Tag Archives: Jury magnolias

The magnoliafication of our local town

Our flagship magnolia, ‘Felix Jury’

Back in our nursery days, we used to send our reject plants down to be given away, sometimes sold for just a dollar or two, at a local op shop that a good friend was closely involved with. There are always reject plants that don’t make the grade to sell – usually due to being poorly shaped or sometimes over-produced –  and it seemed a good solution. Our local town of Waitara is what is often politely described as ‘lower socio economic’. There isn’t a lot of spare cash in the community and no local plant retailers so we saw it as a means of encouraging planting in an area where most people wouldn’t buy plants.

In the early days, we had more reject plants of Magnolia Felix Jury than we would have liked so quite a few of those went down to be dispersed and I quipped at the time that if only a quarter of them grew, they would make their mark. The magnoliafication of Waitara, I used to describe it.

Iolanthe to the left, Felix to to the right

This year was the first year I have really started to notice Felix in bloom locally. It is unmistakeable with its enormous flowers so I drove down just a few streets, Felix-spotting, when I went to the supermarket yesterday. I doubt that the locals know that it was bred locally, named for a long-term resident and is now our flagship magnolia internationally but that doesn’t matter. It is just pretty spectacular and will continue to get better year on year. Magnolias are long-lived plants if they are allowed to be. I was a week too late to catch them with the best colour, but you can see what I mean.

Best colour – it fades out with age as the season progresses

We can get deeper and richer colour here than in some other parts of the world. Why? We don’t know whether soils, seasonal weather or climate affect it. All Mark is willing to say is that the stronger the plant is growing, the better the colour it achieves. I am loathe to recommend piling on the fertiliser; we never do and we don’t think it is good practice. We plant well, keep them mulched and will feed with compost if a plant needs a boost. Other gardeners like to manage feeding differently but the advice from the breeder is to get your plants established and growing well and you may find the colours are richer.

Next year, I shall get around a week or two earlier to catch the local plants in peak bloom. By then, I will have canvassed local friends to find the location of more trees.

Poor light and nearly finished, but another local Felix

Felix’s magnolias on a glorious spring morn

After posting my piece on petal carpets this morning, it was such a gorgeous spring day I headed down to the park with camera in hand. And today, it was Felix’s magnolias that were at peak glory. It’s often an odd feeling living on a family property steeped with the history of earlier generations. Not ghosts, more like an enduring presence. And I wanted to pay tribute to Felix’s little collection.

Felix Jury in 1985, photo by Fiona Clark

I have recorded the history often enough here  so today is just the pleasure of the sight of so much in bloom. Sure, some have been superseded over time but these were ground breaking hybrids in the 1960s and created a special place for New Zealand in the world of magnolias. They also provided the platform for Mark to build on with his next generation hybrids.

The purity of ‘Lotus’, Felix’s best white, is hard to beat on its day.

‘Apollo’ was Felix’s best purple. This and the other magnolia photos were taken this morning. Did I mention what a glorious spring day it has been?

This one was never named and is the only unnamed seedling I am including today because at its peak, it is so very pretty. We just refer to it as “Apollo’s sister” because it is from same cross and batch of seed.

Magnolia ‘Athene’. There was a certain classical theme running through the naming of some of these cultivars.

Magnolia ‘Atlas’, which appears to perform better overseas than it does here. The flowers are huge and very pretty but it weather marks badly in our rains and wind.

‘Milky Way’ and I am not sure what inspired Felix to use that as its name bar the fact it is predominantly white.

‘Iolanthe’ which remains one of our flagship varieties and a superb performer year in and year out.

Magnolia ‘Mark Jury’ – not one of Felix’s own hybrids but a seedling that arrived here from Hilliers that was meant to flower as ‘Lanarth’. It was the secret weapon that Felix used in the majority of his new hybrids and he named it for his youngest son.

The only two not in bloom today are Magnolia ‘Serene’ which has yet to open and ‘Vulcan’ which has finished already for this season. But here is a photo I prepared earlier of the latter at its peak three weeks ago.

Felix died in 1997, but his spirit and his presence remains very much part of our lives here, never more so than at peak magnolia season.

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

The magnolia and the mountain

Magnolia campbellii in our park and Mount Taranaki

Magnolia campbellii in our park and Mount Taranaki

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

campbellii again

campbellii again

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

Magnolia campbellii

Magnolia campbellii

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

Just an unnamed seedling

Just an unnamed seedling

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

First bloom of the season on Felix Jury

First bloom of the season on Felix Jury

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

Mark's Fairy Magnolia White

Mark’s Fairy Magnolia White

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

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

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

Plant Collector: Magnolia Iolanthe

The inimitable Magnolia Iolanthe

The inimitable Magnolia Iolanthe

I cannot let the season pass without celebrating magnolias. At this time of the year we live and breathe these flowering trees and the settled weather has meant a particularly good season this year. Not all of them get as large as this glorious specimen of ‘Iolanthe’. In this country, it is a lucky tree that is permitted to survive into its sixth decade without being unceremoniously severed from its roots.

Iolanthe was the product of Felix Jury’s first attempts to hybridise magnolias. He was looking for larger blooms with good colour. Certainly the bloom is still exceptional with its large cup and saucer form. The colour has been criticised for its lavender hue, but I can tell you that it remains spectacular. Because it sets flower buds down the stem, it has one of the longest season of any of our many magnolias here. Some only set buds on the tips where they all come out at once. As soon as they pass over – or if they are hit by strong wind, heavy rain or frost – that is it for the year as far as floral display goes. Not so with Iolanthe. Twice we have seen the display turned to mush by extraordinary frost events but a few days later, a fresh flush of blooms has opened and the display is back. From first to last spring bloom, we get about two months of flowering, of which maybe three weeks is full glory. It repeat flowers in summer, though as the tree is then in full leaf, it is nowhere near as showy or prolific – more a bonus than a mainstay.

Iolanthe and Serene are the only plants for which Felix ever received external payment. We recall this because it was in our early married days when we were impoverished students. He gave the fee of a couple of hundred dollars to Mark. It was not the sort of event one ever forgets.
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First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.