Tag Archives: early flowering magnolias

The colours of late autumn

Persimmons – golden orbs against a clear sky in late autumn. Being an old fashioned, astringent variety, we have to wait until they are very ripe before picking them

Here we are, 23 days off the shortest day of the year and in the late autumn phase. The daytime temperature has dropped to the mid teens celsius and we even had a light frost this week. But we are lucky here that our light levels during the day don’t drop much. It just gets dark earlier.

The first of the sun’s rays hitting the Court Garden this week

We never get that grey, leaden look of spent perennials and patches of dark green that characterise many gardens in colder climates, let alone the blanket of white snow many northern countries experience. But neither are we tropical. I have busted out my thermals already. In self-defence, we do not retire indoors as the temperature drops and we are out and about in the garden in all but the worst weather.

Luculia gratissima ‘Early Dawn’ in sugar pink
Luculia pinceana ‘Fragrant Pearl’ with its white rounded heads
Luculia pinceana ‘Fragrant Cloud’

The luculias are in flower. Rangy and frost tender these plants may be, the scent is divine and the flower heads are large and attractive balls of colour well into winter. My favourite is the almond pink of ‘Fragrant Cloud’. Unfortunately, they don’t hold well when picked but we keep our house at a warm temperature in winter that is not conducive to any garden flowers holding well indoors.

The most enormous of hydrangeas and evergreen, too

Also rangy and frost tender, the enormous, evergreen tree hydrangea is in full bloom. Walking past it on sunny days, the hum of honey bees is not quite deafening but certainly on track in that direction. As the plant is about 5 metres tall and currently sporting so many blooms on the sunny side that the foliage is barely visible, it can accommodate a whole lot of honey bees at a time when other food sources are less abundant. Last I heard, this unusual Chinese hydrangea is thought to be a member of the aspera group.

Nearby, still in the woodland area we call the Avenue Garden, I like this seasonal composition with the red form of Cordyline australis x banksii, the hanging chalices of the tree dahlia D. imperialis (another rangy, frost tender plant), the cerise of the enormous bougainvillea, blue flowered plectranthus and Luculia ‘Fragrant Cloud’ on the right.

Ammi majus

Out in the rather wilder margins of Mark’s vegetable garden (which we never open to public view because while he is a productive gardener, he is also very messy in this area), the Ammi majus flowers on. I liked the mix of wildflower, the cloche and the communion of our two new ladders which Lloyd was using in tandem at the time.

In still wilder margins, this scene was the coming together of a United Nations of self-seeded plants – the nikau palms from NZ, Montanoa bipinnatifida otherwise known as the Mexican tree daisy,and the yellow mahonia which may or may not be Mahonia japonica from Japan.

Vireya rhododendron macgregoriae, this plant defying the odds and still going strong after 64 years

Back in the more cultivated areas of the garden, many vireya rhododendrons are blooming. These are the subtropical rhododendrons – so frost tender and generally pretty sensitive – and tend not to be longlived. Their flowering is triggered by day length, not temperature, so they bloom intermittently but autumn and spring are the main seasons. We have some dead specimens we are removing now and Mark is doing a cuttings round to propagate an ongoing supply. But this specimen, this one is defying that tendency to whiff off and die. It is the very plant that Felix collected from the highlands of New Guinea in 1957 and the start of his breeding programme – R. macgregoriae.

Sasanqua camellia ‘Elfin Rose’ and Nerine bowdenii

Autumn is sasanqua camellia season, now my favourite group of camellias. For years the NZ sasanqua market was completely dominated by consumer demand for white sasanquas – it may still be the case but I am out of touch with commercial production these days. We have plenty of different white sasanqua varieties in the garden but they do not spark joy for me in the way the coloured options do. This one is pretty ‘Elfin Rose’, seen here with the last nerines of the season, N. bowdenii at its feet.

It is not just flowers giving colour. While autumn colour is patchy and extended over a long period of time because we move so gradually from late summer to autumn to winter, the maples and some of the prunus give a pretty display.

Magnolia campbellii opening blooms in late May

Finally, in a sign of how our seasons lack the sharp demarcations of colder climates, the first magnolias are already opening. I follow a Facebook page for magnolia enthusiasts that is heavily dominated by mad keen magnoliaphiles from northern Europe. They are still posting photos of late season blooms opening on their spring magnolias. Meanwhile, as far away as we can get across the world, the Magnolia campbellii in the Anglican churchyard of my local town of Waitara is already open with a score or more blooms.

First flowers on ‘Fairy Magnolia White’ in late May

Here, we are looking at the first flowers open already on ‘Fairy Magnolia White’, the first of the michelias of the new season to bloom. As we are in the last gasps of autumn, these early magnolias are a reminder that spring is not far away.

The magnolia and the mountain

Magnolia campbellii in our park and Mount Taranaki

Magnolia campbellii in our park and Mount Taranaki

I prefer not to leave a negative post heading my home page for long (for an update on That Matter, refer to the last paragraph here), so here instead is the magnolia and our maunga*. I am waiting for more flowers to open so I can catch the hero shot of Magnolia campbellii in full bloom against the snow. This photo was taken in the early morning light at about 8am, as the sun was rising.

campbellii again

campbellii again

Mark is anxious that I point out I am using a zoom lens and the mountain is not 300 metres away from us. It is more like 35 kilometres distant. In this case, I feel it is appropriate to use the word iconic about our maunga. It is a beautiful volcanic cone which stands in splendid isolation on the coastal plain beside the sea and it is such a strong presence in Taranaki that it is etched into the very being of everybody who lives here. It is still active, although it is a long time since it has done much more than gently rumble to remind us not to take him for granted.

Magnolia campbellii

Magnolia campbellii

M. campbellii is always the first of the named magnolias we have here to open for the season. The tree is a fraction of its former size, having been clipped by a falling poplar tree a few years ago but it continues to grow and will regain its former glory over time.

Just an unnamed seedling

Just an unnamed seedling

For early glory, this unnamed seedling in one of our shelter belts takes the first medal. It is looking great, but it won’t be named or released. It flowers far too early for most climates and is not sufficiently distinctive. It is a good reminder that on their day, many plants look magnificent but they need to continue looking glorious in competition with many other candidates, not just on their day.

First bloom of the season on Felix Jury

First bloom of the season on Felix Jury

The first few flowers have opened on Felix Jury, which is still a source of real pride and joy to us. Felix beat Vulcan to the draw on first bloom this year, although the latter is now showing glorious colour. Felix will also outlast Vulcan when it comes to the length of the flowering season. In colder climates, these earliest bloomers open later. We are lucky where we live that we have clear, intense light – even in mid winter when these magnificent flowers start opening for us.

Mark's Fairy Magnolia White

Mark’s Fairy Magnolia White

Michelias have now been reclassified as magnolias and the earliest varieties are opening. This is Mark’s Fairy Magnolia White which has the bonus of a lovely perfume. Magnolia season feels like the start of a new gardening year for us and each day is filled with anticipation to see what else is opening. Many of our trees are now large, so I find I am often photographing up against the sky. Hence I often refer to this time of the year as the season of skypaper.

As far as my previous post on the magnolia and the well site goes, for those of you curious about the reaction of the company I can report that so far, the reaction has been… nothing. Nothing at all, although I know they spent a lot of time checking it on my site on Tuesday. I fully expect that situation to remain, although I will certainly be pleasantly surprised if the company responds to the challenge.

*Maunga is the Maori word for mountain and is widely used in New Zealand, especially when referring to mountains which have long held particular spiritual significance for tangata whenua – the first people of the land in this country.