Tag Archives: Jury rhododendrons

Fragrant rhododendrons

This is my final feature written for the Weekend Gardener. However, I would urge readers to respond to their readership survey in this latest issue. They want feedback – give them your comments. Tell them what you think of the new directions they are taking. Do. Please.

First published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

Floral Dance gets its scent from R. sino nuttallii but is a very different flower and plant.

Floral Dance gets its scent from R. sino nuttallii but is a very different flower and plant.

Loderi Venus is one of the fragrant Loderi series but hard to find for sale and more of a small tree.

Loderi Venus is one of the fragrant Loderi series but hard to find for sale and more of a small tree.

Many people don’t realise that there are more scented rhododendrons beyond the well known Fragrantissimum or the Loderis, though these cultivars have certainly stood the test of time.

The early Loderi series were bred at England’s Leonardslee Gardens at the turn of last century and Fragrantissium has been around even longer. There is little to rival the Loderis even now for big, full trusses, but they are more akin to small trees than to shrubs. Added to that, they have to be grafted and there aren’t many specialist rhododendron nurseries continuing with grafting so they are not generally available on the market.

Most gardeners need plants which are more compact.

FRAGRANTISSIMUM

In the smaller growing, very fragrant white flushed pink class, Floral Gift is our preference

In the smaller growing, very fragrant white flushed pink class, Floral Gift is our preference

In the smaller growing, very fragrant white flushed pink class, Floral Gift is our preference. Fragrantissimum has been around since 1868 and is the best known fragrant rhododendron. It has a wonderful scent but it is a bit leggy and open and you don’t get many flowers to the truss. Its blooms are also rather soft, so it is inclined to weather mark. There are quite a few different options in this type with their scented blooms in white with a pink flush. Princess Alice, Elsie Frye and Harry Tag are all more or less similar. All are smaller growing (around a metre high) and have good scent but you need to encourage them to form a good shape by pruning and pinching out leggy growths at the right times. Our preference in that colour range is our own Floral Gift. It has a sturdier habit of growth and its large flowers are so heavily textured that it endures most bad weather without damaging the blooms.

R. polyandrum is one of the most fragrant species with its huge blooms, but it is a larger grower with a very open habit.

R. polyandrum is one of the most fragrant species with its huge blooms, but it is a larger grower with a very open habit.

FRAGRANT SPECIES

R. cubitti is a fragrant species which is easy to grow but because it flowers very early, it is not suitable for cold climate areas.

R. cubitti is a fragrant species which is easy to grow but because it flowers very early, it is not suitable for cold climate areas.

Most of those we grow as garden plants are hybrids – crosses between different varieties of rhododendrons. There are a number of fragrant species but these are not always easy to grow. In fact many are downright difficult. But the ones which have proven their worth as garden plants for us include the following:

R. polyandrum is the fragrant parent of many hybrids and is so strongly perfumed it will stop you as you walk past with its scent hanging heavy in the air. It has enormous cream flowers with each bloom measuring at least 12cm across. The flowers are soft so weather mark easily and the plant is rather leggy and open in growth, but where space allows, it is a wonderful garden addition.

R. maddenii is hardy for New Zealand conditions and has very heavy textured flowers which feel as if they have been cast out of wax. It is usually white with a pink flush and it flowers late in the season which makes it a good choice for colder areas. It is another relatively large grower in the two metre range.

For frost-free areas, R. veitchianum is a gem with its pure white, frilly, scented flowers.

For frost-free areas, R. veitchianum is a gem with its pure white, frilly, scented flowers.

R. cubittii is a pretty, frilly pink and white with good scent. It is an excellent smaller grower to around 1.5m and will even take full sun but the downside is that it flowers early in the season. This means that in cooler areas, it needs some protection from frosts or the flower buds will freeze and fall off and it won’t be happy at all in really cold, inland areas.

R. veitchianum is even more tender. In fact it is has about the same hardiness as a vireya rhododendron which means that any frosts more than a degree or two will not only destroy the flowering but also burn the foliage. But it is a great option for warm areas of the country and it will reward you with pristine white, frilled flowers smothering the bush in early spring and good fragrance. It also has a tidy, compact habit of growth on a smaller growing plant.

