven’t seen dwarf Kabitan for a while so I wonder if it has shrunk away altogether, which would be a pity.

It looks like Guacamole to me and I am not making up that name

Of the variegated types, this one which I think is Guacamole from memory, is doing very well. It is a reverse variegation sport of Hosta Fragrant Bouquet. I will have planted out large specimens of the latter at a similar time as Guacamole but I have yet to find them in the garden, which means they are not growing as strongly at all.

Sum and Substance

Add Blue Boy as a good, reliable garden plant. We stopped growing it commercially towards the end of our time because there were other, showier, bluer cultivars that sold more readily but while they are not starring in the garden, Blue Boy is a strong survivor. That is my short list of top performers as garden plants that have caught my eye this week and that have proven themselves over several years. Oh, Add Sum and Substance which is surprising me by its willingness to grow suitably large in the spot where I planted it.

As a postscript to the hostas, these are grown with no slug bait or slug and snail control. We now have such a rich bird life that they enable us to grow these plants without having to protect them. Well, I assume it is the birds carrying out this task because there is no reason at all for us to have any fewer slugs and snails to start with than anybody else gardening in similar conditions.

The meadow! The meadow!

At the risk of repeating myself – but we all know that gardening is a seasonal activity that is, by definition, repetitive – the meadow below is bringing me great joy as the Higo irises all come into bloom, interspersed with the Primula helodoxa that has been at its peak for a full month now. What more can I say?

 

Dudley and the new season’s avocado crop

Behold our handsome Dudley. Or Dudders, to give him his cricketing name. I wrote about Dudley’s penchant for self-serve avocados two years ago in The Avocado Thief.

Last year the avocado pickings were very lean, bordering on non-existent, really. This year, we have a terrific crop of Fuerte avocados coming in right now and there is nothing wrong with Dudley’s memory. In the centre of a large area which we are developing into a new garden, I found his stash this morning. At this point the revolting lambs’ tails retrieved from the neighbours just across the fence outnumber the avocado stones but Dudley is working on that. Apparently he has designated this area as his outdoor dining space – not to be confused with his breakfast nook by the house where he receives his morning rations.

The evidence! Left: his stash of ageing lambs’ tails adjacent to his avocado stones on the right

Sometimes I read that one should not feed avocado to dogs as it is allegedly toxic. Dudley is a dog of many talents but he has failed to read these warnings and he has never shown any ill effects from an excess of avocado. The same cannot be said for an excess of lambs’ tails which can, at times, clog up in his gut though this does not appear to deter him for long. An excess of avocado flesh merely gives him a glossy coat. This was a townie dog that has adapted rather too well to life in the country.

Dudley’s outdoor dining area is in the middle of an area under development – loosely referred to here as the court garden because it currently resembles a tennis court in dimensions. The two year plan is for a wildflower garden.