Tag Archives: Fairy magnolias

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

Advertisements

The Jury magnolia legacy – first published in the RHS Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias 2017 yearbook

Back in 1973, when Mark and I were impoverished university students, his father, Felix, gave us the cheque he had received from Os Blumhardt for the right to release Magnolia ‘Serene’. It was for NZ$150 and that was the only money Felix ever received for any plant he bred. At the same time, Duncan and Davies released his Magnolia ‘Iolanthe’ but, despite being the powerhouse nursery of the southern hemisphere, paying breeders for their plants was never part of their operation. Sometimes we ponder how different the family finances might have been had Felix received even a very small royalty payment for his Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’, but that is another story. The remaining Felix Jury magnolia cultivars were not released until the late 1980s when Mark set up the plant nursery here. With the exception of ‘Vulcan’, where the immediate public response took us by surprise, the releases were all very low key.

Magnolia Apollo

Magnolia Athene

Magnolia Lotus

Magnolia Milky Way

It takes time for magnolias to prove themselves and it is only in the last couple of decades that the Jury magnolias have become known internationally. There aren’t many of them. Felix only named eight of his own breeding – Magnolias ‘Apollo’, ‘Athene’, ‘Atlas’, ‘Iolanthe’, ‘Lotus’, ‘Milky Way’, ‘Serene’ and ‘Vulcan™’ . We don’t include the variety M. ‘Mark Jury’ in that list because it arrived here as a seedling and all Felix did was to grow it and, in due course, name it. Mark vetoed his father’s suggestion of naming a few more because they were too close to ones already selected, although we have a few fine sister seedlings from those breeding lines in the garden here.

In his turn, Mark has named four deciduous magnolias so far – ‘Black Tulip’, ‘Burgundy Star™’, ‘Felix Jury’ and ‘Honey Tulip™’ – though he has raised many more controlled crosses than his father ever did. Records here do not include total numbers of plants raised but certainly Felix never raised a large number – maybe 50 or so. Mark has been much more focussed and a rough guess puts the number of deciduous magnolias raised to flowering size in excess of 1000. If a particular cross shows promise, Mark will locate the plants in places where they have the space to grow to maturity and, as the years pass, the display just gets better. There are a lot of what we call “also-rans” – not destined to be named but too good to chainsaw out. Late winter and early springtime here is simply glorious.

Magnolia Atlas

When it comes to naming a plant, consideration is given to whether it represents a breakthrough in some aspect and is significantly different to anything already named. It must also produce flowers on young plants, bloom on bare wood in our climate, not grow so rapidly as to indicate it will become a forest giant, propagate relatively easily and flower reliably every year while setting buds down the stems to prolong the season. That list may be why Mark has only named four so far.

At the time when Felix started crossing magnolias, there were few varieties available in New Zealand and most were species. He wanted to see if he could get large cup and saucer blooms with good colour, flowering on a young plant. His lucky breeding break came with the cultivar he imported from Hilliers. It was meant to be M. campbellii ssp mollicomata ‘Lanarth’ but when it bloomed for the first time, it was clearly a hybrid, probably ‘Lanarth’ x sargentiana robusta. He named it for his youngest son, Mark Jury. It proved to be an excellent breeder plant and five of Felix’s eight named cultivars used ‘Mark Jury’ as pollen donor.

Magnolia Iolanthe

We rate ‘Iolanthe’ as one of the very best he named. The original plant is still located beside our driveway and has now achieved magnificent stature at about 10 metres high and a canopy the same distance across after 50 years. Every year it takes our breath away with its beauty. The blooms have stayed very large (some cultivars produce smaller blooms once past juvenility) and because it sets flower buds down the stem, even the worst spring storms do not ruin the display for the year. At about two months in flower, it has one of the longest seasons.

Magnolia Serene

Serene is the last of the season to bloom for us and we have always been surprised that this top performing strawberry pink variety has not gained the reputation and market traction it deserves. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and with the passage of time, we think ‘Atlas’ would not meet the selection criteria today. Despite a huge flower, possible unequalled at the time, with good form and a pretty colour, its performance falls short because it only sets buds on the tips of branches. A storm can take out the flowering for the year. That said, it is one that appears to perform well in Britain. ‘Athene’ and ‘Milky Way’ are both wonderful performers but probably too similar to have named both. ‘Lotus’ is lovely but the pure white magnolia field is very crowded now. ‘Apollo’, while abundantly floriferous and more compact in its growth, does not have the same beauty of flower form that the others have.

