Tag Archives: Magnolia campbellii var campbellii

A story of the magnolia, the mountain and air freshener

Thursday July 9 at 8.40am

The first photo opportunity of the year to capture our Magnolia campbellii and Mount Taranaki came this week and it reminded me of a funny story. Well, I think it is funny.

It was only last year, I think, that a creative from a Sydney advertising agency contacted me. She had found a photo of mine on the internet of this very scene and she was enquiring whether we would agree to let a film crew visit to film it for a product – unspecified. She wanted permission and to negotiate a fee so she could pitch the concept to the client.

I briefly thought it might be fun. But only briefly, until I worked out the logistics of the exercise. That is a very specific view shaft and a scene that is visible for just a few days each year. I imagined the crew flying in, some from Sydney and maybe the film crew from Auckland and me feeling personally responsible for the weather. That is a mountain. In midwinter, it is  more often shrouded in cloud than in clear view. I can go out at 8am and it may be fine and sunny here but 40km away, on that mountain peak, the cloud is moving in and by 8.03 there is nothing left to see.  We can go a week, maybe ten days, without a clear view of the peak. With a film crew hanging around waiting for the moment? I think not.

Magnolia campbellii var campbellii

Then I shuddered at the thought of the crew capturing that view and then asking me where they could get other angles on the scene. They can’t. There is only one, highly specific view shaft and that image is taken right on the limits of my camera zoom function.

I said no. Undeterred, she asked me if I recommend other locations. I pointed out that they do grow magnolias in Australia, very well in fact in the Dandenong area outside Melbourne. I have seen them there. No, she replied. She wanted a setting that looked like Chinese countryside. Reader, I cringed. Our maunga can, at a pinch, pass for Mount Fuji in Japan – and has done in the movie ‘The Last Samurai’. The magnolia actually comes from Darjeeling, which is in northern India. I have been to China and seen a bit of their countryside. I do not think she had.

I suggested Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens and there our correspondence ended.

I did not think any more of the matter until my Canberra daughter emailed me saying: “Is this the advert you missed out on providing the pics for?”  I am guessing so. It fits the brief. Air freshener? That is not a product I ever buy. We have plenty of the natural product here. Besides, as those blooms on our Magnolia campbellii are about eight to ten metres up in the air, I have no idea at all whether they are even scented.

Postscript: Mark tells me that he is pretty sure M. campbellii has no scent. Perhaps they were thinking of the Yulan magnolia, M. denudata, he hypothesized. We don’t have it in the garden so I looked it up and yes, it is renowned for its lemon fragrance. That is not the magnolia used in the advertisement. It seems botanical accuracy matters more to us than it does to air freshener manufacturers and Sydney creatives.

A perfect, cloudless morning – Friday 10 July at 8.40am

Quaker Mason, the magnolia and our maunga

 

The magnolia and the maunga from our garden in Tikorangi

In the heart of wintry July, M. campbellii is the first magnolia to open and promises the delight of a new spring. At least, that is when our tree blooms. All the tarseal and concrete in the central city of New Plymouth lifts the temperature and the cluster of trees in the Huatoki Reserve by Powderham Street open their first flowers in June, before they have even shed all their autumn foliage.

For the past two Julys, I have spent more time than I should have taking photos of our tree against the snow-capped peak of Mount Taranaki. The magnolia and the maunga, I call the series. There is a distance of maybe 40 km or so between the two so this is right at the limits of both the zoom on my camera and my technical skills but I keep trying for the perfect image without having to resort to cheating with filters and the computer.

M. campbellii in the grounds of the Church of St John Baptist in Waitara

When I look at my photo file on campbellii, I have a series of trees framed against backgrounds – one in our local town of Waitara against the spire of the Church of St John the Baptist, a specimen at Tupare garden with the backdrop of the rushing Waiwhakaiho River, the aforementioned Powderham Street specimens against a carpark building, even one on Mount Baotai, framed by Chinese roof lines. I think what drives me is the effort to capture the spirit of over the top, gorgeous flowers appearing in a winter landscape.

Quaker Mason form

Magnolia campbellii is one of the oldest varieties in New Zealand. It dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century and was sold commercially by Duncan and Davies as early as 1915. Before you rush out to buy one, you need to be aware that this species can take many years before it sets flower buds and ultimately grows into a very large tree. Its early season blooming also makes it vulnerable to frost damage in cooler parts of the country. If you are only going to plant one magnolia, maybe look to one of the more recent hybrids, although M. campbellii itself belongs in any collection. Our specimen here was one of the first trees planted in our park by Mark’s father, Felix, in the early 1950s.

The pink campbellii is the most common in Taranaki where the majority are the particularly good ‘Quaker-Mason form’. It is traced back to Thomas Mason (commonly referred to as Quaker Mason, on account of him being a Quaker), a prominent Wellington horticulturist who arrived as a new settler in 1841 and had a huge influence through until the end the century. But the pink that we take as the norm here, is in fact not at all common in the wild where most campbelliis are white. Apparently our pink originated in Darjeeling – an area better known for its tea in India’s north east.

M. campbellii on Mount Baotai in south west China, with Chinese powerlines

Overall, M. campbellii has a wide natural distribution. It grows from eastern Nepal, across Sikkim and Assam into south western China and down to northern Burma. We were thrilled to see a plant on Mount Baotai in China last year, even though its pale pink blooms showed it to be a pretty average form of the species. We couldn’t tell if it was naturally occurring or had been moved into its current position, as the modern Chinese are wont to do.

The white form at Tupare

We don’t have a white M. campbellii in our garden so I had to head to Tupare Garden in New Plymouth to photograph their mature specimen that dates back to the late 1940s or early 50s. The blooms have a curious green flush at the juvenile stage but the tree is not a strong growing, distinctive form. It is not a patch on all the pink Quaker-Mason specimens around but there will be other white forms available in New Zealand.

These are all Magnolia campbellii var. campbellii. The other popular form of the same species, known as Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata, originates from areas further to the east and flowers several weeks later. Our fine specimen of purple ‘Lanarth’ (or Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’, to be pedantic) will not flower until halfway into August.

First published in the July issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

 

The pink campbellii at Tupare with the rushing river beyond

Two footnotes:

The word maunga means mountain in the Maori language. In Taranaki, where the presence of our beautiful maunga (Mount Taranaki) is a defining element for all who live here, the word maunga is often used in preference to the English word.

The blue skies are indeed genuine. We have a clarity and intensity of light here all year round, even in mid winter. Though it must be said that not every day in winter has blue skies!