Tag Archives: Felix Jury

The pros and cons of the campanulata cherries

Manna from heaven for the tui

Manna from heaven for the tui

Taiwanese cherries, Fomosan cherries, Prunus campanulata – they are one and the same and around this time of the year are explosions of candy pink which bring tui to the garden. In our case, it is not one or two tui. We could count them by the score if they would just sit still long enough for us to carry out a census.

Mark was not too sure about the tui which seems to have mastered the sound of vuvuzela. But I digress.

Love the trees or hate them, the tui have no qualms at all. The nectar is manna from heaven to them. And therein lies the problem. I was contacted recently by someone who is crusading against the sale and planting of campanulata cherries and I was only relatively sympathetic because I think we are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

The problem is the seeding habits of some campanulatas. Many set prodigious amounts of seed which is then spread far and wide by our bird population. There is an alarmingly high rate of germination. The seedlings grow rapidly and after the second season, plants are too big to hand pull out. If you cut them off, they grow again. So bad is the problem that they have been banned in Northland and this correspondent would like to see them banned everywhere.

“There are loads of better trees for Tui such as Kowhai, Rewarewa that can be available at the same time” he claimed. I don’t want to be picky with someone who genuinely cares for the environment, but on a property packed with food for the birds, I have never seen a plant as attractive to tui as the campanulata cherries. Besides, in late winter, neither kowhai nor rewarewa are in flower yet.

I mentioned babies and bathwater because the problem is seeding. There are sterile forms of campanulata and both gardeners and tui alike may rue the day if ALL campanulatas get banned, even the named forms that never set seed. This is a problem we gardeners have brought upon ourselves. The record of garden escapes into the wild is not a proud one and too many gardeners don’t take responsibility for their weeds.

Prunus Pink Clouds - one of the sterile forms raised here by Felix Jury

Prunus Pink Clouds – one of the sterile forms raised here by Felix Jury

Mark’s father, Felix, was a fan of the campanulatas and he bred a few. “Pink Clouds” has an attractive weeping habit and an avenue of them has been a feature at Auckland Regional Botanical Gardens. I assume it is still there. “Mimosa” is more upright and flowers a little later. “Petite Pink” is probably no longer available commercially but is a dear little tree that never gets much over two metres in height but has all the appearance and shape of a proper tree. The thing that sets these three apart is that they are all sterile. They don’t set seed so are never going to become weeds. All three are in that candy floss pink colour range.

Prunus “Felix Jury” was named for him by Duncan and Davies (it is not the done thing, dear readers, to ever name a plant after yourself) but it was of his raising. It is a much deeper colour, carmine red, and a small growing tree. What it is not, alas, is sterile so if you see it being advertised as that, the nursery or garden centre is wrong.

It seems to be quite difficult to find reliable information on the seeding habits of other cultivars on the NZ market. If anybody knows more on this topic, please let me know. Every year at this time, Mark starts to talk about doing some more work with campanulatas to raise more sterile forms. We know which ones are sterile in the garden but the best one is a rather large tree for most people on small urban sections. It would not allow you to fit your house on the plot as well.

Petal carpets supreme

Petal carpets supreme

I can also tell you that one of our most common weeds here is seedling cherries and we are vigilant and persistent. If you live anywhere near native bush or a reserve, you should take great care to grow only sterile forms or to avoid them altogether if you are not sure. If you live in town with a seeding specimen, your neighbours probably grit their teeth at the seedlings that pop up in their place.

If you can manage the weed potential, the explosion of bloom in late winter is wonderful. Taiwanese cherries flower much earlier than their Japanese counterparts and are nowhere near as susceptible to root problems in wetter climates, so they live longer. Nor do they suffer from witches’ broom which can take over the Japanese types. It is when part of the tree grows much more densely and vigorously and fails entirely to flower. Left to its own devices, witches’ broom can take over the entire tree and the only way to deal with it is to cut out affected sections. It is very obliging of the campanulatas to be resistant.

The tui would be most grateful if we could just get this right for them before all campanulata are banned are noxious weeds.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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

A Tale of Two Plants

For the latest update, check out “A Case of the Emperor’s New Clothes?