Magnolia Vulcan

It was ‘Vulcan’ that cemented Felix’s reputation, even if this cultivar has never proven itself in the cooler climes of Britain and northern Europe. You will just have to take our word for it that in milder climates, it can be the most remarkable red colour and, for its time, it represented a colour breakthrough and set the standard for the next generations of red cultivars. We have a remarkable intensity and quality of light in New Zealand even in the depths of winter, and the first red buds to break in July never fail to impress. For many years after we first released this cultivar, we could track its flowering from north to south by the phone calls we received. That is a rare plant.

Over time and with many competing unnamed seedlings of the next generations flowering here, we certainly concede that ‘Vulcan’ blooms do not age gracefully and later flowers are much smaller and in murky purple shades. It appears that those later flowers are the best most British gardeners can ever expect to see in their conditions. Mark is still on the quest for the perfect Vulcan upgrade – a large bloom on a smaller tree, flowering later in the season to extend the climatic range and with colour that ages more gracefully, which means losing the purple undertones that the parentage of ‘Lanarth’ brought in. He is tantalisingly close to pure red but not yet ready to take the plunge and name another in his red series. Having named three so far, a fourth must be something different, special or a significant improvement.

Magnolia Black Tulip

‘Black Tulip’ was the first release of Mark’s cultivars and we were gratified by the immediate public response. Mark’s personal preference is for solid colour in blooms and in the windy climes of New Zealand, we have to select for heavy textured petals and firm blooms that can withstand the equinoctial winds that often strike at peak flowering. ‘Black Tulip’ certainly fitted these criteria and is suitable for smaller gardens though it will never be as bold and showy as grander specimens.

Magnolia Burgundy Star

‘Burgundy Star’ has yet to prove itself overseas. Being three quarter M. liliiflora nigra, the hope is that it may prove to be hardier in colder climates. The original plant in our carpark is exceptional –  fastigiate in its growth which is to its credit as a driveway or courtyard specimen, with a mass of good-sized, red, starry blooms over a long period of time. Only time will tell if this translates to other climates and locations.

Magnolia Felix Jury

Magnolia Felix Jury

So far, ‘Felix Jury’ is the stand-out performer of Mark’s selections. He named it for his father because it was what Felix had been trying to get to – a rich-coloured, large-flowered cup and saucer bloom with a long season. It is a source of pleasure to us that Felix was still alive to see the first blooms. On the first young plants, we described it as rich pink, but with age and maturity, the blooms have deepened to red in our climate and this is a specimen magnolia that just gets better with age and size. We have been delighted to see specimen plants well established in the UK, particularly at Wisley and also The Garden House in Devon. While we haven’t seen those plants in bloom, we are assured they are impressive, though probably more pink than red.

 

Magnolia Honey Tulip

Mark’s latest release is ‘Honey Tulip’, his best yellow cultivar so far. Again the flower shows excellent heavy texture in the petals, unlike the softer texture we see in the American yellow varieties we grow here. The form is different with a solid cup and the colour does not fade out as the season progresses. We are also pleased with the generous bud set we see on the plants here and it does not look as if it will ever get as large as some of the yellows. It is still early days – ask us in another twenty years how we rate it.

The ultimate goal would be to get to a pure yellow cup and saucer bloom of ‘Iolanthe’ or ‘Felix Jury’ size and splendour, along with the performance characteristics of those two cultivars but that is still a long way off and may not be attained in Mark’s lifetime. The pure red magnolia is closer. The deciduous magnolia programme is ongoing here.

The property is planted out in seedlings

The evergreen magnolias are a separate thread. We are with the Chinese – it is much easier to continue to refer to these as michelias and differentiate them from the better known grandifloras. Mark became interested in these 20 years ago and they are very much a work in progress. When he started, there were only a small number of species to work with and even fewer hybrids but he wondered whether he could extend the colour range and the habit of growth to get more garden-friendly options. In the time since, there has been an explosion of new species collected, particularly in China and Vietnam but New Zealand’s borders are now closed to new plants and he has had to rely on the original species he has access to – particularly M. figo, M. doltsopa, M. maudiae and M. laevifolia (formerly known as Michelia yunnanensis). He is not overly worried about this situation because most of the recent discoveries have been tropical and he is keen to increase hardiness overall, not to decrease it by introducing tropical genes. He had already decided that M. champaca and M. x ‘Alba’ – both of which we have here – were blind alleys when it came to his breeding programme.

