Tag Archives: Magnolia campbellii

Suddenly it’s spring

We have entered the season of floral skypaper

It would be churlish to complain too much about our winters here. Common wisdom divides the months of the year into four seasons so winter is June, July and August. But spring came this week. Sunny, calm, blue skies and sunshine with the temperature yesterday reaching 18° – clearly it is time I put away my merino thermals and found the mid-season tee shirts. The dreary rains of winter are but a memory at the moment (though they will return in spring for we are a high rainfall climate). Canberra had us thinking that a dry climate is much easier to live in but a high sunshine, high rainfall climate without extremes of temperature is much easier to garden in.

“Just an unnamed seedling from the breeding programme here,” as we say often

Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’, commonly referred to just as Lanarth

I am very sympathetic to those readers sweltering and burning in the northern hemisphere and  grateful not to be there. I am even more grateful to be here where the spring garden has exploded into life. I always say our gardening year starts with the first magnolias to flower. Each year, it feels like a new beginning. Oh, the magnolias! All those views of floral skypaper and big, bold blooms in the landscape. It is beyond glorious and this is why I try and encourage people to grow Proper Trees, not scaled down, dwarfed, shrubby things with scaled down blooms. If space is a problem, go for a narrow, upright tree (fastigiate, is the term) rather than one that promises to stay at two metres high (which it won’t, unless it is the white stellata). Aside from the soft pink M. campbellii, the dominant colours of the first varieties to flower in the season are red and purple. Believe me, looking at the first light of morning shining through these rich colours is like a stained glass window.

The yellow camellias are flowering again. This is C. nitidissima

Lachenalia aloides and an early flowering scilla that I once sorted out a species name for but have since forgotten where I recorded it…

It is not just the magnolias. While the snowdrops are already passing over (their season is but a short delight here), we have masses of different narcissi flowering all over the place, along with lachenalias, leucojums, early scillas and late cyclamen. The camellias are blooming, along with the big-leafed rhododendrons like macabeanum and giganteum. Every day, I go out and find something else to delight.

A tui in Prunus campanulata ‘Felix Jury’

I had an idea that I would pick a branch of each of the Prunus campanulata (Taiwanese cherries) currently flowering to show the range of colours and flower size. We have somewhere over a dozen in bloom at the moment and more still opening, with a garden full of tui and bees as a result. So I headed out with my flower basket and snips, channelling my very late mother in law who left the basket… and gave up. Maybe next year. The problem, I realised quickly, is that I would need a ladder. Too many are flowering well above my reach. And as the trees are spread far and wide through the garden, it is a task that would be better carried out with obliging ladder carrier. But that is the thing about long term gardening: there is always next year.

Finally, an animal story. When we first adopted poor, unloved Spikey dog in 2009, we worried that he felt the cold badly. His coat was very thin – at least compared to the Shetland sheep dog we also had at the time – and he had not one ounce of body fat. Daughter made him a coat of many colours. I put it on him one chilly morn and Mark laughed at the ridiculous sight. Spike then hurtled down the avenue gardens after a rabbit and reappeared without his coat. Suggestions ranged from him being too embarrassed to be seen in the coat to Mark’s idea that he had regifted it to a needy rabbit family. Years passed and we never found the Joseph coat – until this week. It is a little brittle after 8 or 9 years in the open but a triumph to the resilience of yarn blends. One minute – that is how much wear that coat had.

In the meantime, he had been gifted a genuine Harrods coat and I had bought him a little number that made him look like the canine version of Julian Clary. But we always knew that as a bogan, freewheeling dog, he would have preferred a black vinyl number with chrome studs. These days he is over 14, stone deaf with a heart condition and possibly some level of dementia so he has passed the winter days sleeping in his bed by the fire. Yesterday, with spring in the air, he came out of hibernation and could even have been described as frolicking as he accompanied us around the garden with visiting friends. There may be life in the old dog yet, if he doesn’t get taken out by a heart attack.

Magnolia campbellii, looking more like a painting at maximum zoom with the snow of the distant mountain behind

A day in the life of the magnolia and te maunga

I rushed out at 7.40am on Monday because the day had dawned sunny, clear and calm and I thought the mountain should be in view. We only have one really good view from the garden and at this time of the year, Magnolia campbellii is in bloom in our park. It being just past mid winter here and the subject being a mountain, it is more often shrouded in cloud. We are inclined to get apologetic about this in Taranaki but I remember driving round the South Island with our son some years ago. We never once saw the Southern Alps and that was down the east coast and up the west coast in January. Mountains attract cloud which is all the more reason to celebrate the winter view when it is revealed.