FRAGRANCE AND COLOUR

While we all love the fragrance of flowers, the plants are not producing this scent to please humans. Generally it is linked to attracting the right insects for pollination. While the rhododendron relatives of deciduous azaleas and some vireyas will use both colour and scent, fragrance in rhododendrons is generally linked to white and pale colours. You won’t find big bold, full trusses of red, blue or purple rhododendrons with scent. Part of the hybridist’s quest is to try and get new varieties with combinations of desirable characteristics.

Felix Jury’s series of R. polyandrum hybrids brought a greater colour range to scented rhododendrons in New Zealand - Barbara Jury

Felix Jury’s series of R. polyandrum hybrids brought a greater colour range to scented rhododendrons in New Zealand – Barbara Jury

SCENTED HYBRIDS

Bernice

Bernice

The late Felix Jury (yes, he was my father in law) set out to try and combine fragrance, colour and healthy foliage and named a series of new rhododendrons. Many of these are still available on the market today. None of them have the big full trusses of the traditional rhododendron, but they have many other aspects in their favour, including performing well in warmer climates. His R. polyandrum hybrids all have scent, though not as strong as their scented parent. They do, however, make tidier garden plants and bring more colour. These include Bernice (crimson tones), Barbara Jury (pure yellow fluted blooms), Moon Orchid (frilly apricot and yellow) and Felicity Fair (more pastel honey colours).

Felicity Fair

Felicity Fair

R. sino nuttallii (the sino just means it comes from China) is a magnificent rhododendron species with fragrant white trumpets but it is rarely available for sale. It has, however, given birth to two colourful offspring which are compact growers and much easier to produce so more widely available. Floral Dance (above) has very frilly, very fragrant, large trumpet flowers in white with a yellow throat and deep carmine blush and tips. The heavy textured dark foliage is a bonus. Floral Sun is a half sister with pretty soft golden flowers. Its fragrance is not as strong (which means getting close enough to put your nose by the flower to smell it) but the mass of pretty flowers and the tidy, compact growth make for an excellent garden plant.

Whether we ever get a big red Rubicon or a big blue Bumblebee with strong fragrance is unknown territory but it will be by the hand of the plant hybridiser, not nature, if it happens.

Moon Orchid

Moon Orchid

Floral Sun is the soft yellow half sister of Floral Dance and becomes a very tidy, compact garden plant with masses of blooms.

Floral Sun is the soft yellow half sister of Floral Dance and becomes a very tidy, compact garden plant with masses of blooms.

The Jury rhododendron legacy – first published in the RHS Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias 2011 yearbook

When Felix and Mimosa Jury laid out their gardens here at Tikorangi, near the Taranaki coast of New Zealand, it was the early 1950s and rhododendrons were one of the most highly prized plant genus. There were not many different cultivars available but keen enthusiasts around the country imported whatever they could, mostly as seed, and there was considerable exchange of material. In those early years, the species dominated. It was the disappointing performance of many of those cold climate plants which provided the initial impetus for Felix to start hybridising in a quest to create plants better suited to our very mild conditions.

Rhododendron Bernice

Rhododendron Bernice

Gardening on volcanic soils with regular rainfall throughout the year, one could be forgiven for thinking we are ideal rhododendron territory. However, while we do not have hot summers, neither do we have the winter chill necessary to many of the rhododendron family. Frosts are very light and few in number. The lack of winter chill means that thrips stay alive and multiply. Silver leafed rhododendrons are common. Added to that, the bright, unfiltered sunlight which gives this country the dubious honour of being the skin cancer capital of the world, can burn and crisp both foliage and flowers of vulnerable plants.

While many of the species merely dwindled away here, we certainly tried our best. Our computer data base shows that over the thirty years of the nursery, we have produced and sold around 60 different rhododendron species, although some are merely different forms. Not many of them last the distance as garden plants of merit for our conditions. One of the stand-out species, however, is Rhododendron polyandrum. It keeps good foliage in the garden, its flowers are beautiful and showy (though rather soft so inclined to weather mark), the peeling bark is attractive, the fragrance is such that it hangs heavy in the air several metres away. We don’t mind that it is an open, some would say leggy and rangy, shrub because we don’t want all plants to be the tight, rounded bob that defines R.yakushimanum.