How we have been ground down by opportunism and bureaucracy
Cordyline Red Fountain - CopyCordyline-BurgundyCan you tell the difference between these two plants? No? That is hardly a surprise to us and we should be experts because one of them is our own Cordyline Red Fountain.

The growing trials - can you pick the difference?

The growing trials – can you pick the difference?

Red Fountain was the lucky result of a sustained breeding programme spanning decades by both the late Felix Jury and Mark Jury. When it was first released, it was unique. There were no other clumping cordylines with rich burgundy leaves which arch outwards. We applied for, and received, the equivalent of a patent (Plant Variety Rights in NZ and Plant Breeders Rights internationally) first in New Zealand and subsequently in Australia, USA, Europe, South Africa, the UK and Canada. This means that nobody is allowed to propagate the plant for sale except under licence and provides the opportunity for a return to the breeder.

Father - Felix Jury (d.1997)  in a patch of Cordyline Red Fountain

Father – Felix Jury (d.1997) in a patch of Cordyline Red Fountain

When Malcolm Woolmore of Lyndale Nurseries/Kiwi Flora in Auckland released a look-a-like plant, we were intensely irritated. This is a man who loudly proclaims that he supports NZ plant breeders – but not, apparently, breeders who are not his own clients. He didn’t mind attempting to compete at home and internationally with us, using a plant which few, if any, can tell apart. He named it Cordyline Burgundy while ours is marketed on the major USA market as Cordyline Festival Burgundy (ref footnote 1). The similarity in names did not seem a coincidence.

and son - Mark Jury with Cordyline Red Fountain

and son – Mark Jury with Cordyline Red Fountain

When he applied for Plant Variety Rights here and overseas, we were confident that our interests would be protected. After all, the legislation specifies that a plant must be distinctively different (ref footnote 2) to be able to be patented and his had no distinctive differences that we could see, nor indeed anybody else to whom we showed his plant.

In this country, plant variety rights are decided by the Deputy Commissioner of the NZ PVR Office, a very small division of the new super Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. When we started to suspect that the Deputy Commissioner was determined to find differences between Red Fountain and the ring-in, we began to ask for a blind test. That is where plants of both varieties of the same size and age and in the same pots are mixed up and a group of suitable people are asked to separate them into the two varieties. That, we thought, was a fair test – they were either alike or able to be accurately differentiated. Our requests were ultimately ignored.

Growing trials (pictured above, photo 3) were carried out at an independent location. Apparently, none of the professionals or staff who looked after these growing trials could pick any difference between the two varieties.

In due course, the Deputy Commissioner, Mr Chris Barnaby, ruled that Cordyline Roma 06 (marketed as Cordyline Burgundy) was distinctively different and he awarded it PVR. This was based on the trial and examination by measurement of 8 leaves of Red Fountain and 8 leaves of Roma 06. Apparently when you get out the tape measure, the pedicel on Roma 06 is a little shorter, when measured over 8 leaves. The pedicel is the narrowing at the base of the leaf where it grows from the central stem. There is no difference in colour, shape or growth habit.

In the Examination Report it is even admitted that when the 16 leaves were mixed up, the examiners could not tell them apart. In other words, no customer is ever going to be able to tell the plants apart and precious few growers or plantspeople will either but the Deputy Commissioner was not going to let that stop him from granting equal rights to this identical looking variety.

We were stunned by this decision.

Our agents, Anthony Tesselaar Plants, immediately lodged an appeal on our behalf, reiterating earlier requests for a blind test and questioning the sample size for the assessment (eight leaves only of each). It became clear that despite having made the original decision, the review was also to be carried out by the same individual, Mr Barnaby. Both our agents and we contacted Mr Barnaby’s superior, the Commissioner, to table our concerns at the lack of independence in the review process and to ask for a blind test. It took a long time and, we assume, a question from the Minister’s office before the Commissioner replied saying nothing of note and declining to get involved.

We went to see our local Member of Parliament, Jonathan Young who appeared to grasp the issues quickly. He raised the matter with the Minister, but all that happened was that we received a reply couched in such bureaucratese that we burst out laughing. “Yes Minister” style, probably emanating from the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner. It satisfied our MP but not us.