This is 15 minutes later at 7.55am when the sun has risen. It is Mount Taranaki, more commonly referred to by locals simply as the mountain, or te maunga in Maori (or indeed, te mounga in the local dialect). Or maybe the brother of the more famous Fuji. (I still have Barbara Trapido’s ‘Brother of the More Famous Jack’ in my bookcase). It is an active volcanic cone standing in splendid isolation surrounded by a ring plain and bounded by the coast for maybe 200°  of its circumference.

Thirty five minutes later at 8.30am and this is as clear as we can ever see it. With bonus bird. Te maunga is somewhere between 35 and 40 km away from us, the magnolia is in our park so these shots are right at the limit of my camera zoom and my ability to get both the tree and the peak in relatively equal focus.

By 10 am, the cloud is starting to roll in on the lower slopes.

At 10.45 am I expected to lose the sight within the next few minutes.

But it was still visible at 11.50 am and looking as beautiful as I have ever seen it. I have not used any filters or enhancements on these photos.

But gone from view by mid afternoon. I liked the Facebook comment that the mountain is always shining; it is just the rain (and cloud) that gets in the way of us seeing it. The magnolia is the unusual pink form of M. campbellii known as the Quaker Mason form. Because this was put into circulation so early in this country, we tend to regard pink as the dominant colour in the campbelliis but white is far more common in the wild and therefore in cultivation internationally. I have written about this M. campbellii in earlier posts. It is always the first magnolia to bloom for us each season and is really only suited to milder climates where those early blooms will not get taken out by frosts.

While we struggle here at times with the unacceptably high impact of the fossil fuel industry (Tikorangi Gaslands, anyone?), it is scenes like the magnolia and te maunga that keep us anchored to this piece of land both physically and spiritually.

Our pink Magnolia campbellii

Found! Low maintenance gardening (of a sort)

The magnolia and te maunga

Magnolia campbellii, the Quaker Mason form

For me, the start of a new gardening year is marked by the opening of the first magnolia bloom. It is a very personal measure of time. This year, it happened this very week. Magnolia campbellii has opened her first blooms on the tree in our park. So I start a new season series of The Magnolia and Te Maunga – ‘te maunga’ being ‘the mountain’ in Maori. Our magnificent Mount Taranaki is commonly referred to simply as ‘the mountain’ by locals because it stands alone and is part of the very being of anyone who was born or now lives within sight of its presence. It is, by the way, an active volcano. With other volcanoes erupting in the world, Mark was moved to comment last week that we do at least live far enough away to get some warning if we ever need to evacuate. I have ascertained that the distance between our magnolia and the peak is 36km as the crow flies, so it is at the limits of my camera zoom.

Beneath the mighty rimu trees

Earlier in the year, we rashly agreed to open the garden for the annual conference of the NZ Camellia Society. I say rashly, only because the August date is coming closer. We closed our garden to the public coming up to five years ago now. While we maintain it to a standard that we are happy with, opening it to others requires a higher standard of presentation. I am beginning to feel the pressure. This week, I started working my way along the garden we call the rimu avenue. It is an area about 100 metres long and up to 25 metres wide, so large enough to accommodate a fair number of townhouses, were it in a major city. Fortunately, we are in the country, so instead of townhouses we have a backbone of 14 majestic rimu trees, now nearing 150 years old. Rimu are a native podocarp, botanically Dacrydium cupressinum. Mark’s great grandfather planted them back in the 1870s and photos show that they have doubled in size in Mark’s lifetime.

Beneath these rimu, we have what is probably the most complex planting of anywhere in our garden. Oddly, it occurred to me this week that it is the least demanding in terms of regular maintenance. This is not related to the complexity of the planting; it is to do with the fact that it is all in dry shade and also to the plant selection over time. In the last five years, we have gone through it and pulled out fallen branches and a bit of occasional debris but it has not had the loving attention to detail that I am currently giving it.

Over time, this area has become a largely self-maintaining matrix planting, an ecosystem in its own right.  There is a little bit of seeding down, but not too much. The *volunteer plants* that arrive are largely ferns, nikau palms, native collospermum and other astelias. The most common weeds are the occasional germinating Prunus campanulata and the cursed bangalow palms. Most weeds need more light. That in itself is worth knowing. If you hate weeding, go for shade gardening.

Piling the debris onto the meandering paths

All I am doing to jazz it up is going through and removing much of the fallen rimu leaf litter and debris which builds up over time, taking out the spent heads of bromeliads, thinning clumps where necessary, a bit of cutting back of shrubby begonias, zygocactus, thinning the thuggish Monstera deliciosa and Philodendron bipinnatifidum and general tidying up. It looks a great deal better for it.

