Tag Archives: Camellia Pearly Cascade

The difference between clipping, hacking and blind pruning

Camellia yuhsienensis – not self grooming but apparently resistant to camellia petal blight. To save you the bother of contacting me: no, we no longer sell any plants at all these days and I think it is unlikely that this particular camellia is still commercially available in New Zealand.

‘Blind pruning’ is not, as some might assume, an activity carried out by the visually impaired. An old horticulturist introduced me to the term years ago. Essentially, it is pruning that is carried out so that the end result does not show evidence of it, even though it can be quite extreme. Skilled and careful pruning, as opposed to clipping or, at its worst, hacking. It is a higher-level skill.

I lacked confidence in my ability to carry out extreme pruning without making it obvious so usually left it up to Mark but this year I doubted that he was going to work to my timetable and told myself I can do it. Camellias are obliging plants to work with because if you get it wrong, they come away again with new season’s growth able to sprout from bare wood.

Clipping is done with hedge clippers. We do it with our camellia hedges and with some shaped camellias. It is what gets the sharp definition. The first shaping takes skill – and time – but from then on, any reasonably capable person with a set of sharp clippers can maintain that shape.

Before…

After. Definite hacking on the middle plant but that was the only option to get back the shape I want

Extreme cutting – hacking, as I call it – is unsightly until the fresh flush of growth covers the bare ends but it is sometimes the only option. In this border, I wanted to get the middle camellia, ‘Spring Festival’ back to a mounded growth sitting lower than the four standards behind it. With very little foliage left in the middle of the bush, there was no alternative to extreme cutting and now is the time of the year to do it because it will put on a flush of new growth very soon. It won’t flower well next year but should hit its stride again in 2022.

The four standard camellias behind are all Mark’s hybrid ‘Pearly Cascade’ and they needed more love. Between the two photos, I have removed at least a third of the growth and they look better for it. You would have to look close into the plant to find the fresh cuts because it is not obvious to view. That is blind pruning, as I understand it.

Before…

… and after

The feature camellias in the sunken garden area have not had my attention for the last two or three years and they did not look lovely this year. This is ‘Pearly Cascade’ again, grown au naturelle rather than the grafted standards in the earlier border. It is a pretty enough little camellia although the flower is not by any means unique. It is very like ‘Nicky Crisp’ in bloom. It was as much the habit of growth that encouraged Mark to name and release it. It keeps excellent foliage in full sun and stays low with arching, spreading growth rather than shooting upwards. This plant must be 15 or 20 years old and has just received the odd passing nip and tuck to keep it to size.

But that spreading foliage is dense and doesn’t allow spent blooms to fall. Breeding for self-grooming – where a plant drops its spent blooms – was a big focus for Mark’s camellia breeder Uncle Les and his father, Felix. It stops that ugly look where sludgy brown blooms stay on the bush. But when the foliage is too dense, the blooms can’t fall and that has become even more of problem with rampant camellia petal blight.

‘Pearly Cascade’

Mark is unusually derisive (he not a man much given to derision) about the idea of ground cover camellias or michelias. Both are heavy blooming plants and when they are spreading, as ground cover is, there is no way those spent blooms can fall so they just congregate as a mush on top.

I started on this plant by nipping back the top to the height I want, followed by shortening the sides. This is all work done with secateurs. Then it is an exercise in delving into the body of the plant and reducing the dense growth – taking out wispy branches, short growths and badly crossing branches first and then selecting which remaining stems are superfluous and can be cut back flush to the trunk. It is precise work and it takes time. There is much stepping back to look. In the end, I reduced the plant by about 50% and it looks a whole lot better for it.

Before…

The two C. yuhsienensis were more of a challenge. They had grown huge without us really noticing, larger than we want in this area. This is a beautiful species but it is not self grooming at all. Mind you, with all those spent blooms still on the bush, we examined them and can report that it appears to be impervious to camellia petal blight so that is a bonus.

… and after

and the matched plant on the other side

I needed the kitchen step ladder and a pruning saw as well as secateurs but the approach was the same – reduce the height, narrow the spread and then thin the middle. Even I was surprised by how much I removed but the plants look a whole lot better for that. Looking from above, I can see that I need to remove more from the right-hand side of the one at the front to get a better balanced plant. The four lollipop camellias – another compact cultivar of Mark’s that we call ‘Pink Poppet’ but never released commercially, still need to be trimmed but they are a hedge clipper job. They get shaped like an umbrella or mushroom because we want that flattish, curved shape rather than round top-knots.   The tops are currently out of proportion to the stems on these grafted standards.

Those are piles of prunings lying on the grass beside the four plants trimmed so far

Mark’s advice, given to me often down the years, is not to keep lifting and trimming up plants. Over time what evolves – and we have a few examples of these from my earlier efforts – is a plant with bare legs that looks as though it has been grazed by stock up to the level where they can no longer reach. That is why the top down, outside in and then thinning the interior works better to retain a more natural form. If you plan to keep a plant clipped or trimmed, longer term it is easier if you keep the height down to what can be managed without a ladder.

It took hard pruning to achieve this shape, now it is maintained by a simple annual haircut with sharp hedge clippers

Clipping gives sharp definition, at least for a couple of months after the annual trim

Postscript

I didn’t set out to write a definitive piece about pruning camellias but will add two points and links to earlier advice on chainsaw pruning.

Firstly, if you are ever pruning camellias with variegated flowers and foliage (often showing as mottled yellow and green leaves but not every leaf will be mottled), you are likely pruning a camellia which has a virus that causes such variegations. Make sure you disinfect your cutting tools afterwards, before touching any other camellias or you risk transferring the virus. Virus is not always bad but it will weaken the plant and you probably don’t want mottled foliage throughout your camellias.

The mottled leaves and the irregular variegation on the flowers are a good indicator of the presence of virus

Secondly, if you are going to do the chainsaw massacre number and cut a camellia off close to the ground, we recommend cutting about a metre up and leaving some framework to the plant. If you cut it off close to the ground, it will re-sprout as a thicket and you will never get a good-shaped plant out of it, though you will be able to clip to a mound. If you leave some branch structure and a central leader (main trunk), you will get a better-looking plant in the long term.

Now is the time (late winter to early spring here) to carry out such extreme pruning so the fresh growth that will sprout soon can be made on the bare wood.

This piece from 2016 shows the results of chainsaw pruning six months later.

Back in 2011 when I used to do step by step sequences for the newspaper, I covered hard pruning of camellias. My photography has improved a bit since then but the information is still relevant.

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)