Side by side at the garden centre. Is the customer likely to see any difference?

Side by side at the garden centre. Is the customer likely to see any difference?

The Deputy Commissioner completely ignored repeated requests for a blind test and ruled in favour of his earlier decision. No surprises there. To rule any other way would be to admit that he had made a mistake earlier, or that the comparison testing wasn’t adequate and that did not seem likely.

All that is left would be to take the matter to court – us vs the Government of New Zealand. We do not see that as an option. We lack their budget and the costs could well exceed the royalty returns even if the court ruled in our favour.

We no longer have any confidence in the Plant Variety Rights system in this country. Clearly all PVR has become is a rather expensive marketing tool controlled by a querulous individual in government employment. The only reason to continue with existing PVRs we hold is to honour contractual agreements already in place. It has become clear it offers no protection at all to existing intellectual property rights.

We have been disappointed at the willingness of Malcolm Woolmore, through his company Kiwi Flora, to take advantage of years of plant breeding and years of establishing a new plant in the international marketplace by releasing a copy product. He claims to have repeated the original cross (banksii x pumilio). For technical reasons of which only a few are aware, we doubt it. To us, it looks as if it is just a seedling from our Red Fountain.

Notes:
1) The marketing name of Cordyline Festival Burgundy for USA was to avoid confusion with an existing plant – Pennisetum Purple Fountain.
2) Distinctive differences, for the purposes of a plant patent, include specified minimal distances between key genetic characteristics.

For the record, in the photos at the top, Cordyline Red Fountain is to the left, Cordyline Burgundy to the right. In the photo below, Cordyline Burgundy (also known as Roma 06) is at the front and Red Fountain is at the back.

Postscript Sunday 27 January
I fully expected Malcolm Woolmore to come out swinging. In fact I would probably have been disappointed had he not, forever wondering whether he had read the piece above. I cut and paste the section from his February eBrief received today, Sunday 27 January because the link to his site appears to be faulty, taking you instead to his December eBrief. I have no desire to enter debate with Mr Woolmore so my only comment is that I will leave it up to readers to decide. Go and have a look at the two plants side by side in your local garden centre.

A One Sided Tale of Two Plants
Read Abbie Jury’s blog or Google Chris Barnaby, Cordyline Burgundy, Malcolm Woolmore, Lyndale Nurseries and heaps of other words and you will read a one sided story titled ‘A Tale of Two Plants’.
Mrs Jury does not seem to share UPOVS (International Union for the Protection of new Varieties of plants) respect for the Deputy Commissioner of the NZ PVR Office, Chris Barnaby. Chris, a past Chairman of UPOV, has been maligned and misunderstood in an attack that some might consider libellous.
I will not comment further, as Mrs Jury, I believe, says more than enough for most to question whether her story is complete and unbiased.
Suffice to say, that the intention to grant Australian Plant Breeders Rights for Cordyline ROMA 06 or Cordyline ‘Burgundy’ was published last year, after independently being assessed and found to be distinct.
That is, in addition to the decision made in New Zealand.
For the record, Cordyline ‘Burgundy’ has resulted from a collaborative breeding programme established between Robert Harrison of Greenhill’s Propagation Nursery (Vic. Australia) and Lyndale.
It is one of four plants selected, of which you will hear more about at least two. (One of which is dwarf). Cordyline ‘Burgundy’ is represented overseas by Kiwiflora.
Our breeding program did not take decades, but it did involve the application of embryo rescue and other technology.
(More on this when others cultivars are released).
Kind regards
Malcolm & The Lyndale Team”

Magnolia Diary 15 (but the first for 2012) August 26, 2012

It might as well be Felix, but it's not

It might as well be Felix, but it’s not

Baby Tulip - a small version of Black Tulip

Baby Tulip – a small version of Black Tulip

Magnolia time. Many are surprised to hear that Felix Jury only ever named eight magnolias. Mark has only named and released three so far (with a fourth in the pipeline) despite raising and trialling hundreds. Why so few? We are picky. With the benefit of hindsight, we would probably have released only seven of Felix’s eight. Atlas was named for flower size but really is not up to the quality of the others in terms of long term performance.