Fairy Magnolia White

Most of the hardier species are white or cream flowered but the advantage in terms of colour has come through the most common form of M. figo in New Zealand being more colourful than those we have seen in other countries. Our form includes yellow and purple and that has extended the colour range in the hybrids.

Fairy Magnolia Blush

Michelias have a much quicker turnaround than deciduous magnolias and the number of hybrids here already greatly exceeds the number of the latter. A number of the hybrids show exciting promise in colour and flower size and are certainly extending the range. But the selection criteria includes several critical new factors. The hybrids must not set too much seed, they must make foliage growth down the stems and not just on the tips and they must not show the tendency of some michelias to defoliate either at flowering time or in wet spring seasons. Even more problematic are the issues of fragrance and ease of propagation from cutting. There is frequent disappointment. Mark oft bemoans the fact that he can cross two of the most fragrant of michelias and the offspring lack discernible scent. And the best coloured michelias have so far failed the propagation test. He is also after clean colours. With purple and yellow being the available colour genes, there is a disappointing number of murky coloured offspring which are rejected out of hand. There is a long way to go yet and the downstream crosses are getting ever more complex although he continues to work with the same narrow, original species base.

Moving large Fairy Magnolia Whites into the new garden where the plan is two pleached rows

The upshot of this is that only three cultivars have been released to date and none of these show the exciting colour breaks. It is heartening, however, that these three are showing more hardiness than expected, considering the use of two somewhat tender species in M. figo and M. doltsopa. These cultivars are being marketed internationally by our agents, Anthony Tesselaar Plants, under the Fairy Magnolia® branding. ‘Fairy Magnolia Pink’ is a foggii x laevifolia hybrid and brought indubitably pink tones into the range. It is floriferous over a long period of time and particularly good as a clipped specimen. Our row of five clipped lollipops are a real feature and easy to maintain at a set size with an annual hard spring prune and a light autumn trim. On the downside, the foliage is a little more olive green than we would like.

Fairy Magnolia Cream

The selection released as ‘Fairy Magnolia Cream’ is from similar breeding lines and has beautiful flower form, excellent fragrance and foliage in a cleaner hue of green. ‘Fairy Magnolia White’ is different breeding, bringing in more M. doltsopa and is therefore larger growing but with correspondingly larger blooms, also fragrant. We doubt that it is as hardy as the other two and see it more as an improved, garden-friendly version of the M. doltsopa parent. In recent times, we have planted a double avenue of ‘Fairy Magnolia White’ with a view to pleaching them and we have been pleased with how well this cultivar is responding to clipping and training.

A collection of blooms, showing the range in size and colour

The breeding programme will continue. There is a long way to go yet, although really what Mark would like is for one of our children to come home and take it into the next generation. With all three of our human offspring living overseas, this is one aspect of the breeding programme that is not looking hopeful.

Fairy Magnolia White

Apollo (probably liliiflora nigra hybrid x ‘Lanarth’, bred by Felix Jury) Released 1990

Athene (lennei alba x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1988

Atlas (lennei x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1989

Black Tulip (‘Vulcan’ x, bred by Mark Jury) 1998

Burgundy Star™ (liliiflora nigra x ‘Vulcan’, bred by Mark Jury) 2006

Fairy Magnolia Blush (M. laevifolia x foggii hybrid, bred by Mark Jury) 2008

Fairy Magnolia Cream (M. laevifolia x foggii hybrid, bred by Mark Jury) 2013

Fairy Magnolia white (M. laevifolia x doltsopa, bred by Mark Jury) 2013

Felix Jury (‘Atlas’ x ‘Vulcan’, bred by Mark Jury) 2000

Honey Tulip™ (‘Yellow Bird’ x ‘Iolanthe’, bred by Mark Jury) 2013

Iolanthe (lennei x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1970s

Lotus (lennei alba x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1988

Milky Way (lennei alba x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1988

Serene (liliflora x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1970s

Vulcan™ (liliiflora hybrid x ‘Lanarth’, bred by Felix Jury) 1989

Fairy Magnolia Blush – the original stock plants, now lollipops

Petal Pushers – the Jury Michelias

 

Mark Jury standing on a carpet of fallen scented petals, surveying one of his early shelter belts planted with michelia hybrids

Mark Jury standing on a carpet of fallen scented petals, surveying an early shelter belts planted with michelia hybrids

All michelias are magnolias but not all magnolias are michelias. We have always known them as very close relatives to magnolias but they sat in a group of their own. Now there has been some international reassignment after DNA testing and they have become magnolias, which has led to some confusing name changes. In common usage, they are still often referred to michelias and we are a bit betwixt and between on names.

