Tag Archives: Magnolia Lanarth

The colour purple. Magnolia Lanarth

Lanarth in all its purple glory

Ah, the colour purple. I have yet to see a purple magnolia that eclipses the glorious sight of ‘Lanarth’ in full bloom. That is Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’ to be precise, not to be confused with the pink and white Magnolia campbellii var campbellii about which I wrote last month. Same species but different variants.

‘Lanarth’ is another example of a variety that belongs in every magnolia collection but, as a single specimen for the home gardener, it is not without its issues. Even if you can find one for sale – and it is not easy to propagate and get growing strongly – it is not what is known as a reliable, commercial plant. Its biggest problem is that it only sets flower buds on its branch tips. This means that all of them come out at once, giving a spectacular but brief show and a bad bout of spring weather can cut that display overnight. Modern hybrids are often selected for the plant’s ability to set flower buds down the stems so they come out in sequence over a longer time. We are happy to enjoy this species in its glory and I have a particular affection for what I call petal carpets. ‘Lanarth’ creates a wonderful carpet down by our largest pond.

Besides, this particular magnolia has a special place in our own family history. Mark’s father Felix imported what was meant to be ‘Lanarth’ in the early 1950s when first planting out the park area  here. It took some years to get large enough to flower and when it did, it was clearly something else. Enquiries from the nursery source, Hilliers in the UK, established that what he had was most likely a cross with M. sargentiana var robusta. They sent a replacement, grafted this time to ensure that it was correct and that is the plant we have growing as a splendid specimen. Felix named the earlier seedling for his youngest son and Magnolia ‘Mark Jury’ went on to be the not-so-secret Jury weapon in breeding a whole new range of magnolias. It is the father of ‘Athene’, ‘Atlas’, ‘Iolanthe’, ‘Lotus’, ‘Milky Way’ and ‘Serene’ and is also influential in the following generations of ‘Felix Jury’, ‘Black Tulip’ and ‘Honey Tulip’.

The true ‘Lanarth’ finally flowered here in the 1960s and it became the key to Felix’s best known success – the colour breakthrough from purple into red tones, first seen in Magnolia ‘Vulcan’. The rest, as they say, is history and New Zealand is now recognised internationally as the home of the best red hybrids. These days with the downstream breeding, the purple tones of ‘Lanarth’ are being eliminated in favour of purer red shades. Now it is the case that there are several  good red magnolias on the market, but no large, purple-flowered, garden-friendly improvement on the original ‘Lanarth’ that we have seen. It has been attempted. We just haven’t seen one yet that we think is as good as, let alone better than the original.

Looking up into the sky, the petals can take on the look of stained glass

‘Lanarth’ originates from a seed, one of only three that germinated from those collected by plant hunter George Forrest in southern Yunnan, China, near the border with Burma in 1924. There were other collections of Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata around that time but most flowered pale. Being raised from seed, there was the typical seedling variation that one expects from these early specimens and ‘Lanarth’ was the stand-out plant, particularly in flower colour. In order to maintain the desirable characteristics of ‘Lanarth’, it is necessary to propagate subsequent plants vegetatively (not just to raise seed) – which means layering, budding or grafting because it is does not generally strike from cutting. So every magnolia named ‘Lanarth’ should be a genetic carbon copy of that first plant that was raised in the garden of the same name in Cornwall. Raised from seed, there is no guarantee that it will be the same as ‘Lanarth’ and it then goes back to its species name of M. campbellii var mollicomata.

There is always something to learn and we had not realised that Magnolia ‘Charles Raffill’ is a cross between the two different species of campbellii – that is var. campbellii and var mollicomata (though a paler form) so it is still technically a species, not a hybrid. If that is as clear as mud, then just accept the glory of purple ‘Lanarth’ for what it is.

The pollen of Lanarth is in the genes of the red Jury magnolias

It was Lanarth that enabled the colour breakthrough to the reds – in this case Vulcan looking at its very best

Magnolis ‘Mark Jury’ is thought to be half ‘Lanarth’ in its genes and has been a brilliant breeder parent.

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

Lanarth by our big pond

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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

Pink & white parade

April is the cruellest month, wrote T.S. Eliot in his famous poem, The Waste Land. Not, I have to say, out of fear of late frosts in a northern hemisphere spring, as one gardening wit thought. Here, it is July that brings us the bleakest days of winter.

But as July progresses, it also heralds the start of a new gardening year. Magnolias and snowdrops mark the passing of winter into spring.

Magnolia campbellii

Magnolia campbellii

The first deciduous magnolia of the season to open is always M. campbellii. There is an attractive group of them in New Plymouth on Powderham Street and the first flowers on those appear in late June, sometimes before all the leaves have fallen. Asphalt and concrete in cities raise temperatures enough to trigger flowering earlier than in country areas. M. campbellii is not a great option in colder parts of the country because frosts can take the early blooms out but where space and climate allow, it is beautiful. Our tree was considerably larger until a falling Lombardy poplar took out half of it, but it is staging a comeback. There is a white form too, but the pink is generally regarded as superior.