We can do plenty of ring-ins, generic copies, slight improvements or variations. But while roses and camellias are like buses (there will be another one along in a few minutes), we see magnolias as being for the long haul. They are nowhere near as easily hiffed out and replaced and most people can only fit one or two into their garden. To name something new means it must be a breakthrough, a major improvement on what is already available. It takes years to trial and select a new magnolia and we like to be very confident with our releases. We took another walk around this afternoon, looking at the lookalikes. At this early to mid season stage, it is still the stronger colours that dominate. I will update as the pales and whites come into full bloom.

Or how about Bambino Tulip?

Or how about Bambino Tulip?

It's not Black Tulip, but it might as well be

It’s not Black Tulip, but it might as well be


Genie to the left, our seedling to the right

Genie to the left, our seedling to the right

Ruby

Ruby

Our equivalent of Ruby

Our equivalent of Ruby

Lanarth sets the standard.  Is this significantly better? Probably not.

Lanarth sets the standard. Is this significantly better? Probably not.

Plenty of generic soulangeanas here

Plenty of generic soulangeanas here

Too much like Iolanthe

Too much like Iolanthe

But maybe there is a future in patio magnolias?

But maybe there is a future in patio magnolias?

Plant Collector: Vireya Rhododendron Satan’s Gift

Satan. I'm afraid it is vireya rhododendron "Satan's Gift", not Santa's Gift

Satan. I’m afraid it is vireya rhododendron “Satan’s Gift”, not Santa’s Gift

The trouble with vireyas is that they have an aversion to frost so they are really only a garden option for those in mild, coastal areas. Inland (where frosts are much greater), you need to be a careful gardener willing to give them protection and maybe bring them under cover. But they can be such a rewarding plant with their extended flowering habits. This one is Satan’s Gift, one of the best varieties named by the late Felix Jury and certainly the showiest and the most fragrant.

Felix was a complete agnostic so the word Satan merely evoked hot colours to him but over the years, we have seen more religious people struggle with the name. Indeed, we have seen it offered for sale as Satin Gift, Jury’s Gift and the hilarious Santa’s Gift. (Note to such people: it is fine to shun a plant because you don’t like its name, but it is not okay to rename that plant to something you find more acceptable). We were once told that it was the only plant in Eden Gardens in Auckland, a memorial garden, without a name plaque. We just think it is a splendid cultivar to have in the garden.

This is a cross between two different species (konorii x zoelleri) which gives it hybrid vigour. It is particularly bushy and well furnished and flowers more than either of its parents.

Besides not liking the cold, vireya rhododendrons need great drainage. The fastest way to kill one is to keep it with waterlogged roots, whether in a container or the garden. In the wild, most are epiphytes and grow up in the trees.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

The Jury vireya legacy – first published in the RHS Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias 2012 yearbook

The original plant of R.macgregoriae, collected by Felix in New Guinea

The original plant of R.macgregoriae, collected by Felix in New Guinea

Back in the 1950s when Felix Jury first became interested in vireyas, they were pretty much unknown in New Zealand with few enthusiasts internationally.

When Felix started raising seed and trying controlled crosses, he was just after anything that was new and therefore interesting. There was so little raw material to choose from in those early stages. He named maybe a dozen and with the passage of decades, about four of that dozen have stood the test of time very well and may still be around in another thirty years’ time. Unfortunately, the finer details on his crosses were never recorded so it is not possible to state with certainty which were Felix’s own crosses and which came from seed sent to him from overseas and were therefore just raised and selected by him. We know that the Australian, Tom Lelliot was particularly generous with seed and there were others from that country.

Golden Charm

Golden Charm

In 1957, Felix went plant collecting in the highlands of New Guinea. He brought back a few interesting plants. Ficus antiarus is still the most asked about tree in our garden. Schefflera septulosa is one of the most beautiful members of that plant family you will ever see. His form of Rhododendron macgregoriae is still rated as one of the best in circulation and, astonishingly, the original plant is still surviving. This is an achievement because vireyas are not noted for being long-lived in our climate. It was that plant of R. macgregoriae which gave rise to one of Felix’s best cultivars – Golden Charm (R.macgregoriae x Princess Alexandra). We still rate it highly after several decades. The foliage is dark and glossy, the new stems are red, the habit is compact and healthy and the many flowers, while relatively small, are in good sized heads and attractive apricot to orange tones. It is also relatively hardy.