Until very recent times, there weren’t many different michelias in New Zealand. Doltsopa (the best known cultivar being named ‘Silver Cloud’) and figo (common name of port wine magnolia) have been here for a while. It was an early cross between these two by the late Oswald Blumhardt that gave us ‘Mixed Up Miss’ and ‘Bubbles’.

Interest started to grow when yunnanensis was brought in some twenty years ago. It has spawned a gazillion named selections because it sets seed readily, but just to confuse you, it is now correctly referred to as Magnolia laevifolia. There are a few other species which are not widely available, including maudiae, and some obscure ones that are of interest to collectors only. But our borders closed to new introductions so there are a number of recent discoveries in Asia that we don’t have here. Yes, new plants are still being discovered in this world of ours but we can only look at them from afar with our bio-security rules.

Fairy Magnolia White

Fairy Magnolia White

Mark started hybridising them here back in the 1990s. He figured there was room to improve on them as garden plants. Figo’s flowers are a bit insignificant and the foliage tends to go yellow in full sun. ‘Silver Cloud’ has a wonderful fragrance but the flowers are very floppy and lack good form. It also grows too large for many town gardens and it can defoliate – dropping all its leaves – after flowering. Laevifola (yunnanensis) can defoliate too, in spring conditions which are wet and cold. These are evergreen plants so defoliation is not a great look. ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Mixed Up Miss’ look great as juvenile plants but are pretty ordinary when they get bigger and older. Mark could see possibilities.

September and October are exciting months for us as the michelias bloom. We live and breathe michelias and magnolias at this time of the year. There are six hundred new michelia seedlings ready to flower this spring alone, part of a long term breeding programme. Out of the thousands he has raised, only three have been named and released so far.

Fairy Magnolia Blush

Fairy Magnolia Blush

There is a long way to go yet but some directions are emerging. Despite the vast majority of michelias being basically white, he has reached reds, purples and deep pinks and is working on deepening the pale yellows to get stronger colour. Along the way there are an awful lot of murky colour combinations that get the chop. There is a big range of flower form, foliage and growth habits. Perfume can be an issue when two of the most fragrant species spawn offspring with no scent at all. Bringing together all the different elements to get a new plant is an absorbing and time consuming occupation.

Along the way we have also learned that michelias are very tolerant of cutting and clipping and sprout again from bare wood. The row of lollipop Fairy Magnolia Blush at our entrance has been clipped and shaped over ten years now and we can keep it to the size we want by trimming just twice a year. They make excellent hedges and some of our roadside shelter belts are a feast of flower and fragrance at this time.

The sustainable wood lot

The sustainable wood lot

Regrowth

Regrowth

An unexpected bonus has been the sustainable woodlot. Because we heat our large house entirely with wood, we burn through a prodigious amount every winter. Mark had been thinking along the lines of establishing a sustainable woodlot for the future that we could harvest on a rotational basis. I even sourced a book on the very topic. But lo, he realised a few years ago that his reject michelia seedlings already filled that very niche, doing dual duty as winter feed for our very small herd of beefies that we keep to eat the paddock grass. I say very small herd – there are only four at the moment. Cut off close to the base, the plants soon shoot away again with long straight whips that could be used as poles or left to grow for firewood. Mark drags the branches into an adjacent paddock where the cattle enthusiastically eat the foliage. He then gathers the remaining trunks to cut up for next season’s firewood. It seems a good multi-purpose use of a plant breeding programme.

Fairy Magnolia Cream

Fairy Magnolia Cream

Mark’s three michelia selections to date are sold under the Fairy Magnolia brand and are widely available in New Zealand garden centres and in some overseas countries. Blush is a soft pink, Cream is very fragrant and grows in a similar, compact manner to Blush. White is a larger grower and the first in the season to flower. Mark has always seen it as a garden-friendly alternative to “Silver Cloud” with good fragrance and beautiful flower form.

