Tag Archives: Magnolia Felix Jury

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

Mark’s story

* as told to The NZ Rhododendron, the annual journal of NZRA Council and Pukeiti Trust Boad. December 2017. Photos are mine. 

Mark could perhaps be described as having chlorophyll running in his veins. He was the afterthought child in his family, quite a bit younger than his brothers. He remembers tagging along with his parents and visitors, listening in as they discussed plants around the Tikorangi garden in North Taranaki. “It was quite a lonely and isolated life in the country and I really wanted the social contact, even if it was with older people. It was only later that I realised what I learned in those early years.”

Mark was determined to head off to university, the first in his farming family to do so. It was not an easy path but he graduated with Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences, majoring in Psychology. He enrolled in a post-graduate diploma in guidance and counselling but withdrew half way through the year. “I was the youngest on the course and all the others were teachers with regrets. One would have liked to be a potter, another dreamed of running a country pub. I didn’t want to get to my late 40s and look back with regret. By that stage, Abbie and I had already been married a couple of years and I went home and told her I wanted to withdraw from the course and follow some dreams.”

From there, he taught himself to draw from a book by John Ruskin, taught himself to turn wood to a high quality and then set out to learn how to propagate and, from there, to build a nursery.

“When I started here, there was no nursery. Dad was a just a farmer and a gardener who liked to breed plants. He had taught himself the rudiments of propagation. I started to build the nursery from one wheelbarrow up and I set out to learn how to propagate and to grow plants commercially. It was a case of learning through trial and error. It has always surprised me how successful the nursery was.” Mark credits the access to his father’s plant hybrids for giving him new material to mark out his nursery as different to the rest. “Dad had pretty much stopped hybridising by then. It was only ever a hobby for him. I started more systematically to see how far I could push plant breeding. And as the plant breeding grew in range and scale, I had the nursery to cope with growing on the material.” He started with saturation coverage of a large plant of Camellia pitardii in a Urenui garden.

From an early stage, Felix made it clear that the garden he and his wife Mimosa had built would pass to Mark and his family. Mark and Abbie are demonstrably aware of what it means to be on a family property that is already on its fourth generation.

Arisaema seedlings are for the garden at Tikorangi, not commercial release

Mark is clear in his mind about the hybridising he does which has commercial potential and that which is solely to try and get better plants for their own garden. He is currently working with galanthus, aiming for later flowering cultivars which perform as well in Tikorangi conditions as Galanthus nivalus ‘S. Arnott’. He is continuing the efforts of his late father with cyclamineus narcissi, looking for sterile selections that bloom from every bulb, as Felix Jury’s ‘Twilight’ does. In the hellebores, improving garden performance and getting cultivars which hold their blooms above the foliage are the aims, as well as looking for sterility if possible. In the arisaemas, he wanted to extend the colour range and the season and to get some hybrid vigour into A. sikokianum types. He is often to be found out and about with his magnifying glass and paintbrush.

The garden is always the star in Mark’s mind. “This is a poor man’s garden,” he says. “It was never made with a big budget and if we had to buy in all the plants we want, we could never afford to keep it going, let alone expand as we are. To get masses of snowdrops to the point where they naturalise themselves to or to get a new 40 metre of border of auratum lilies, we have to raise our own from seed. And when raising from seed, I often like to start with controlled crosses to see if I can get better outcomes, rather than just using open pollinated material.”

The garden is a treasure trove of plant material, some of which may or may not go into commercial production at some stage in the future but which currently has no market. “We have some thrip-resistant rhododendrons with full trusses if that plant genus comes back into fashion. At the moment, the market is so small that there is no commercial advantage in releasing them.” The same is true of coloured and variegated cordylines and a range of camellias.

Magnolia Felix Jury

The creation of new cultivars with international potential has been a major focus. In the deciduous magnolias, Mark has named and released four out of many hundreds that he has raised. But he says he has the next three possibles under trial. Of those released, the magnolia that he named for his father is his greatest pride. “It is what Felix was trying to get to – good colour in a large cup and saucer bloom, so I called it ‘Felix Jury’. This one is doing really well internationally which is particularly pleasing. It has already been given an award of garden merit from the RHS.”