For those who are wondering what plants we have growing in the rimu avenue, I will tell you that when we first went into the enormous subtropical glasshouse at Kew Gardens in London, we felt right at home. There seemed to be a large number of plants growing under glass that we grow under the rimu, an area that is completely frost free. We have a whole range of shade palms, schefflera, vireya rhododendrons, dendrobium orchids, many clivias red, orange and yellow, species hippeastrum bulbs, Crinum moorei, bromeliads galore, ferns and a whole lot more. Everything is interplanted so it is complex and layered full, interesting year-round, as well as low maintenance.  Mark’s father first starting planting this area in the late 1950s so it has only taken 60 years of active management to reach this state of gardening nirvana.

Laying cut lengths beneath

and spreading the mulched leafy waste – yellow because it was mostly berberis

While I am working ‘up the top’, as we say, Mark and Lloyd have been down in the park doing a tidy up of fallen branches and dead shrubs and trees. Chainsaw and mulcher work, mostly. For those who read these posts looking for handy hints, I photographed their techniques for dealing with the waste on site. While they may have removed the bigger pieces for firewood, the smaller lengths of branch and trunk are chainsawed into short lengths and laid beneath large shrubs or trees. Line the lengths up in the same direction and they look neater and more purposeful than being tossed higgledy piggledy. The leafage and finer material has been mulched on site and raked out over a bed of dormant herbaceous planting. These are not techniques for formal or tightly groomed gardens but we find it an acceptable process in informal and more naturalistic areas. And we like the philosophy of keeping the cycle of growth, death and then decay nourishing further fresh growth in the same location.

 

The start of a new gardening year – Magnolia campbellii

The very first blooms on the M.campbellii in our garden

i in The very first blooms on the M.campbellii in our garden

The start of a new magnolia flowering season has come to mark the start of a new gardening year for us. No matter that this occurs in July, in the depths of winter. It coincides with the earliest of the japonica camellias, the start of snowdrop season and the blooming of Narcissus bulbocodium citrinus, but it is the heady sight of the first big pink blooms on Magnolia campbellii in our park that signals to us that spring is just around the corner.

In the most urban of settings in central new Plymouth

I lookn the most urban of settings in central new Plymouth

Before our plant of M. campbellii opens, we notice the row of 4 or 5 plants breaking bud on Powderham St by the Huatoki Stream in New Plymouth. These open in early to mid June, even before all the leaves have dropped but are at their peak right now. Being in the city, surrounded by concrete and tarseal, the temperatures are warmer than our country garden. We still have only the very first few flowers open.

I was interested to discover that the pink form of campbellii which is all around our district is unusual. In the wild, white forms are apparently far more common. The species has a wide distribution from eastern Nepal through the northwestern areas of Sikkim and Assam in India, southwestern China and as far down as the north of Burma. We saw it earlier this year on Mount Baotai in China but couldn’t tell whether the plant was naturally occurring there or had been relocated.

The 'Quaker Mason' form of M.campbellii in Taranaki

The ‘Quaker Mason’ form of M.campbellii in Taranaki

The pink form we have in Taranaki is commonly referred to as the ‘Quaker Mason’* form and originates from around Darjeeling. As early as 1915, Duncan and Davies Nursery were listing this plant despite huge difficulties in propagating it – it had to be done by layering and it was not easy to do that successfully, either. Our own specimen was one of the first trees planted here by Felix Jury and will date back to the start of the 1950s.

Tupare's white form of M.campbellii this morning

Tupare’s white form of M.campbellii this morning

Tupare (18)Tupare Garden in New Plymouth has one of the oldest white forms of campbellii in our area, though the tree is not a particularly strong grower. It has a different provenance which the late Jack Goodwin relayed to Mark. Alas Mark did not write it down at the time but his recollection is that Russell Matthews, who created Tupare, bought it as a seedling grown plant from a local nurseryman who had imported seed, probably in the 1940s. This may have been James or Francis Morshead. M. campbellii is renowned for taking many years before it sets flower buds and an anecdote from another source relates the huge disappointment Matthews felt when the first blooms opened white, not pink. More a collector of status plants than a plantsman, he was apparently delighted when Victor Davies – of Duncan and Davies Nurseries – assured him that the white form was most unusual and therefore a real treasure. Only history puts this into context – that the white form is unusual for Taranaki because of all our Quaker Mason pink plants, but not at all unusual in the wild.