First published in the September issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

Lollipop Fairy Magnolia Blush at our entranceway. The smaller michelia to the left is an unnamed figo hybrid with masses of creamy yellow flowers.

Lollipop Fairy Magnolia Blush at our entranceway. The smaller michelia to the left is an unnamed figo hybrid with masses of creamy yellow flowers.

The Jury Magnolias from New Zealand

First published in the spring journal of the American Magnolia Society, Issue 93.

Magnolia ‘Iolanthe’ is one of our star performers here and has achieved considerable stature after 50 years. It has necessitated relocating the vegetable garden

Magnolia ‘Iolanthe’ is one of our star performers here and has achieved considerable stature after 50 years. It has necessitated relocating the vegetable garden

The Jury magnolia reputation has been built on a small number of named varieties. Felix Jury only ever named eight of his own breeding – Magnolias ‘Apollo’, Athene’, Atlas’, ‘Iolanthe’, Lotus’, Milky Way’, ‘Serene’ and Vulcan™ . We don’t include the variety M. ‘Mark Jury’ in that list because it arrived here as a seedling of Lanarth purchased from Hilliers and all Felix did was to grow it and, in due course, name it. There is no record of how many seedlings he raised. Mark’s comment is that it wasn’t a huge number and he guesses somewhere between 50 and 100 in total. Mark curbed his father’s suggestion of naming a few more because they were too close to ones already selected, although we have a few fine sister seedlings from those breeding lines in the garden here.

In his turn, Mark has raised many more controlled crosses. He has never kept track of the number, but a rough guess brings him around the 1000 total of deciduous magnolias grown to flowering size so far. Of those he has named a grand total of four. He is discerning. All were chosen because they represented a breakthrough in some aspect: an ability to produce flowers on young plants, not grow so rapidly as to indicate that they will become forest giants, propagate relatively easily and flower reliably every year while setting buds down the stems to prolong the season.

Black Tulip - good form, solid, dark colour and heavy petals

Black Tulip – good form, solid, dark colour and heavy petals

Magnolia Black Tulip® was selected because it sets flowers freely on young plants and achieves a depth of solid dark color with heavy textured petals in an attractive goblet form which holds its shape. M. ‘Burgundy Star’ offered a totally different habit of growth, strongly fastigiate, and the large star-shaped blooms over a prolonged period are a purer red at their best.Being three parts M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’, he hoped it would also prove hardier and maybe hold its color in colder climates. Felix® is our personal favorite so far. It is big, up to 30cm (12 in) across. It is very showy. With us, it can appear a rich red, but even when the color gets bleached out in colder climates, it retains a good depth of deep rosy pink. It was everything that Felix Jury himself was trying to breed – a big, rich-colored M. ‘Iolanthe’ – and he lived long enough to see it bloom. This is a cultivar that we think is just going to get more spectacular with age and size.

Magnolia Honey Tulip™ is a soft golden version of M. Black Tulip® scheduled for release in 2013. The rounded flower form and heavy textured petals appear to be an advance in the yellow magnolias. (photo by Sally Tagg)

Magnolia Honey Tulip™ is a soft golden version of M. Black Tulip® scheduled for release in 2013. The rounded flower form and heavy textured petals appear to be an advance in the yellow magnolias. (photo by Sally Tagg)

This year will see the first release of Mark’s newest cultivar called Honey Tulip™. It is a golden honey version of Black Tulip® and represents a breakthrough in flower form and petal substance in the yellows. It retains its color through the flowering season where the comparators (Magnolias ‘Yellow Fever’, Sundance’ and ‘Hot Flash’) all become increasingly pale. Magnolia Honey Tulip™ is a soft golden version of M. Black Tulip® scheduled for release in 2013. The rounded flower form and heavy textured petals appear to be an advance in the yellow magnolias.

For our climate, it is particularly significant that it flowers on bare wood, whereas most of the yellow hybrids flower at the same time as they come into leaf. It is also less vigorous, which is to its credit, given that the yellows tend to compete with timber trees here in their rate of growth.

