We tend to take our blue as blue skies for granted here, especially in mid winter or early spring as it is now. New Zealanders also tend to take red magnolias for granted, not realising that the sheer intensity of colour we can get here is unsurpassed elsewhere and that most of the breeding of red magnolias has taken place in this country – in fact much of the work was done in this very garden here – Jury Magnolias charts the journey.
In our southern hemisphere summer, Michelia alba is in flower. One could never describe alba as being in full flower – it just gently flowers over a long period without ever putting on a mass display. We planted it near our swimming pool so it could perfume the air in the summer months but as it grows ever larger, we are wondering if we have made a mistake. After about eight years, it is already around eight metres tall and showing no sign of slowing down. It has splendid foliage for those in warm enough climates to grow it and the flowers make up for their rather understated (almost insignificant) appearance with their heady fragrance. We have never seen any evidence that alba is fertile, either as seed parent or pollen donor and lean to the belief that it is likely that there is only one clone in existence and that is sterile. We have champaca (believed to be the seed parent of alba on the premise that alba is most likely a natural hybrid) which has attractive colour in the flowers but the forms we have seen are scruffy as garden plants.
Mark’s Fairy Magnolia Blush (the first of his michelias to be released) is also summer flowering but these are random blooms which lack the colour of the main spring season. We have decided that the move to lump all magnolia relations, including michelia and mangletia, into the magnolia group is not helpful so we are going to remain with the former nomenclature at this stage. Mark is of the view that michelias are a distinct group which warrants being kept separate. As far as he knows, nobody has yet proven that they can successfully cross michelias with magnolias, or indeed mangletias although some have claimed hybrids. We will wait for proof because we doubt that it is possible to achieve crosses between distinctly different groups without scientific intervention.
Many of the deciduous magnolias are summer flowering at this time but we never get particularly excited about these. They are bonus flowers, tucked in amongst the foliage, and they lack the impact of the spring flowering on bare wood though it should be said that Black Tulip has put up some fine dark flowers this year. Iolanthe, Apollo and Serene all have summer flowers – in fact most soulangeana hybrids will do so. With our very strong sunlight (blame the depletion of the ozone layer along with our clear atmosphere) summer flowers tend to burn.
Magnolia Serene has stand out dark foliage. Generally speaking, the foliage on deciduous magnolias does not excite much interest and in summer, most of them are just green trees with relatively large leaves. But when we cast our eyes around a number of trees in our garden landscape, Serene stood out as having deeper colour and appearing glossier than the others nearby. We think it has considerable merit as a specimen tree for its summer foliage as well as its form and spring flowering. Some magnolias stand the test of time and this is one of Felix’s where we are surprised that it has not been picked up more widely in the marketplace. With its later flowering (ref Magnolia Diaries 11 and 12 to see the flowers) it should perform well in cooler climates.
- If you have deciduous magnolias which have flowers on them, this is not some freaky abnormality. It is all in the parentage. Some varieties repeat flower in summer. This second flowering is but a shadow of the early spring display but it is a bonus. Black Tulip has had particularly good, dark flowers this summer but proved too difficult to photograph.
- Naturally you will be attending to your bearded irises, as per today’s Outdoor Classroom. Just make sure that the replants don’t frazzle if we get a run of sunny, dry weather.
- Some readers may have seen the media coverage of the unfortunate arrival of the hadda beetle which so resembles the charming lady bird. In fact the potato and tomato psyllid that we referred to two weeks ago is already here, established and wreaking havoc. The psyllid attacks all solanums which includes tamarillos, cape gooseberries and capsicums. Sudden, unexplained deaths in any or all of the solanum family (which includes a range of ornamentals too) may indicate a psyllid presence. In the short term, worry more about the psyllid than the hadda beetle especially for those who prefer to garden organically. Garden centres should all be able to offer advice on controls but there is no simple answer to effective management of the psyllid.
- Spring bulbs in the garden are starting to show white roots which means they are breaking dormancy. If you were planning to lift any congested clumps of daffodils or the like, get onto the task without delay.