Quaker Mason by the Anglican church in our local town

Quaker Mason by the Anglican church in our local town

On my way home from New Plymouth this morning, I detoured past the campbellii outside the church of St John the Baptist in my local town of Waitara. Sure enough, it too is in full bloom and looking glorious and is also the Quaker Mason form. Local readers may be gratified to know that one of the very finest specimens of M.campbellii – the Quaker Mason form again – is actually in Stratford, in the garden owned by Hugh Thompson.

These are all Magnolia campbellii var. campbellii. The other 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 ‘Lanarth’ (or Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’, to be pedantic) will not flower until halfway into August.

Finally, in case you are wondering for whom this handsome magnolia species was named – plant collector Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (though I don’t think he was knighted at the time he was plant hunting) named it for Archibald or Alfred (some uncertainty on his first name) Campbell, who was an enterprising and powerful representative of the British government in Darjeeling in the north of India from 1839 onwards. He is possibly better known for starting the tea industry in that area, although magnolia enthusiasts around the world continue to use his name. And we celebrate the coming of spring with the magnolia named for him.

* Quaker Mason – or Thomas Mason, to give him his correct name – was an early gardener and plantsman in Wellington. From his arrival as a new settler in 1841, he played a major role in early horticulture in the area through until the end of the century.

Postscript: while we are in the depths of winter with the shortest days and coolest temperatures, we do still get bright, clear light and very blue skies – no photo enhancement involved. This is a Tikorangi winter.

The Magnolia and the Maunga (or Mountain)

August 9, 5.07August 9 at 5.00pm as the sun is going down.
August 10, 12.38August 10, just after midday.
August 12, 9.45amAugust 12, at 9.45am.

Magnolia campbellii and Mount Taranaki, photographed from our garden.

IMG_3678At the risk of destroying the perception, this is the reality. In the bottom right hand corner, you can see the mountain which is at least 35km away from us. We do not have an alpine climate here – far from it, given that we grow oranges and avocados – but a zoom on my new camera is very good.

Tikorangi Notes: August 4, 2015. Spring flowers, Franchi seeds, a new spade and the Magnolia and the Cross

Narcissus Peeping Tom in golden light

Narcissus Peeping Tom in golden light

With heavy rain forecast over the next few days, I picked some of the spring bulbs. The light was fading as I brought them indoors,  but I like the stainless steel backdrop of the splashback to our stove and I had fun photographing the flowers both in the general background light of the kitchen and in the shafts of golden light, which, believe or not, emanate from the spotlights on the range hood above. If you are on Facebook, there is a fuller album of them on our Facebook garden page. 

Galanthus S Arnott in silver light

Galanthus S Arnott in silver light

033The new Franchi seeds catalogue arrived in the mail last week. If you haven’t met this brand before, you can find them on line at http://www.italianseedspronto.co.nz/ (that is the address for New Zealand mail order only). There is an interesting range of heirloom and traditional Italian varieties. They are expensive when compared to some other brands on the market, but you get a hugely generous amount of seed per packet. Given the sparse number of seeds in the packets of some other brands, this is something of a surprise. Mark is a particular fan of the packets of mixed lettuce varieties which he sows in succession to keep supply going, so he is more than happy to get a generous quantity of seed. There is a good variety of different lettuces in these mixed packets too, which mature at different rates and add interest to salads now that we have moved on from just Iceberg or Buttercrunch.

001 (2)I was positively excited to buy my very own spade recently, and what a lovely spade. It is a Joseph Bentley border spade with a handsome oak handle so it must be imported from the UK. A border spade is both smaller and narrower than a conventional spade and I find the lighter weight makes it easier to use – a pleasure, even. There are cheaper spades around – I think I paid somewhere between $70 and $80 for this one at Palmers Garden Centre – but I have not found a spade I like more. I expect it to last as long as I do. Mark kindly oiled the handle again before use, using linseed oil. And he sharpened it for me. I sometimes wonder whether the current fashion for no-dig gardening and the desire by some to avoid the effort of digging is related to blunt spades. A sharp spade makes digging so much easier but I can’t recall seeing the advice offered widely that you need to sharpen your new spade before use and then to keep an edge on it from time to time. If you are wondering how to do this, I see I published a little article on this very topic some time ago.

The Magnolia and the Cross

The Magnolia and the Cross

Having referenced the Magnolia and the Maunga and the Magnolia and the Wellsite  recently, I now offer you the Magnolia and the Cross. This is M. campbellii again, but in the grounds of St John’s Church in Waitara where I spotted it when we attended a funeral recently. Even if one is not of a religious persuasion, the cross is a very strong symbol.

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.