What takes time to sort out is how well these magnolias will perform overseas in different climates. M. Vulcan™ has been patchy at best internationally and washes out to a muddy purple in cold climates. M. ‘Iolanthe’, too, has not matched up in many overseas locations. Yet, here in New Zealand it is a flagship magnolia. The original plant is now somewhere over 50 years old and planted in the most prominent spot in our garden. Year in and year out it takes our breath away with its sheer magnificence. There is a lot of trial and error involved in how these plants perform overseas and we have been particularly delighted to see that M. Felix® seems to be measuring up across a range of climates.

Felix®, bred by Mark, fulfilled the magnolia breeding ambitions of his father, Felix Jury. It is heartening to hear reports of how well it is performing internationally.

Felix®, bred by Mark, fulfilled the magnolia breeding ambitions of his father, Felix Jury. It is heartening to hear reports of how well it is performing internationally.

Mark continues with breeding deciduous magnolias. The quest here is for a yellow M. ‘Iolanthe’ (in other words, a very large cup-and-saucer bloom in yellow). He is after pure reds which lose the magenta hue common to the first generations of new hybrids and he is getting very close to it. There is certainly room for an improved M. Vulcan™ which would bloom with better color in other climates and fade out with more grace as its flowering season draws to a close. There is a way to go yet in a pure purple.

The process here is to grow seed to a large enough size for planting out, which usually takes about 18 months. They are then planted wherever there is space. Our shelter belts (windbreaks) are rows of trial plants, including magnolias. Some are in groves, some edging a stand of native forest, some lining our road verges and he has now resorted to rows in the open ground. From time to time, Mark heads out with the chainsaw. If the seedlings haven’t flowered by five years old, they get the chop. If it becomes clear that a cross is of no particular merit, the batch will be felled. If one is looking very promising, others will be cleared to give it space. Over time, the first groves have been thinned down from about 120 to the best 20, which will remain in situ. Because, of course, if you are only naming about four out of a thousand, there are a rather large number of also-rans which are too good to cut out, but not good enough or sufficiently different
in the eyes of the breeder to release.

The Michelias

Venturing into the michelia branch of the magnolia family has been much more recent. The first crosses only go back about 17 years, but the turnaround is much faster so the total number raised is already larger than the deciduous magnolias. One has been widely released and is on the market as Fairy Magnolia® Blush. The next two are scheduled to be released this year – Fairy Magnolia® White and Fairy Magnolia® Cream.

The decision to brand these with the trademarked name of Fairy Magnolia® was made by our agent, Anthony Tesslaar Plants. With the reclassification by taxonomists of Michelias to Magnolias, it seems important to highlight the difference between these and the larger, evergreen grandiflora types.

Michelias flower in two to three years from seed so it is possible to use them for further hybridising and to see directions quickly. However, there is an additional hurdle. Deciduous magnolias are usually budded and it is only the occasional one which falls at the propagation hurdle. Michelias are much more of a mass market proposition and have to propagate easily from cutting and in tissue culture. We have a far higher fall-out rate when it comes to trialing for ease of propagation. We were disappointed when a green-yellow full sister to Fairy Magnolia® Blush, which had very distinctive large green buds encased in brown velvet, fell at the last hurdle. It’s a good plant. It just doesn’t propagate reliably. With hindsight, it is a little sparse in foliage, too, so maybe it is to the good that it didn’t make it to international release.

While Mark is getting some interesting colors in the michelia hybrids, none has yet passed the propagation trials.

While Mark is getting some interesting colors in the michelia hybrids, none has yet passed the propagation trials.

Similarly, the colored varieties appear to be problematic when it comes to propagation. The breeding program has yielded some good pure yellows which are easily on a par, color-wise, with the yellow deciduous magnolias. None so far have propagated reliably. Even more disappointing have been the purples. Hopes are raised when a plentiful number of flower buds open to good-sized, distinctive purple flowers, but none of these seedlings has so far passed the propagation test with high enough percentages. If they are reluctant to strike from cutting, it appears that they are equally problematic in micropropagation.

Fragrance has been another issue. Even when using two strongly fragrant parents, a large proportion of the offspring are bereft of any scent at all. We have many visually splendid plants, some representing real breakthroughs in form or flower, but doubt the willingness of the buying public to embrace a michelia with no scent. Mark has been backcrossing some of these to scented species to see if he can get the fragrance back.