R.polyandrum was the star breeder plant for Felix. Taking its strengths, he thought that it should be possible to extend the range of flower colour and to select for more compact and better furnished cultivars. He was right. The polyandrum hybrids share several characteristics: the foliage is visibly derived from polyandrum being small, dark and almost leathery, showing excellent resistance to thrips and leaf burn. The hybrids, however, are blessed with rather more leaves than the mother (which can be a little sparse in the foliar department). Typically, the hybrid flowers are held in flat trusses like R. polyandrum but there are more flowers to the truss, so many that the plants can look like a wall of bloom at their peak.

Felix only named one of the cross with Royal Flush Townhill and it stands out after several decades as a top performer. Bernice was named for Mrs Bernice Kelly, a dear friend of Mimosa Jury and a favourite of Felix’s. With a crimson throat, the tones change through pink to near white on the edge and it remains one of the more colourful in the maddenii range. It has a light but pleasant fragrance and relatively compact growth to about 2 metres. Year in and year out, it performs consistently well.

Rhododendron Felicity Fair

Rhododendron Felicity Fair

Rhododendron Moon Orchid

Rhododendron Moon Orchid

Felix was not as restrained in the selection and naming process of his polyandrum x Sirius series. In fact he named too many of them but it was an enormously successful cross and we still have other sister seedlings performing every year in the garden. Barbara Jury, Felicity Fair, Katie and Moon Orchid are all a little different, but maybe not so very different that all warranted registration. There were fifth and sixth selections, registered as Christine Denz and Sunset but these were never propagated. Barbara Jury is the prettiest, cleanest yellow with a narrower bloom and good scent. Lovely though it is, we discontinued producing it commercially because it is weak in the roots and succumbs to phytophthora – described by Mark as too ready to whiff off. Moon Orchid is a superior garden plant. It has a larger flower with frilly lobes and slightly more apricot toning because the base colour of yellow is suffused with pink on the outer petals and the throat is green. Katie is the most peachy orange in colour because the yellow is now mixed with red tones on the backs of the petals. The flowers are a little smaller, the scent a little less pronounced and the growth a tad more vigorous but the differences are reasonably subtle. The last of the quartet was Felix’s personal favourite – we know this because the name Felicity Fair is a play on his own name. The flower is pastel creamy yellow with definite pink tones on the outside of the throat, combined with excellent foliage and good fragrance. Of this particular cross, with the benefit of experience, we would name Moon Orchid and Felicity Fair as the best selections.

Rhododendron Katie

Rhododendron Katie

The polyandrum selections are all late season flowering. The first of the Jury hybrids to open in early season is White Doves (scopulorum x formosum var. inaequale). While not overly spectacular, it is extraordinarily floriferous with white bells held loosely hiding all foliage and it is a consistent, healthy performer.

We have an ongoing love affair with the showy R. nuttallii family here in our garden at Tikorangi, particularly the more tender sinonuttallii which could be described as a Rolls Royce rhododendron with its heavy, bullate foliage, wondrous peeling bark and simply astounding long, lily-like fragrant trumpets of heavy substance. Felix’s Floral Legacy (nuttallii x sinonuttallii so technically still a species) gave an increased robustness of constitution and yet larger blooms. Where space and favourable climate allow, this is a spectacular rhododendron.

Rhododendron Floral Dance

Rhododendron Floral Dance

Both Felix and his wife Mimosa laid claim to the original cross of sinonuttallii x edgeworthii which came to be called Floral Dance. While Felix certainly raised the plant, by a process of deduction, Mark worked out that his mother must have done the cross so these days we credit it to her posthumously. It brought a somewhat more compact habit into the nuttallii family, though only relatively so. The really bushy, well furnished plants such as the yakushimanum family hold onto their leaves for at least three years whereas most in the maddenii group are only carrying two years of foliage at any one time so they are always going to appear a little more sparse. Floral Dance shows the most appealing characteristics of both parents – very deep forest green bullate foliage, mid sized, good textured mostly white trumpet flowers with frilly lobes flushed darker pink and strong fragrance. It is simply a beautiful rhododendron.

Rhododendron Floral Sun

Rhododendron Floral Sun

This particular breeding direction was continuing the efforts to get more colour into the maddenii group. However, it was not until later when Mark came to grips with the fact that diploid and tetraploid rhododendrons can not be crossed, that he was able to better predict potential outcomes. It explained his mother’s failure to successfully cross sinonuttallii with Bernice.

