Tag Archives: Jury magnolias

Giving thanks for when midwinter turns to the cusp of spring

I was going to limit myself to a theme of red and yellow but te mounga (the mountain, Mount Taranaki) was looking so very beautiful, I wanted to share the glorious sight again

I have twice heard our government give a strong message to New Zealanders to get home urgently while they still can. The first time was in March last year when then deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, said it and it was certainly chilling. At the time, I wondered if he was being overly dramatic. He wasn’t. Within days, flights had slowed and then they stopped entirely for a time.

We heard the same message from our Prime Minister on Friday, this time aimed at New Zealanders in Australia. It was just as chilling. Get home in the next seven days or risk being stranded indefinitely.

And Magnolia campbellii is coming to its peak flowering

I saw a tweet come down my line from a journalist that made me laugh – in that ‘if you don’t laugh, you will cry’ sort of desperation. I went to look for it this morning to screenshot it for this post but it has gone. She must have decided it was too flippant when there are thousands of our citizens in Australia scrambling frantically to find flights and then get negative Covid tests within the required time frame. It showed two small boats with people on them and the caption read: ‘Is this our Dunkirk moment?’

Covid is not done with us yet. Even though Mark and I are Pfully Pfizered, as I say, I am deeply grateful to be in one of the very, very few countries in the world that has no Covid past the border and my gratitude for how our government has managed it so far remains strong. I just wish we didn’t have so many whingers and moaners looking for fault. Just look beyond our borders to see how bad it could have been here, too.

Narcissis Twilight – blooming their little hearts out down in the park

On a perfect morning like yesterday, I could not think of a better place to be. Magnolia season has started, the narcissi are coming into bloom and we are at peak snowdrop. It may still be midwinter here but we are on the cusp of spring. All I have to offer is colour. And flowers.  

Magnolia Vulcan – where the passion for red magnolias started here
Magnolia Felix Jury followed
And then came Burgundy Star, shown here, and Black Tulip which is not yet showing its full colour

We always get the best red shades on the earliest blooms each season and we get the very best shades of red overall. They don’t look this colour in all climates and soils across the world.

Mark’s Lachenalia reflexa hybrid

While the red magnolias dominate the early season, when it comes to lachenalias, it is the yellow and oranges as well as red that bloom first. We have to wait for later in the season to see the less vigorous but arguably more desirable blues, lilacs, pinks and whites.

Hippeastrum aulicum

Still with the bulbs, the first hippeastrums are opening. We don’t go in for the hybrids much, preferring the evergreen species of H.aulicum and H. papilio which have settled in very happily to their permanent homes in the woodland.

Camellia impressinveris

It is, of course, camellia season. I spent some time this week writing a piece about camellias for an overseas publication so I am a bit camellia-d out but the yellow species never fail to thrill, even if they are not as floriferous as the more usual varieties.

One of Mark’s seedling vireyas

The big-leafed rhododendrons down in the park are just starting to break bud and show colour but the sub-tropical vireya rhododendrons in the upper gardens flower intermittently all year so we always have some in bloom. This a scented red which Mark raised for the garden that has never been named or put on the market.

In the chaos of the wider world, home has never looked safer or offered more solace for the soul.

When 1+1 equal more that 2. Magnolia parents and offspring.

I added a postscript to last week’s post about blind pruning camellias. After comments on that post, I added in chainsaw pruning tips (cutting back overgrown camellias to ground level or just above) and a word of caution about hygiene with cutting tools. You can find it at the end of the post if you are contemplating more extreme, less refined pruning.

Today’s post is heavy on photos. Magnolia photos to celebrate the season. I haven’t sat down before and collated images to show the parents of our named cultivars, lined up alongside their progeny. When Felix started crossing magnolias back in the early 1960s, he wanted to see if he could get the cup and saucer flower form of M. campbellii, that would flower from a younger age, on plants that would stay smaller and with more colours.

Magnolia Mark Jury  with a larger, more robust flower and longer flowering season than either of its parents.

He didn’t start with many options. There were not many different magnolias available in NZ at the time – nothing like today’s range – but he had a unique tool in his kit. That was the magnolia he named for his youngest son, Mark Jury.

Magnolia sargentiana robusta on the left, ‘Lanarth’ on the right, the parents of ‘Mark Jury’

More Mark

‘Mark Jury’ came to him from Hillier Nurseries as a seedling of ‘Lanarth’ (M.campbellii var mollicomata ‘Lanarth’, to be precise), costing 18 shillings which was quite a lot back in the 1950s. When it flowered, it was not ‘Lanarth’. Discussions with Hilliers – slow discussions by hand-written letters as was the way back then – determined that it was most likely to be a cross between ‘Lanarth’ and M. sargentiana robusta. It proved to be an important breeder parent for him.

Magnolia ‘Lennei’ alba crossed onto ‘Mark Jury’ was one of his first efforts. (For the technically minded, ‘Lennei’ is more correctly M. X soulangeana ‘Lennei’, itself a cross of M.denudata and M.liliiflora).

It resulted in the beautiful ‘Athene’

‘Lotus’

and ‘Milky Way’.

Swapping to the pink form of ‘Lennei’ crossed on to ‘Mark Jury’, he raised and named

Atlas

and Iolanthe. This particular cultivar is one of the enduring stars in Felix’s collection.