Magnolia Vulcan

Magnolia Vulcan

July also sees the first blooms opening on Magnolias ‘Lanarth’ and ‘Vulcan’. The latter was bred here by my late father in law, Felix Jury, and marked the first of the new generation red-toned magnolias. For several years after we first released it, we used to be able to track it flowering down the country by the phone enquiries. It opens in Northland much earlier than it shows colour in Otago and Southland.

Magnolia Lanarth

Magnolia Lanarth

Lanarth (technically M. campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’) remains the best purple available, in our opinion, even though its flowering season is brief because it only sets flower buds on the tips and they all bloom at once, rather than in sequence down the stems. It is worth having in a large garden because it will take your breath away for two or three weeks in late July and early August but smaller gardens probably need trees with a longer season.

Galanthus  S. Arnott

Galanthus S. Arnott

At the other end of the scale, we find snowdrops enchanting. We have tried growing a wide range of different species but in the end it is Galanthus nivalus ‘S. Arnott’ that is happiest here in the mid north, although we also get a good run from the larger leafed G. elwesii. Gardeners in cooler, southern areas will have a bigger selection to choose from but we have to go with what performs here.

Snowdrops are one of the few bulbs where the standard advice is to lift and divide in full growth – usually straight after flowering although there is no reason why you can’t do it when they are dormant. They multiply satisfyingly well and we are on a mission to spread these charmers in huge swathes throughout the garden.
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What northerners often call snowdrops are not. They are leucojums, commonly called snowflakes. Proper snowdrops are much smaller and prettier. They have a central cup surrounded by three longer petals that look like dainty wings. Leucojums, on the other hand, just have the cup as a bloom and are much stronger growing with plenty of foliage that looks like daffodil leaves. You often see them growing in paddocks around old farmhouses. Some of the bigger flowered selections make good garden plants (Leucojum vernum ‘Gravetye Giant’ is the one we use), because they have a much longer flowering season than galanthus. But they lack the dainty refinement of the proper snowdrop. There can be little doubt about that.

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

The story of the red magnolias

Vulcan to the left, Lanarth to the right

Vulcan to the left, Lanarth to the right

Few people realise that the story of the red magnolias is a New Zealand story. Probably even fewer realise that when it comes to stronger colours in magnolias, we get the best colour in the world here.

I am talking about deciduous magnolias. The evergreen grandiflora types are resolutely white in bloom and adding colour to the softer-leafed, evergreen michelias is very much a work in progress. But deciduous reds, we do well.

Most deciduous magnolias are in the white and pink colour range and very lovely many of them are too. But with many plant genus, there is always that quest to extend the range of flower form and colour, to build on what happens in nature to get a better performing, showier garden plant. Some of it is about pushing boundaries to see what can be done. A truly blue rose is still an unfulfilled quest but it is highly likely it will come sooner or later.

Some would argue that we do not yet have truly red magnolias and there is truth in that. There is no scarlet, no fire engine red. All the red varieties on the market still retain a blue cast to them and fade out to pink or purple tones rather than to the orange end of the colour spectrum. But if you line one of the red magnolias up against a purple one, it is clear that they are a different colour.

This (liliiflora 'Nigra')

This (liliiflora ‘Nigra’)

I started by saying that the story of red magnolias is a New Zealand story. In fact it started as our family story. Back in the 1970s, Felix Jury wondered if he could get a large flowered, solid coloured red magnolia on a smaller growing tree. He started with the red species – M. liliifora ‘Nigra’. In itself, ‘Nigra’ is a nice enough, low spreading magnolia but nothing showy. He crossed it with the very showy, indubitably purple ‘Lanarth’ (technically M. campbellii var. mollicamata ‘Lanarth’). The rest, as they say, is history.

crossed with this (Lanarth)

crossed with this (Lanarth)

‘Vulcan’ took the magnolia world by storm. This was the break in colour and form. It is not perfect. We know that. The flowers do not age gracefully. It flowers too early in the season for some areas. It does not develop its depth of colour or size of bloom in colder climates and is a shadow of its own self in most UK and European destinations. But after more than 20 years, it is still hugely popular and very distinctive, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. It set the standard and it opened the door to other cultivars.

... and the result was this: Vulcan

… and the result was this: Vulcan

In due course, but slowly, slowly, Mark followed on from his father. He raised hundreds of seedlings and named ‘Black Tulip’ (the darkest of the reds), ‘Felix Jury’ and ‘Burgundy Star’.

Fellow breeder, Vance Hooper, started his programme on the reds and he has named several. The best known is ‘Genie’. Like Mark, he is continuing determinedly down the red magnolia line in the quest for perfection, although improvement or variation will do as steps along the way.

There are other reds on the NZ market now, though none from sustained breeding programmes to match those undertaken by Mark and Vance.