Others are rejected because they are too fertile, setting far too much seed, which will lead to a scraggly plant over time, and a scraggly plant with weed potential in some conditions. Some crosses have simply been too vigorous in growth to contemplate them as garden plants of merit no matter how lovely the blooms.

New Zealand’s borders are now well and truly closed to any imports of new species of any genera so Mark has not had access to recent introductions. In fact, he is working on a limited range – mostly M. doltsopa, M. figo, M. laevifolia and M. maudiae. M. alba and M. champaca have proven to be blind alleys so far and the obscure and as yet unidentified wild-collected michelia species brought back from Vietnam by the late Os Blumhardt has little merit or breeding potential. Mark observes that he has not seen other new species that he covets or that he thinks will add much of significance to the hybrids, so the closed borders have not been the problem that he initially feared. He has ruled out using allied plants such as Mangletias because they lack the floriferous characteristic that is a bottom line for any hybrid. By this stage he is down to about the sixth generation of crosses and back crosses using the sought-after characteristics of favored species and hybrids, so the genetic makeup of individual hybrids has become increasingly complex.

Fairy Magnolia® Blush clips very successfully. These plants are kept to this size with trimming in late spring and a light follow-up in late summer.

Fairy Magnolia® Blush clips very successfully. These plants are kept to this size with trimming in late spring and a light follow-up in late summer.

Fairy Magnolia® Blush brought consistent pink coloring into the range along with bushy growth and floriferous characteristics over a long season. The natural bushiness and the ability to take hard trimming are both important characteristics. The early M. doltsopa x foggii crosses from Os Blumhardt (particularly ‘Mixed Up Miss’ and ‘Bubbles’) make splendid juvenile nursery plants, but as they mature, they become leggy and open and most people would not look twice at them. We have had many seedlings the same and discard any which make only tip growths. Blush has a light and pleasant scent and, despite having doltsopa and figo in its parentage, it has proven much hardier in the US than we dared to hope and appears to be coping as low as zone 6 with winter protection and comfortably dealing with zone 7b conditions through the years of pre-release trials in the USA. It is hard to breed the perfect plant – the foliage can be a little more olive green than we would like and it would be good to get a larger, pinker bloom, but it is maturing well here.

Fairy Magnolia® Cream has very fragrant, large cream flowers over a long season and will be released internationally in 2013. (photo by Sally Tagg)

Fairy Magnolia® Cream has very fragrant, large cream flowers over a long season and will be released internationally in 2013. (photo by Sally Tagg)

Fairy Magnolia® Cream, to be released this year, is similar to Blush in breeding and performance, but with desirable brighter green foliage and a very strong fragrance. Its peak flowering season extends into months and the blooms are a little larger than Blush, measuring at least 10cm across. Fairy Magnolia® White is from a different breeding strain. It has been selected from a very consistent run of seedlings which we have long referred to as the Snow Flurry series. It is one of the earlier flowering michelias, opening in winter, and with a higher proportion of M. doltsopa it is not likely to be as hardy in cold climates as Blush and, we hope, Cream. Where climate and space allow, we think it should prove to be a big improvement on existing doltsopa types. It has smaller leaves and wonderful
velvet brown buds opening to the purest of white starry flowers with excellent fragrance. It is much bushier in habit and has never shown the tendency to defoliate after flowering which can be problematic with some doltsopa types (and indeed with many M. laevifolias here). While it forms a plant of some stature (maybe 5m x by 4m, or 16 ft x 13 ft, if not trimmed), it is not going to become a giant like the M. doltsopa, which now takes up a greater area than an urban house plot in our park.

Fairy Magnolia® White is from a different breeding line and we see it as a garden friendly M. doltopa type with very beautiful, perfumed flowers. (photo by Sally Tagg

Fairy Magnolia® White is from a different breeding line and we see it as a garden friendly M. doltopa type with very beautiful, perfumed flowers. (photo by Sally Tagg

In recent years, we have wound up the wholesale and retail nursery here in order to concentrate on the garden and plant breeding. At the rate he is going, Mark may eventually end up naming and releasing a few more cultivars than his father, but the selections will have been made from trials involving a much greater number of cultivars.

Magnolia Burgundy Star - as yet unproven overseas but we are hopeful it may prove hardy and keep good flower colour

Magnolia Burgundy Star – as yet unproven overseas but we are hopeful it may prove hardy and keep good flower colour