Buttermaid

Buttermaid

With the benefit of hindsight, we now wonder whether Felix’s other two notable R. macgregoriae hybrids, Buttermaid (R.aurigeranum x R.macgregoriae) and Orangemaid (R.laetum x R.macgregoriae) might not in fact be Lelliot seed, raised and selected by Felix. Alternatively, he may have been sent pollen. Mark is not at all sure that Felix had R.aurigeranum at that stage and he is sure he did not have R.laetum. The R.macgregoriae parentage shows dominance in both the flower form and colouring of these selections but hybrid vigour makes them more reliable and tidier garden plants. Queen of Diamonds (R.viriosum x R.macgregoriae) was indubitably Felix’s own cross, a pink version this time but rather too tall and leggy to be of great merit. [Apparently R.viriosum was misidentified for 70 years as R.lochiae. Most records use the R.lochiae name when it appears that they are all in fact R.viriosum. I will defer to those with a great deal more expertise in this matter and have according changed to using R.viriosum.]

Satan's Gift planted by the Schefflera septulosa

Satan's Gift planted by the Schefflera septulosa

Satan’s Gift (R.konori x R.zoelleri) and Silken Shimmer (R.konori x Dr Herman Sleumer) were selections from Australian seed, raised by Felix. These were spectacular for their day, being big and lush, colourful and fragrant. Satan’s Gift is the stand-out plant which has passed the test of time and is still a wonderful performer. The name amuses us. Felix was a completely non-religious man and to him, Satan merely evoked hot colours. Over the years, more devout nurseries have clearly had a problem with the name and this cultivar has been marketed variously as Jury’s Gift, Satin Gift and, best of all, Santa’s Gift. One wishes nurseries would understand that it is fine to reject a plant because of ethical issues with the name, but it is not acceptable to rename it willy nilly.

Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie

Felix was very taken with the big, scented blooms of R.konori and his own hybrids were the pink Cherry Pie, red Hot Gossip – both sister seedlings of a viriosum hybrid x R. konori – and Lipstick. Cherry Pie is particularly lush and has good bushy, spreading growth along with a good flower (though much of the scent has gone) and we still rate it as a good garden plant.

Red Rover (R.viriosum x R.javanicum) is another of Felix’s early hybrids that we continue to rate for its bushy growth habit, healthy characteristics and plenty of good red flowers in a mid-size. However his R.jasminiflorum hybrid called Lullaby has dropped off the radar now and, while a good performer, Lulu (unknown) has probably been superseded by modern selections with more flowers to the truss.

By the time Mark started hybridising vireyas, there was a veritable explosion of recently discovered species and newly imported species becoming available. He collected every single one he could lay his hands on at the time and propagated a few to distribute to collectors. Our nursery records show that we produced over 60 different species at that time, and very difficult most of them were too. The death rate in the species was far higher than in the hybrids, both in the nursery and when planted in the garden. It was with some relief that we decided after a few years that the few collectors in the country (there were probably only 5 or 10 of them) had everything we held so we stopped feeling obliged to produce them. Similarly we decided that it was not critical to keep every species represented in the garden. We have never coveted a national collection of any plant genus because we would prefer to garden with plants which justify their position as being garden worthy. Only some of the vireya species perform well for us – we would be sorry to lose varieties such as R.himantodes, R.goodenoughii, R.taxifolium, R.hellwigii, R.macgregoriae and R.konori but many of the other species are either too difficult for us to keep going, or not worth the effort (R.inconspicuum, we have always felt, was particularly well named).