Black Tulip - the first of the second generation red magnolias

Black Tulip – the first of the second generation red magnolias

It appears that it is ‘Black Tulip’ that has enabled the rise of new selections in UK and Europe. It sets seed and every man and their dog is now raising seed and naming selections. Mark is a little wry as he comments that he raised hundreds of plants to get one ‘Black Tulip’ whereas others raise a few seed and name several. He has an ever-decreasing level of patience for amateurs who, as he says, “raise five seedlings and name six of them” based on the first or second flowering only, when he is still assessing seedlings which are 20 years old and showing their adult form, habit and performance.

So New Zealand is about to lose its position of world domination in the red magnolias. But we still get better colour here than others do overseas. There is no certainty yet as to whether that is related to our mild climate, our soils, the root stock used or the quality of light – likely a combination of all. ‘Felix Jury’, which can flower strong red for us is more an over-sized pink flamingo so far in European gardens. We are just relieved that it achieves full-sized flowers and plenty of them, even if it is not red in their conditions.

Magnolia Felix Jury at its best here

Magnolia Felix Jury at its best here

The quest for truer reds continues. A red that loses the magenta hue. Mark is assessing several with which he is quietly very pleased. They are not scarlet but they are an improvement in colour. Just don’t hold your breath. This is a long haul.

Finally, while NZ leads the world in reds, it was USA which gave us yellow magnolias. These all descend from one yellow American species – M. acuminata. I just say that for the record. Credit where credit is due.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 10 August, 2012

Lanarth again - at its best against our blue skies

Lanarth again – at its best against our blue skies

Aloe aloe aloe

Aloe aloe aloe

I was caught slightly on the hop this week when somebody rang from the Wairarapa, planning a garden visit. I suggested another week would be better for the magnolia display and he asked what else was in flower. I burbled on, mentioning the big-leafed rhododendrons, michelias and camellias. I could also have reeled off the campanulata cherries, swathes of early flowering narcissi, vireya rhododendrons, hellebores, early clivias, azaleas, the last of the snowdrops, early lachenalias, calanthe and cymbidium orchids, Cyclamen coum, bromeliads, even some of the aloes. Mark keeps reminding me that in harsher climates, gardens don’t have flowers all year round. We take it for granted here and while August is technically winter, the spring flowering has started in earnest now. It is unstoppable. Mind, the magnolias did not appreciate the hail storm two days ago. I went out looking for a good photograph and the first Vulcan blooms all looked as if somebody had ripped all the edges of the petals. Give it another few days, and many replacement blooms will have opened. It is a magic time of year here and the birds are in agreement too.

Cymbidium orchids in the woodland

Cymbidium orchids in the woodland

All the early narcissi are in flower

All the early narcissi are in flower

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 3 August, 2012

Magnolia Lanarth is coming into flower

Magnolia Lanarth is coming into flower

With the advent of August, our garden is now open again for the season and more is coming into flower every day. Magnolia campbellii is in full bloom, Lanarth is opening as is Vulcan, assorted unnamed seedlings are opening and the early michelias (now reclassified as magnolias) are in full bloom. Between the michelias and the many daphne plants, the garden is full of scent. The earliest of the big leafed rhododendrons (R. macabeanum and R. sino grande types) are coming into flower. And at the lowest level, there are many early spring bulbs blooming. As the snowdrops start to pass over, the early narcissi (many of the cyclamineus type) are blooming and Cyclamen coum flowers on. Mark’s efforts on his bulb hillside are bearing fruit (or maybe bearing flowers in ever increasing quantities is a better description). While we may get a cold snap or two, spring has very much arrived.

Mark's bulb hillside - Narcissus cyclamineus at the front, galanthus in the centre and Narcissus Twilight to the rear

Mark’s bulb hillside – Narcissus cyclamineus at the front, galanthus in the centre and Narcissus Twilight to the rear

We have no new posts this week to list – the gardening page of the Waikato Times has been put to one side to make additional space for Olympic sports news.

Magnolia campbellii in full flight this week

Magnolia campbellii in full flight this week

Tikorangi Notes: August 21, 2010

Magnolia Serene by the pool, 2009

Magnolia Serene by the pool, 2009


The photograph much admired by radio host and landscaper Tony Murrell on Radio Live this morning was the end of season snap of Serene taken last year. We might equally describe this as a fine example of why you do not plant a magnolia beside your swimming pool although in our case, it is why building the swimming pool beside the original Magnolia Serene was not such a brilliant idea of ours. The tree was there first. (Magnolia Diary 13).
Iolanthe, after a storm

Iolanthe, after a storm

Magnolia Lanarth is the first to drop its petals

Magnolia Lanarth is the first to drop its petals

Personally, I prefer the post-storm image of the original Magnolia Iolanthe (Magnolia Diary 9), planted beside our driveway although Lanarth (Magnolia Diary 4) dropping its petals more tidily and conveniently in our park is also a favourite.
Lanarth petal drop

Lanarth petal drop


All this is a little premature this season as we are just entering the new magnolia flowering season – there should be a splendid display out by next weekend.

And as a footnote, the petal drop around our lollipop Fairy Magnolia Blush is a regular delight still in store for this season as the first buds are just opening. (Magnolia Diary 12).

Circles of Fairy Magnolia Blush petals

Circles of Fairy Magnolia Blush petals