In his turn, Mark looked at extending the colour range in nuttallii, in combination with more compact growth. I can still recall when he told me he had crossed sinonuttallii with RW Rye, because I quipped that he would likely end up with a run of seedlings with small white flowers and no fragrance. At the time, when I was at home raising preschool children, I was just secretly proud that I actually knew both parents. I was wrong because what emerged was a run of soft yellow, scented seedlings with nuttallii trumpets. From these, Mark named only one – Floral Sun. At last we had a compact habit combined with some of the best sino nuttallii characteristics. After two decades, the original plant has barely reached 130cm in height and about the same in width so it is sturdy and compact. The bullate foliage is mid green but the real joy are the flowers – frilly, fragrant and in soft honey yellow tones. It is still a source of delight here.

Rhododendron Platinum Ice

Rhododendron Platinum Ice

Working the theme of extending the colour range, Mark crossed augustinii with the excellent white form of maddenii we have here, hoping to introduce blue tones to the good performing maddenii characteristics. He named Platinum Ice which is a lovely rhododendron but, to the hybridist’s disappointment – lacking in some of the better features of the parents. The lilac buds open to flowers with the augustinii form but in maddenii size in a pastel shade which fades out to white. It is a good looking plant with good foliage but it lacks the fragrance and the pest resistance of the maddenii and the intensity of hue from augustinii (which is a beautiful species that does not like our conditions – it is a race between the thrips and the bronze beetles as to who can take it out first). So while Platinum Icemarked a colour break, it is still less than was hoped for in performance.

Rhododendron Floral Gift

Rhododendron Floral Gift

Returning to polyandrum as a breeder, Mark tried a number of crosses and has named one, Floral Gift. His records at the time state quite definitely that this was Michael’s Pride x polyandrum but the seedling shows nothing of Michael’s Pride and bears no resemblance to other crosses done at the same time. However, there is no doubt about the polyandrum parentage. Sometimes cultivars can take a long time to prove themselves. There was sufficient that was good about Floral Gift to warrant selection – sturdy habit of growth, compact, healthy foliage, an intense fragrance which is the equal of polyandrum but with heavy textured flowers which resist weather damage. It set flower buds on very young plants and flowered earlier in the season. Floral Gift’s blooms are white with a slight pink flush on the petal backs and a yellow throat. We lost a little confidence in this cultivar because it proved to be a tricky nursery plant – easy enough to strike from cutting and grow but fiendishly difficult to get a decent looking plant for sale when grown in containers. It looked sparse in the foliage and generally scruffy. But as plants in settled in and grew around the district and particularly in our local botanic park, we revisited Floral Gift and decided it is a very good plant. In a garden where we shun mass planting of single cultivars, we think this one is good enough to warrant planting in groups throughout the garden.

Faced by a somewhat sceptical buying public who think that rhododendrons should be nice bushy shrubs with full ball trusses (forget all these lovely walls of loose trumpets and bells exuding fragrance), Mark turned his attention to trying to get healthier foliage in the more traditional rhododendron appearance. Meadow Lemon is one of this ilk. It is Percy Wiseman x Lems Cameo, showing greater health than its parents without the need to spray. Pink buds open to a classic full truss of frilled soft yellow flowers. We are told that this cultivar is impressive in the New Zealand Rhododendron Association trials of NZ raised cultivars.

Rhododendron Meadow Lemon

Rhododendron Meadow Lemon

We have other successful seedlings from this particular hybridising direction in the garden – attractive full trusses in lilac, various pinks, reds and colour mixes but at this stage, that is where they are staying. While the genus of rhododendron has retained some of the status of its glory days in this country, it has had a huge slide from grace in terms of market share and a corresponding drop in value. These days a podophyllum raised over a few months from tissue culture will command a higher price in a garden centre than a rhododendron which has taken three years to grow and has decades of breeding history or plant hunting behind it. It simply is not worth putting a new cultivar on the market. We are philosophical. Plant fashions come and go and in the meantime, we derive a great deal of pleasure from the rhododendrons in our own garden.

Mark continues to dabble with rhododendrons which perform well in our climate, of late working with arboreums which show high health characteristics but tend to achieve giant status. Whether any of these reach the market remains to be seen. Alongside this, he has continued with vireya rhododendrons but these are another story altogether.

