Tag Archives: Magnolia Vulcan

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

Tikorangi Notes: a top-knot hedge, magnolia time, soy milk and tofu (because we are multi-faceted gardeners here)

“Just add some googly eyes”, a friend suggested

This hedge in my local town of Waitara makes me smile every time I pass it. I think it is just Cupressus leylandii, often referred to as Leighton’s Green. Was that as high as the owner could reach to trim, do we think? Or did they like the top-knot look which makes me think of Kim Jong-Un? This may remain a mystery. I rather hope it is deliberate.

The Kim Yong-Un of hedge design? 

First flowers of the season on Magnolia ‘Lanarth’

I have been so busy looking down at the early snowdrops, Cyclamen coum and the first of the spring narcissi, or looking over in the hopes of the mountain being free from cloud so I can start my seasonal photos of Magnolia campbellii in our park framed against the distant snowy mountain flanks, that I have forgotten to look up. It is not just M. campbellii in flower. ‘Lanarth’ is opening now (technically M. campbellii var mollicomata ‘Lanarth’) and the season for this magnolia is short but spectacular. ‘Lanarth’ came from southernmost China via Cornwall. We have two plants of it growing in the garden. This is the one behind our house and it flowers first because it is a warmer location than the first and larger plant of it down in our park. These early flowers lack the colour intensity that sets it apart from many other magnolias.

Magnolia ‘Vulcan’, the first of the new generation of reds

And ‘Vulcan’ has opened its first flowers. It is still a very special magnolia for us, even though there is now a plethora of red magnolia hybrids on the market. This magnolia from Mark’s father, Felix Jury, was the breakthrough to the new generation of reds.

Magnolia Vulcan, showing some kereru damage to the petals

I didn’t notice the somewhat raggedy petals until I looked at my photos on the computer screen. That is pigeon damage – our native kereru – as opposed to rat or possum damage which looks different. Soon there will be so many blooms open, that the petal-nibbling kereru efforts will not be obvious. We have plenty to share.

With the early blossom opening (mostly Prunus campanulata or Taiwanese cherries), the tui population is increasing rapidly as they return for this favourite feast. We have some tui who stick around all year but scores of others flock in over this period of early spring. “When trees dance” is how Mark describes it.

Mark is drying and winnowing his crop of soy beans 

I wrote about the bean mountain back in 2015 and since then the soy bean harvest has assumed daunting proportions. Mark’s home production of organic soy beans is apparently somewhat unusual. Aficionados tell me that it is now impossible to buy organic soy beans in this country that have not been irradiated as a condition of their importation. I don’t think we have a local soy bean industry. Apparently the soy bean mountain here is more of a valued resource than I had realised.

Soy beans are not my favourite bean to eat whole. I will reach for the kidney beans and fava beans first, or even the borlottis which are also not my favourite. I swapped a few kilos with a local person found on Facebook who makes a variety of different miso pastes which proved delicious. But what to do with the rest? I started making soy milk about a year ago in an attempt to reduce our intake of dairy. We are not so enamoured of soy milk that we use it all the time. I still prefer cow’s milk in tea and coffee but I use the soy milk in many other situations when I would formerly have reached for cow’s milk and I find it more than acceptable in the breakfast muesli and porridge.

The amazing Soyabella!

The recent gift of a Soyabella machine has revolutionised my life. It was a bit tedious and messy making soy milk with the food processor, strainer, muslin cloth and a big preserving pan on the stove. This handy little Chinese machine, not much larger than an electric jug, makes a litre of fresh, hot soy milk in about 15 minutes with close to zero human effort. It is a wonder, my Soyabella. And it has opened up the world of home-made tofu. Why home-made tofu? For us it is both a way of using our home-grown soy beans but also about drastically reducing the plastic that comes into the house. With the arrival of nigari this week, I made the first block of tofu and, between Soyabella and I, the hardest part of was finding the right-shaped weight to fit on top of the tofu block to press it. It was perfect, just like a bought block. Nigari is just a coagulant – mostly magnesium chloride – which separates the soy milk into curds and whey.

A small but perfectly formed block of tofu

It was our trip to China three years ago that really converted us to tofu as a food staple. The crispy tofu was delicious so I searched the net for instructions. It isn’t difficult. Press the block of tofu for an hour or more to squeeze out excess water (I just use an inverted plate on top of it with a weight on that). Slice or dice the tofu and marinade for a few minutes only so it doesn’t take in more liquid. Dust it with cornflour and shallow fry. Voilà! Crispy tofu.

The lily border (currently empty bar Camellia yuhsienensis), backed by a clipped hedge of Camellia Fairy Blush punctuated with shaped Fairy Magnolia White all coming into bloom. Queen palms in the distance. 

Felix’s magnolias on a glorious spring morn

After posting my piece on petal carpets this morning, it was such a gorgeous spring day I headed down to the park with camera in hand. And today, it was Felix’s magnolias that were at peak glory. It’s often an odd feeling living on a family property steeped with the history of earlier generations. Not ghosts, more like an enduring presence. And I wanted to pay tribute to Felix’s little collection.

Felix Jury in 1985, photo by Fiona Clark

I have recorded the history often enough here  so today is just the pleasure of the sight of so much in bloom. Sure, some have been superseded over time but these were ground breaking hybrids in the 1960s and created a special place for New Zealand in the world of magnolias. They also provided the platform for Mark to build on with his next generation hybrids.

The purity of ‘Lotus’, Felix’s best white, is hard to beat on its day.

‘Apollo’ was Felix’s best purple. This and the other magnolia photos were taken this morning. Did I mention what a glorious spring day it has been?

This one was never named and is the only unnamed seedling I am including today because at its peak, it is so very pretty. We just refer to it as “Apollo’s sister” because it is from same cross and batch of seed.

Magnolia ‘Athene’. There was a certain classical theme running through the naming of some of these cultivars.

Magnolia ‘Atlas’, which appears to perform better overseas than it does here. The flowers are huge and very pretty but it weather marks badly in our rains and wind.

‘Milky Way’ and I am not sure what inspired Felix to use that as its name bar the fact it is predominantly white.

‘Iolanthe’ which remains one of our flagship varieties and a superb performer year in and year out.

Magnolia ‘Mark Jury’ – not one of Felix’s own hybrids but a seedling that arrived here from Hilliers that was meant to flower as ‘Lanarth’. It was the secret weapon that Felix used in the majority of his new hybrids and he named it for his youngest son.

The only two not in bloom today are Magnolia ‘Serene’ which has yet to open and ‘Vulcan’ which has finished already for this season. But here is a photo I prepared earlier of the latter at its peak three weeks ago.

Felix died in 1997, but his spirit and his presence remains very much part of our lives here, never more so than at peak magnolia season.

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.