Sweet Cherry

Sweet Cherry

So Mark had a much bigger plant palette to work with and this included an ever increasing number of new hybrids as well as the species. Vireyas were suddenly a fashion plant in New Zealand. They were seen as a wonderful alternative for warmer areas of the country where the hardy rhododendrons do not thrive. Added to that, in a country where we would like to be tropical but aren’t, vireyas fitted that exotic look and often obliged by flowering throughout the year. From being an unknown plant family with no market at all, they were a gardening sensation for a few years in the nineties. Fashions change and vireyas are no longer as popular as they were – they are somewhat harder to keep alive, let alone looking good, than many people realised. But in those heady days, there was an insatiable demand for new varieties which had large luscious blooms with heady fragrance and large, heavily felted foliage. Unfortunately, this sometimes meant using breeder parents which, with the passage of time, have not proven to be particularly resilient in our climate.

Mark was also keen to extend the flower form of vireyas into full trusses which more closely resemble the hardy rhododendrons. Many of the species and early hybrids are quite sparse in their flowering and have few flowers to the truss. He also wanted to explore what could be done with colour.

Mango Sunset

Mango Sunset

With the benefit of twenty years experience, he has gone full circle and come back to the point his father reached earlier – a conclusion that it is more important to produce healthy plants which stay alive, with compact growth and masses of flowers as top priorities. More hardiness and less flash and dash, one could say. This tends to mean sacrificing individual bloom size, foliage size and often fragrance. It may end up that his R.macgregoriae hybrid, Mango Sunset, proves to be one of his best. While he achieved the much fuller truss, he was looking for, it is just a good all round performer without being spectacular.

Jaffa

Jaffa

Market demands meant Mark made the same mistakes as many other vireya breeders – selecting new cultivars on the beauty of their blooms and on initial performance as a nursery plant. The test of longevity rests, for us, on long term health and performance as a garden plant. More than we would wish have fallen by the wayside. Candy Sunrise (R.konori x Halo series) had beautiful, big fragrant flowers with good colour but was very susceptible to phytopthora. Ditto the red Sweet Cherry (R.konori x R.hellwigii) – wonderful as a garden plant but not easy in the nursery, Strawberry Fields (Satan’s Gift x R.brookenaum) – gorgeous big red flower but leggy growth over time and inclined to die, Orange Sparkles (R.retusum x R.macgregoriae) and cute little Jellybean (Red Rover x R.stenophyllum). Frosted Candy, another of the R.konorii x Halo series hybrids, is performing very well as a large garden plant (now two metres plus which is large for a vireya) and it has huge blooms, but again is difficult in the nursery with an unacceptably high death rate from phytopthora.

Jaffa (Halo series x R.javanicum) is in the right direction for a full truss. There are now up to 15 large blooms per flower head (which is a big increase from the 2 to 5 range of many of the species and early hybrids) and a good, strong orange combined with large, lettuce green foliage. It is more frost tender and sensitive than the tougher cultivars (which tend to be those with R.macgregoriae, R.viriosum or R.saxifragoides in their parentage). It certainly has the right tropical look and is a better nursery plant than many.

Pink Jazz

Pink Jazz

Pink Jazz (R.konorii x Halo series) is another splendid large grower with enormous blooms – bright pink with a central star of cream and scented too. It also has the stand out feature of deep maroon new growth and even the old foliage keeps the burgundy tint. It is not easy as a nursery plant and it is too big for many gardens, but the plants we have in our garden are standing the test of time. We have a special fondness for this one. Mark rarely names plants after people, but this one is for our older daughter who, in her teens, was called Jazz by many friends and who nursed a penchant for wearing hot pink.

Mark has always been lukewarm about Peach Puff ([R.phaeopeplum x R.leucogigas] x R.viriosum selfed) because he regards the pastel peach colouring as insipid. It was an interior fashion colour a decade ago and I still find it very pretty. Again the truss is satisfyingly full with big blooms, good scent and felted foliage.

Sweet Vanilla

Sweet Vanilla

Of that type of larger flowered, scented hybrid, Sweet Vanilla ([R.leucogigas x R.viriosum] x Silken Shimmer) is probably the best garden plant for fragrance. Its flowers, while not huge, are a good size, opening soft pink and fading out to cream. This is one plant which garden visitors regularly ask about when in flower – always a good indicator of showy performance. Sherbert Rose (Hot Gossip sister x R.herzogii) matches Sweet Vanilla for scent and it is very floriferous but the small tubular mid pink blooms simply aren’t showy enough for most people. We still like it because we don’t want only big showy or blowsy vireyas in the garden, but we stopped producing it commercially because scent alone was not enough to sell the plant.