For the record, other cultivars registered by Felix include Abigail Jury (yakushimanum x Dido) – lovely plant with a beautiful bloom but too difficult to propagate so never a commercial viability, Soft Shadows (yakushimanum x argrophyllum) and Lollipop Lace (williamsianum x loderi) – in the last case merely raised from overseas seed and registered by Felix. The form of Saffron Queen (xanthostephanum x burmanicum) throughout New Zealand is, as far as we know, the Felix Jury form from repeating the earlier Williams cross. In those early days, he felt he had to stick to the grex name. The griersonianum x grande and macabeanum crosses attributed to the Jury family can be traced back to Felix’s brother, Les Jury, who was better known for his camellias. None of Les’s rhododendron hybrids were commercially viable although there are some handsome plants amongst them.

Mark has never registered his hybrids, although Felix and Les Jury were more meticulous in this aspect. Mark does not do paperwork. We do, however, make an effort to keep the information on our website current and accurate.

Plant Collector: Rhododendron Floral Legacy

Floral Legacy - aptly named, perhaps

Floral Legacy - aptly named, perhaps

Even the buds are spectacular

Even the buds are spectacular

In honour of our Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival which starts today, I had to choose a rhododendron this week and could there be a more splendid choice than the elite nuttallii family? This is like the Rolls Royce of the rhododendron world – a spectacular statement of style. The flowers are the largest of any rhododendron – each flower being about 15cm long, tubular with frilly edges and very fragrant. The leaves are large and what is called bullate – heavily textured and veined, like stiff corduroy fabric. Even the massive flower buds are spectacular. The nuttalliis come from that northern band from Upper Burma across Tibet and India, the sinonuttalliis from China (sino means Chinese in the plant world). This form is a cross between the two, which means technically it still a species and it was done here by the late Felix Jury to get better garden forms. It is quite a legacy.

The nuttallii family have been used in breeding to give cultivars like White Waves, Lady Dorothy Ella, Mi Amor and Yvonne Scott although none of the hybrids I have seen keep the size of the parent flowers and leaves. Both the species and the hybrids have a tendency to rangy, open growth but the beautiful peeling bark and cinnamon colour compensate because this is yet another feature for this handsome family. We are completely besotted with them and luckily we have very good conditions for growing them. There are large parts of the world where it is just too cold to grow these handsome plants.

Flowering this week: Rhododendron Bernice

Rhododendron Bernice - very local in origin and name

Rhododendron Bernice - very local in origin and name

Over the past fifty years, the quest here has been to breed rhododendrons better suited to growing in warmer climates and not inclined to the nasty silver leaves caused by thrip (a common leaf sucking insect). In its time, Bernice was an advance in colour and size in the maddenii group of rhododendrons. Its parents are polyandrum (which gave some scent and increased flower size) and Royal Flush Townhill (which contributed the colour genes). It has flat trusses of bell-shaped flowers and can give the impression of a wall of bloom with almost no foliage showing. Over the decades, we have seen many varieties come and go but Bernice has stood the test of time and remains one of our top picks for a brilliant performer right on cue every year.

Pronounced Burniss, not Ber-neice, as I can say with authority because this, arguably the best performing rhododendron Felix Jury selected, was named for his wife’s best friend – Bernice Kelly. Mrs Kelly was an old Waitara identity whom I recall well as a down to earth character who physically made the concrete blocks for the cottage she and her husband built. These days there are pensioner cottages on the site, but the memory of Mrs Kelly lives on in the rhododendron named for her.

Rhododendron Floral Sun

Floral Sun - frilly, scented and yellow in the nuttallii range

Floral Sun - frilly, scented and yellow in the nuttallii range

Spring continues apace and as camellias and magnolias wane, it is rhododendron time starting. Floral Sun has opened her first flowers. I say her, because being frilly, scented and soft coloured, this plant looks more Venusian than Martian. It is one of ours. When Mark came home and commented that he had crossed sino nuttallii (which has big white scented trumpets) with R. W. Rye (small yellow flowers) in an attempt to get colour into the nuttalliis, I predicted he would end up with a whole lot of plants with very small white flowers and no scent. I was wrong. He ended up with a run of plants with the lovely heavy textured leaves and peeling bark of sino nutt, with frillier trumpets and yellow. Soft yellow tones, not the harder acid yellow of R. W. Rye but Floral Sun also has the more compact habit of her father Rye which is an added advantage. We are still pretty pleased with this rhododendron even if the flowering will be over long before visitors arrive for Rhododendron Festival.