The picture on his use of M.liliiflora is not as clear. He had the dark form of M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’, a paler pink form of the same species and, it seems, a liliiflora hybrid in the garden and over time, he grew somewhat hazy in his recollections of which plant in the garden he used for which cross. One or other form of M liliiflora crossed with ‘Lanarth’ gave two notable results.

The first was ‘Apollo’.

The second was the colour breakthrough in ‘Vulcan’ that paved the way for a multitude of magnolias into the future, getting to the red tones.

Again, an unspecified form of M.liliifora but crossed this time on his old favourite ‘Mark Jury’ resulted in one named cultivar of note.

Magnolia ‘Serene’.

When Mark moved in to the next generation, starting by using Felix’s hybrids, it was his cross between ‘Atlas’ and ‘Vulcan’ that closed the circle his father started.

Magnolia ‘Felix Jury’ was what Felix had been wanting to see if he could reach and he lived long enough to see it happen. It does of course have ‘Mark Jury’ in its parentage through ‘Atlas’. To be honest, the flowers do not always look this red. I took this photo last week and we admit that it is ‘Felix’ at its most sublime.

Mark has had one notable success with his yellow crosses – ‘Yellow Bird’ with ‘Iolanthe’. ‘Yellow Bird’ is not evergreen – it just flowers at the same time as its new leaves appear in our climate and its flowers are small but a good colour. He was pleased to get a smaller growing tree that flowers on bare wood and that has been named ‘Honey Tulip.

‘Honey Tulip’ is a good stepping stone. Mark’s dream is to get the equivalent of ‘Iolanthe’ – a large cup and saucer bloom in pure yellow. Whether he has enough years left to achieve this is as yet unknown. It may fall to the next generation of hybridists to realise that vision.

Spring is in the air ♫ ♫ ♫

Mount Taranaki is an active volcano but the dark above its crater is cloud not smoke

I was prophetic. Just two weeks ago I commented that bringing in a film crew from outside the area to capture our view of Magnolia campbellii and Mount Taranaki was fraught with problems, that we could go ten days without being able to see it. In fact it was fourteen days this time – a period of cloud and intermittent rain which kept te mounga shrouded. Yesterday was fine and sunny and the cloud over the peak cleared in the afternoon. Is there a lovelier sight?

As I walked around the garden with my camera, it was clear that, midwinter or not, the plants are telling us that spring is here. Is it earlier this year than usual? We are reserving judgement; these things tend to even out over time though this winter has been relatively mild There have only been a handful of days when it has been too bad to be outside for at least a few hours.

Magnolia Vulcan – the ragged flowers to the right will have been chewed by kereru

Magnolia season is probably our showiest with the grandeur and vibrancy of blooms against the sky, complemented by drifts of snowdrops and dwarf narcissi below. Vulcan has opened its first blooms, showing the colour intensity we get here in the garden of the breeder (Felix Jury) which is rarely matched in colder climes in the northern hemisphere where it can be smaller and more of a murky purple.

Magnolia Felix Jury

So too Magnolia Felix Jury (bred by Mark) which opens red for us. It, too, tends to colour bleach in colder climates so is more a rich pink but with its magnificent size and flower form, it doesn’t seem to matter. Nobody complains about it to us and we only get rave reviews from around the world.

Hybrid cyclaminues narcissi with their swept back petals making them look perpetually astonished

With the rush of spring, comes a rising sense of urgency. This anxiety has yet to afflict Mark but I am feeling it. Opening the garden at the end of October takes planning. I have no idea what preparing a small garden for opening is like but I know a lot about preparing a large one. Timing is everything. Unlike routinely maintaining a garden – and we routinely maintain ours to a level that makes us happy – opening for a festival means having it all ready at the same time.

Major work includes laying a path surface in the new areas. Mark’s Fairy Magnolia White with Camellia yuhsienensis in front. The pink at the back is Prunus campanulata.

My plan is to have all major work and the first round of the entire garden completed by the end of August. That leaves about seven weeks to do the second round which is more about titivating and detail. The final week is then about cleaning public areas and doing the last-minute presentation stuff (including, believe it not, cleaning the house windows). I think we are on track but it feels like there is a lot to do. Well, there is a lot to do.

The big-leafed rhododendrons flower now, not at the beginning of November. This is Rhododendron protistum var. giganteum.

We have never targeted our plantings to the annual garden festival. I think that is more a small garden approach. Back in the days when we used to retail plants (and that is a long time ago now – over a decade) most locals who opened their gardens for the festival would only buy plants that we could assure them would flower in the prescribed ten days. They actually geared their entire garden to peak over that ten day period. Each to their own. We garden primarily to please ourselves and we like flowers and seasonal interest all year round. So there is always something of interest in bloom but also plants that have ‘passed over’, as we say, and plants that ‘yet to come’.

We are currently at peak snowdrop

There is a lot ‘coming’ right now and that brings us great pleasure, even if sharing it is done vicariously. It will look different when we open for festival – not better, not worse, just different. Probably tidier, though.

A school of chocolate fish

Finally, in my occasional series on reinterpreting New Zealand confectionary in flowers, I give you the chocolate fish. I was a bit disappointed when I cut into the fish. I am pretty sure that the marshmallow interior used to be a richer pink shade – raspberry-ish even, but I have taken some floral licence.

Cyclamen coum, schlumbergera, azaleas and camellias on a bed of Acer griseum bark

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.