Practical Matters:

Preparing vireya cuttings - wound both sides

Preparing vireya cuttings - wound both sides

Vireya rhododendrons must rank amongst the easiest of the woody plants to propagate but one of the hardest to produce commercially. Neither are they bullet proof as garden plants. As long as you have firm, green material, it is easy to get cuttings to root. You don’t even need rooting hormone. In fact it is so easy that we routinely showed customers how to take autumn cuttings so they could have back up plants lest their specimen get taken out by a hard frost or wet roots. The one critical issue is to remember to have a generous sized cutting and to take the sliver off two sides of the stem (wounding). Vireyas put their roots out from the exposed cambium layer and having two wounds gives a more balanced root system and therefore more stability. It is keeping them alive after rooting which is the tricky part, especially in nursery production. Vireyas are not only frost tender and deeply intolerant of wet feet (sodden root systems), but they are vulnerable to pretty much every strain of phytopthora and a fair range of other diseases common in nursery production. In the wild, many of the vireya species are epiphytic or semi epiphytic which is an indicator that their roots need open conditions. This is what fits them to a role as permanent pot plants though they appear to last better in pots which are more permeable (terracotta or wood) than in containers which are impermeable (glazed pottery or plastic) and dependent for drainage on one or two holes in the bottom. When producing commercial runs of vireyas, we maintained a rigorous spray programme to keep disease at bay. Even so, we tolerated a far higher mortality rate in nursery plants than we would in any other crop. We have always produced them outdoors, under protective shade cloth and overhead irrigation – identical conditions to most of our nursery crops.

Vireyas tend to put on a lot of top growth, supported by small, inadequate root systems (an indicator of their epiphytic origins), and new growth is often very soft and brittle. As nursery crops in our climate, they grow very rapidly at all times of the year and it is possible to get a saleable plant through in half the time of a hardy rhododendron, but they are correspondingly more vulnerable to damage by mishandling and disease.

Vireyas used in a garden border

Vireyas used in a garden border

We are blessed with a climate which enables us to use vireya rhododendrons as garden plants. We are not entirely frost free so we use them on the woodland margins where temperatures may get cool but never cold enough to cause significant damage. Any frost at all can burn the most tender varieties which includes anything with R.leucogigas, R.konorii, R.hellwigii and sometimes even R.laetum in the breeding. The hardier types will take two or three degrees of frost without damage but more than that can be a problem. Get it up to five degrees of frost and plants can be killed stone dead. The beauty of vireyas as garden plants is that they do not have a set flowering season so if you have sufficient numbers, there are always plants in bloom – even in the depths of winter. Added to that, they are tolerant of hard pruning so easy to renovate. Even when cut back to bare wood, most will force out dormant leaf buds from old wood and can be bushy and fresh again within a matter of months, even if it takes longer for them to set flower buds. It is a misconception that vireyas are all tropical plants. While natural habitats are often in the tropical latitudes, they are in elevated sites which cool the temperatures.

With their climatic limitations, vireya rhododendrons will never have the geographic distribution of hardier plants and, no matter how good the hybrids, they are unlikely to achieve international standing. There is a long way to go yet in breeding reliable cultivars which are likely to stand the test of time but it is certainly interesting to have been in from the early days on the development of new selections and Mark will continue to work with them here, albeit on a rather casual basis.

A promising  lemon seedling - the breeding continues

A promising lemon seedling - the breeding continues

The first instalment of this series was the 2011 article on Jury rhododendrons.

Cordyline Red Fountain receives high praise in Australia.

Cordyline Red Fountain and Mark Jury

Cordyline Red Fountain and Mark Jury

Gardening Australia, the top rating magazine and TV show, has named Cordyline Red Fountain as one of the top twenty new introductions in the last twenty years. It was the first of a new generation of clumping cordylines which does not develop a trunk allied to deep burgundy colouring. The hybridising was done by the late Felix Jury at Tikorangi in Taranaki and the plant was raised by his son, Mark Jury. It is widely available in garden centres both in New Zealand and overseas.