Tag Archives: Daphne Perfume Princess

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

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An award!

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I was going to head this “We Won!”. That would, of course, have been using “we” in the royal sense for I had nothing to do with developing this new cultivar, Daphne Perfume Princess – all credit belongs to Mark. But yes, the Australians do like it and it has been given the Plant of the Year Award from the Nursery and Garden Industry. It is easy to be self-deprecating, cynical even. But awards and recognition are pretty hard won and it was gratifying to receive this trophy.

We arrived home from China on March 4 to find the first buds opening on Perfume Princess in the garden. We know from previous experience that it will also have the latest season blooms of any daphne we grow. Mark is a cautious man but he is quietly confident about this plant.

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IMG_8116While on trophies, how can I not share the Dali camellia medal we brought home from the International Camellia Congress? There is no personal recognition attached to this medal. All overseas attendees were given one. This meant, of course, that we had two. As they are relatively substantial and heavy, we re-homed the second one and only carried one back.

IMG_8117Bear with, bear with on the slow reveal.

IMG_8118It is quite remarkable. And quite large.

A water meadow! Tikorangi Notes: December 17, 2015

IMG_6415A water meadow! I was delighted at the sight in our park this afternoon. We stopped regular mowing of our park two years ago when we first closed our garden to the public. We were keen to see how far we could push the meadow effect in our climate and also concerned at our heavy dependence on internal combustion engines to maintain the garden. Long grass and flowers are far more ecologically friendly than mown grass.

IMG_6248Mark took note of my request that we mow double width paths through the grass this year. A single mower width looked a bit mean to my eyes. I commented to him earlier this week that my only worry was the abundance of buttercup that we now have. He wryly pointed out that it has always been that way. His childhood memories are of the yellow buttercups and dandelions and white daisies throughout the park. We have just returned to that, though not to grazing with sheep.

IMG_6420IMG_6421The higo irises are delightful. They started flowering in the second half of November and are still putting up plenty of blooms a good month later. Generally they flower in succession down the stem. The tall yellow spires are Wachendorfia thyrsifolia – a perennial plant for boggy conditions that needs quite a bit of space. And a willingness to accept that some plants are just not designed to be tidy, neat little things.

IMG_6411Before the thunder storm hit this afternoon, the sheer size of the Cycas revoluta finally got to me. It had become far too large for the rockery and was encroaching ever more onto both the narrow paths of the rockery and our adjacent outdoor dining area. I have removed A Lot but there is still a substantial plant remaining. The pups (some are more like overgrown wolfhounds than pups in size!) should grow but I will leave that up to Mark. As far as I understand, his technique is largely comprised of cutting off all the leaves and leaving the pups in some hospitable, shady area to push out fresh growth including roots – a very slow process.

046News from Australia that Mark’s new Daphne Perfume Princess has been shortlisted as one of only two contenders for the Plant of the Year. That is a meteoric rise and vote of confidence for a new release. We have to wait until February before the winner gets announced, but it is pretty encouraging. We are quite proud of this particular plant and have high hopes for it. It was delightful to see a native tui coming in every day to feed from it in winter. Daphnes are not renowned as sources of nectar for birds.

 

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Sydney notes: Friday 13 November, 2015

IMG_7117I spent the past week in Sydney, helping our second daughter move into her new apartment. This was a larger task than either she or I had anticipated so left little time for things horticultural. But oh the jacarandas were lovely, used widely as street trees and in front gardens in the eastern suburbs. Sydney is a great deal warmer than Tikorangi – our jacaranda will not bloom here until mid summer. IMG_7111

IMG_7141Daughter’s apartment is on the third floor. No lift. It’s not too bad – the stairs are well designed to make it easy. But I mention the third floor because that is several Magnolia Little Gems and a handsome red bougainvillea growing level with her apartment balcony. I have written about this evergreen magnolia before and have for many years suggested that its name is only ‘Little Gem’ as compared to a hypothetical Extremely Giant Gem. Three stories high so far, and these trees are not fully mature. What is more, whenever you see it photographed, it is usual to see a pristine white bloom and it certainly has a beautiful form. Alas each flower only lasts a day or two so one ends up with brown blooms – still with an attractive form – until they disintegrate, but never a tree covered in a mass of pure white. IMG_7138

IMG_7135Over the years I have seen a number of small English backyards where the only access way is via the house and thought that would be tricky. I can now say that these are eclipsed by apartments with no lift. ‘I will repot her container plants while I am here,’ I thought. Or at least the kentia palm and the tired peace lily which looked as if it was on the point of surrendering. I briefly toyed with carrying the plants down to the potting mix where there was a bit of communal garden so the mess wouldn’t matter, but decided it would be easier to carry the potting mix up and do it on the balcony. I wasn’t sure there was an outdoor tap and the rootballs needed a good soak. Logistically, it is harder than you think. Believe me. I was trying to contain the mess but even so some of the debris and the water went over the edge and I worried about alienating the lower apartment residents. The spent potting mix then had to be carried downstairs to spread. These were new challenges for me and I will look upon apartment gardeners with even greater respect. Undeterred, Daughter reclaimed her closed unit worm farm from a previous dwelling and located it discreetly at the back of the ‘landscaped’ communal area. Her kitchen scraps need to be carried downstairs anyway, so she figured she might as well keep them separate, feed the worms and use the liquid fertiliser they generate. It makes you proud to be the parent.

IMG_7132The kentia palm, I noted, is in fact three kentias (Howea forsteriana from Lord Howe Island) and there were at least five seeds sown in the original pot. That is a nursery technique to get a larger plant in a shorter space of time. Naturally I wondered about separating them but daughter needed one attractive kentia, not three smaller ones going into shock from such brutal treatment.

IMG_7128Greater love hath no mother than shopping for plastic items in Kmart but I did also get to wander through the plant section of a Bunnings store while we were doing a mission in search of home handyperson supplies. For $A26.90, you can buy a novelty houseplant of germinated “Black Bean” seeds. These are Castanospermum australe. I use the word novelty because these are not designed to grow to maturity but to be a disposable houseplant. More gratifyingly, I spotted a stand of small  plants of Mark’s new daphne, Perfume Princess.IMG_7130

There is nothing quite like finding a little bit of home in a Sydney garden centre.

“The Holy Grail of horticulture”

Daphne Perfume Princess

Daphne Perfume Princess

As a people, we New Zealanders tend to be a little more reserved than our Australian neighbours across the Tasman. So I post this link to their prime time Channel 9 last night with a slight sense of unseemly boasting. But to have somebody of the stature of Don Burke declaring Mark’s Daphne Perfume Princess to be the Holy Grail of horticulture and the best new plant to be released in Australia in the last 50 years is high praise indeed.

This knight...

This knight…

We knew the story was going to air. We had been sent photos – Don donning a knight’s costume in a theatrical take on the search for the Holy Grail. Indeed, we had raised our eyebrows at Channel 9 wardrobe department’s selection of a knight’s costume owing to the fact that we think it was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table who were in search of the Holy Grail, not so much the Templar Knights of the Christian crusades…. But no matter, Don carried it off with panache.

Mark’s comment is that the ultimate challenge for a plant breeder is to take a really well known, common plant and to make it better. We hope he has achieved this with Daphne Perfume Princess. Others certainly think so.

 

 

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.