A range of michelia seedling blooms

Fairy Magnolia White, with bonus kereru

The michelias are a source of frequent disappointment to Mark. “We have raised so many of them now and have a good range of new colours. But it is so difficult to get everything in one plant – clean colour, good size of bloom and plenty of them over an extended period, compact, bushy growth, easy to propagate and scented. Keeping the scent is the most elusive attribute of all.” Mark has named three so far, marketed under the ‘Fairy Magnolia’ brand, but there is a long way to go yet and he keeps persevering, often with several hundred new seedlings a year.

Camellia Fairy Blush, Rhododendron Floral Sun and Magnolia Honey Tulip

Amongst the camellias, Mark names his selection of ‘Fairy Blush’ as his personal favourite. He and Abbie have chosen to use it extensively for clipped hedging in their garden because of its long flowering season and its good habit of growth. ‘Floral Sun’ remains his pick amongst the rhododendrons.

Daphne Perfume Princess

Ironically, it is a daphne, a one-off plant from a speculative breeding effort, that may prove to be the most lucrative cultivar internationally. ‘Perfume Princess’ basically looks like an odora although it often flowers down the stem like bholua. It is the size of the flower, the vigour of the plant and the length of the flowering season that sets this plant apart from other daphnes. “It is just a brilliant plant to grow and a terrific nursery plant to produce,” Mark says. “That is not true of most daphnes which can be very difficult to produce in containers.” Both the local and international markets for a daphne eclipse the market for magnolias, even if the plant itself is less spectacular.

“We stopped doing mailorder in 2003, stopped wholesale in 2008 and phased out retail after that. The phone calls and emails in search of plants haven’t stopped in the time since but we were really glad to shut all that down. Abbie always described nursery work as being like factory work but in better surroundings. There was no fun in it but it enabled us to get to where we are today.” Mark is quietly proud of the fact that royalties on plant sales, particularly overseas, are what enabled them to retire from the nursery trade and pursue their interests in the garden.

The garden is still expanding. They closed to the public 3 years ago and have been enjoying the freedom to experiment.  “We’ll open again at some stage, maybe 2019. For the annual garden festival, at least. Though we are unlikely to ever open again for extended periods during the year.”

Mark and the Magnolia Felix Jury tree at Wisley on the left. Mark with a collection of blooms from different seedlings at home in Tikorangi

A touch of Tikorangi around the world

We are generally accustomed to seeing Jury plants growing in different parts of the world, though sometimes it generates a special thrill. A UK friend sent this photo of Magnolia Felix Jury in bloom at The Garden House in Devon last week. We had seen this particular tree growing strongly several years ago but it was summer, so in leaf, not bloom.

It takes time for a magnolia to prove itself, particularly across a range of different climates. Magnolia Vulcan has never really performed in cooler climates because it loses its flower size and blooms more in muddy-purple tones than in the deep claret-red that sets it apart here. There is always apprehension as to how other deeper coloured cultivars will perform in much harder conditions than we have. Early blooms on ‘Felix Jury’ in the chilliest climes of Northern Europe show that it retains its flower form and remarkable size, but the colour can bleach out – albeit to prettier shades than the muddy ‘Vulcan’. Whether that colour will deepen as the plants mature (which is what happened here over a period of years) remains to be seen.

This made it a special delight to be sent the photo of The Garden House specimen, showing good colour, good size and the correct flower form.

Even I found it touching to see Mark’s delight at the specimen of Magnolia Felix Jury growing a few doors up from where our daughter lives in Canberra. He felt it was like having a touch of Tikorangi in her street. Canberra is not exactly Magnolia Central so if ‘Felix Jury’ blooms as well there as at The Garden House, it will be a showstopper. The house owners were a tad surprised when I knocked on their door to ask if I could take photos and explained why. They also had Mark’s Fairy Magnolia Blush growing to the immediate left of the umbrella. Nothing illustrates the stark difference in climate to here more than an astroturf lawn.