- In the vegetable garden, thoughts are turning to planting for winter. The idea is that most plants do their growing while temperatures are still warm and then they hold in the garden through winter so you can pick them fresh. So you can be sowing parsnips, carrots, dwarf beans and brassicas now for winter harvest.
- If your garlic harvest this year is poor, take heart. You are not alone. The wet and cold November and December probably did not help.
- Pinch back cucumbers, melons, courgettes, pumpkins and similar spreaders to keep them under control and to encourage fruit set. Tender pumpkin tips are delicious to eat, as are stuffed courgette flowers, if they are not infested with white fly. I have never seen any merit in the fruit of chokos, but we have always enjoyed eating the tender tips when lightly steamed as a fresh green.
- The rains this week and the warm, humid conditions means that the weeds will be growing and spitting out seed even as you turn your back. Ignore these at your peril.
Winter may have struck early and cold here this year, but at the other end of the season a magical spring has arrived early. With no wind and fine sunny days, temperatures are now reaching up to 18 degrees celsius and the flowering is terrific. The early campbelliis have been and gone, as has Lanarth, Vulcan is just past its peak, sprengeri diva is flopping, sargentiana robusta and Sweetheart are at their peak. Felix Jury looks fantastic as does Black Tulip. The soulangeanas and mid season hybrids are all opening, including our newest release, Burgundy Star.
Felix Jury’s main output using the magnolia he named Mark Jury are all in the early stages of opening, as is Mark. Manchu Fan is opening – this hybrid performs really well here for us in the reliable, smaller growing white goblet class. Ruby, planted next to Manchu, is pretty ho hum here, as is Rustica Rubra. But then we tend to prefer solid colour in our magnolia flowers, rather than the pale insides to petals and that is just a matter of taste.
Starwars is opening on our roadside boundary (our road verges are astonishingly beautiful at this time of the year). Starwars was bred by the late Os Blumhardt and we were enormously impressed with how good it looked in the UK and Europe. In fact we wished we could claim it as ours. But here it is best in its bud stage. While it flowers very well, the tree is a rather large grower and the flowers lack good form when fully open and the petals lack substance. It was far more a stand-out plant in Europe than it is here.
The also-rans can be as impressive as any named variety on their day, and if they aren’t they get chainsawed out PDQ. You can’t name everything and to get a magnolia on the market means there are many (very many) reject seedlings. We keep chuckling at Baby Tulip which is basically Black Tulip shrunk down in size to be a shrubby stellata type of bush covered in baby dark tulip flowers. It is not good enough to name and release, but it is a little cutie which is a contrast to the enormous flowers opening on the likes of Iolanthe, Atlas and Felix Jury.
When Magnolia Felix Jury first flowered, it was pretty clear that Mark had taken the step that his father, Felix, had been aiming for with his earlier breeding of Iolanthe and Vulcan. Here was the big campbellii type flower on a young plant with strong colour. Mark named it for his father, even though it may be seen as a slightly unexpected memorial for a man who was a quiet and modest person and of slight stature. The magnolia is none of these. It is large flowered, robust and simply spectacular.
What was even more gratifying for us on our recent trip to the United Kingdom was to see how very well Magnolia Felix Jury is performing there. We walked into the Garden House in Devon and there in pride of place at the entranceway was a fine specimen. It was in leaf but Mark still recognised it instantly. The head gardener confirmed that it is in such a prime position because it performs so spectacularly well and we found that in a number of other gardens around the country. To say that Mark was quietly chuffed is a bit of an understatement. There is no certainty that plants which perform well in New Zealand will be equally good overseas.
It is difficult to get full tree shots of magnolias, and especially for the original Felix which is planted in a grove of seedlings, but this plant in our park is about 12 years from cutting.
Black Tulip is also in full flower and it seems that this will be a good season all round here for deep colour. There are various theories internationally as to what affects the depth of colour but most seem to be anecdotal rather than scientific. We just feel that some years here we get better colour than other years. New Zealanders tend to take the red magnolias for granted and don’t really understand that the deep colours are unusual internationally.