All the reds

Magnolia 'Felix Jury'

Magnolia ‘Felix Jury’

August belongs to the red magnolias here. They start flowering in July for us but peak this month with September leaning more to the pinks, whites and yellows. While others may delight in one or two red magnolias, we get them en masse. For every named variety, there are many sister seedlings that will never be released but keep on growing and flowering each year. Magnolia trees just get bigger and better as the years go by so the annual display keeps on getting more spectacular.

Magnolia liliiflora 'Nigra'

Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’

When Felix Jury, transferred the pollen of Magnolia ‘Lanarth’ onto Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’ in the early 1960s, I doubt very much that he contemplated a significant breakthrough in the international world of magnolias which would bring fame – though not fortune. He just wanted to see if he could get to large red flowers. Lanarth (technically M. campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’) has lovely flower form and at its best is a magnificent purple on a handsome tree. M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ can have good red colour but with small flowers on a shrubby, spreading plant, it is not showy.

Magnolia 'Vulcan'

Magnolia ‘Vulcan’

The best of the progeny he named Magnolia ‘Vulcan’ and for the next decades, it stood proudly on its own as a major step along the way to red magnolias. Sure, it is not a pure red and the later season flowers fade out to a somewhat murky purple. There is always room for improvement but Felix laid the foundations for what is following now and he showed that a determined, self-taught, hobby plantsman at the bottom of the world could make a major contribution to the international magnolia scene.

Magnolia 'Black Tulip'

Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’

Magnolia 'Burgundy Star'

Magnolia ‘Burgundy Star’

It is perhaps not widely recognised in this country that New Zealand has led the way with red magnolias Our spring display is arguably the best in the world. For reasons yet to be determined, we get deeper and stronger colours here, certainly than in the UK and Europe. There, they are accustomed to white, pink and now yellow magnolias, but the impact of the red types that are now relatively common here never fails to stun international visitors who come in spring. Felix Jury paved the way with Vulcan. His youngest son, Mark – the man to whom I have been married for more decades than we like to tally – continued building on this foundation, as has fellow Taranaki magnolia breeder, Vance Hooper.

Mark’s quest is a pure red magnolia, losing the purple tones that dog the earlier hybrids. He is getting very close – not quite there yet, but close enough to think that it is achievable. Like his father before him, Mark prefers large flowers with solid colour both inside and outside the petals (technically tepals).

Magnolia 'Genie'

Magnolia ‘Genie’

Vance Hooper is going down a slightly different track and shows a liking for bicoloured flowers. In magnolias this often means a paler inner petal. He is also actively selecting for smaller growing trees which are floriferous over a long period of time, often with smaller flowers. His best known red cultivar to date is Magnolia Genie but he too has a whole range of red seedlings under observation and a number of other named varieties already released.

Felix named one purple – Apollo – and one into the red tones, Vulcan. Mark has named only three reds so far – Black Tulip, Burgundy Star and Felix Jury. Of these, Burgundy Star is arguably the reddest but it is the one he named for his father that brings us greatest pleasure. As a juvenile plant, it started off with OTT giant pink blooms but as it matured, the colour deepened and we now get enormous red flowers – though I admit they fade out to pink. This magnolia represents what Felix himself was trying to get to – a rich coloured, very large bloom of the Iolanthe-type.

It is a source of quiet satisfaction to us that Felix lived long enough to see his son achieve this outcome and it was for this reason that Mark named it for his father. We were most gratified to learn that it has been given an Award of Garden Merit by Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society.

I have never forgotten the customer who came in to buy a magnolia some years ago. She didn’t want a red one, was sick of seeing them – too common, she declared. No, she wanted a white one. I think I remained steadfastly polite but as our forest of colour blooms each August, I rememer her blissful ignorance.

First published in the August issue of New Zealand Gardener.

'Lanarth" is in full flower and looking particularly fine this week

‘Lanarth” is in full flower and looking particularly fine this week