Tag Archives: Mark and Abbie Jury

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.

Up the ladder

Just one view of Mark’s pruning efforts this week

In a garden with many trees, ladders are a part of our life. While our son, Theo, and I have been down in the park clearing the ponds and the stream of invasive weeds (lots of heavy raking), Mark has been up the top doing a round of summer pruning. Particularly cherry trees which need to be pruned right now, since summer is already morphing into autumn. You can see the extension ladder up Prunus Pearly Shadows to the right of the photo.

I am always in awe of how much material Mark can remove when pruning, without it showing except to the most discerning eye. This is a high level and under-appreciated skill though he does say it takes him a great deal of time looking before he ever makes the cuts. And he is forever up and down the ladders to look again from all angles and locations. For you cannot glue a branch back on if you get it wrong and find that you have just destroyed the shape of the tree by taking the wrong piece off.

Mark, being an agile and wiry man with very good balance, has given me the most alarming photos of how not to use ladders. Do not try this at home. He would like a disclaimer added that he is not stupid. He only does this with the ladder in a stable position and with something firm to hand that he can grab should anything go awry. Never with the chainsaw. He is extremely mindful of safety and caution with the chainsaw when mistakes can be fatal.

Because ladders play such a role in our lives, we were pretty interested in this permanent ladder structure seen attached to a tree in a tourist park in Jinghong, near China’s southern border. Presumably this tree is climbed regularly to warrant the construction of a ladder, although the reason why was not clear to us at the time. It can’t be that good for the long term health of the tree to have the wooden pegs bored into its trunk but at least they are not nails.

Who needs ladders, anyway? A friend shared this link via Facebook this week – how a Vietnamese tactical police unit climbs the outside of buildings with just a length of bamboo. No, it does not involve pole vaulting. We were pretty impressed, I tell you, and it has given Mark a new range of jokes about how we can dispense with ladders here and follow their lead. Who needs aluminium ladders when we have a wonderful resource of bamboo growing here? It would solve the problem of the oft-asked question here of where the ladders are when one of us need one and there are none in the shed.

On dry land – Christmas in Canberra


We spent Christmas in Canberra. Why Canberra, you may wonder. Or you may not. We are one of those New Zealand families where all three of our children have headed off into the merry blue yonder and the daughter with our first and only grandchild lives there.

For those not in the know, Canberra in winter is very much colder than anything we ever get in Taranaki, but a dry cold. Canberra in summer is very much hotter, but a dry heat. I don’t think we had a daytime temperature that was below 30C on this visit and it only dropped a few degrees at night. It doesn’t make gardening easy, although roses are happier there and they can do corker lavender and other Mediterranean plants, along with their own natives.

Helichrysum growing as a wildflower

Adapting to growing a different range of plants and gardening in different ways is one aspect – though their conditions are just a more extreme version of Central Otago, parts of Canterbury and Hawkes Bay. The wildlife is more of a worry.We were staying in a house at the base of Mount Ainslie, a large nature park literally 15 minutes walk from the centre of the city. As she dropped us off, daughter commented that we should take care on the back terrace “because this is Redback Central”. That struck terror in us, especially as I recalled her saying previously that cane furniture is not suitable for Canberra because it was altogether too accommodating to redback spiders. We carefully brushed down the underside of the outdoor furniture before the seating of our posteriors thereon. We weren’t keen on the ants either, though the scarily large ants were harmless sugar ants. Or so we were told. It was the small ants that were the bite-y ones.

Snakes are also common in this inland area and we were a bit neurotic about the ornamental pond in overgrown grass beside the outdoor terrace. Snakes are apparently attracted to water in the dry summer months. Kangaroos graze on the adjacent reserve and the presence of fresh kanga poop on the driveways and paths each morning indicate they extend to the road verges at night. As there is a city ordinance that bans most front fences (though hedges are acceptable), this must be a challenge for front gardens. The abundant rabbit and possum population did not appear as damaging to gardens as we would expect here, though daughter was bitterly disappointed when a possum (a protected species in the homeland) took out her entire apricot crop in one night.

It was protection from the abundant and intrusive birdlife that saw the next door garden shrouded in white netting. The owners, Croatian migrants who escaped then-Yugoslavia in the 1960s for a better life in free Australia, were keen food producers growing many fruits and vegetables. It was an interesting visual effect, the shrouding of the garden, though you wouldn’t be able to expect a fruit crop in our humid conditions with the tree foliage compressed into tight domes.

Streetscapes of Canberra

Mark’s little bouquet of wildflowers, gathered by a river

It wasn’t all hostile and locals presumably learn the  routine precautions that are necessary to protect their physical safety while gardening. We loved the dry grasslands and the wild flowers. The shimmering golden light is so very different to the bright, clear light we get at home in our landscape of verdant green and bright blue sky. Being able to take our baby grandson for his first river swims without worrying at all about water quality was a poignant experience for us as New Zealanders of this new millennium. The streetscapes of Canberra are all dominated by wide avenues, even in the suburbs, lined with very large trees. There was no evidence of clamouring locals wanting to take chainsaws to these specimens. Instead, everyone sought out the welcome shade to make walking in the heat of the day bearable.

Golden light

More golden light

In terms of domestic gardening, those who were irrigating heavily to enable a style of gardening imported from wetter climates were very obvious. This looks increasingly irresponsible in today’s world. Astro Turf seemed an option for some who wanted the effect of green lawns without the stigma of irrigation. We bought our daughter a book on American prairie gardens a few years ago and she is delighted with the effect of her little patch of perennials and grasses and waxes most enthusiastically about the feather reed grass – Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’’. This style of gardening has very low water requirements so is well suited to her conditions.

We flew home to our own garden which, even though we know it so well, looked unusually lush, well-furnished and, above all, green as green. We’d rather garden here than in a harsher climate and we have much to be grateful for in this country when it comes to the absence of poisonous fauna and large kangaroos.

First published in the March 2017 New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

Poignancy – taking our baby grandson swimming in the Canberra rivers when this is no longer an option in too many of New Zealand’s polluted rivers

From the air – then and now


When we moved in to the family home after the death of Mark’s father in 1997, there were a number of surprises. Some were more welcome than others but the two large format, aerial photos were particularly interesting. As far as we can make out, they must date back to around 1953, soon after the house was built and as Felix and Mimosa were at the height of activity, laying out the garden. The concrete in front of the house is still very new and white, the rockery has been constructed and some of low, stone walls are in place. It does not appear as if the sunken garden has been built yet and nothing has happened behind the house.

Running across the middle of the photograph, the avenue of rimu trees – one of our most outstanding features now – is still quite small and some of the much faster growing Pinus radiata trees are still standing at the right hand end of the rimus. Both the rimus and the pines dated back to the first Jury who moved onto the land in the early 1870s. By that date, the original tawa bush had already been cleared in this area.


Looking down from above is not a view we see often but last week we had that opportunity.


In the intervening years, the driveway has been relocated, additional buildings and a swimming pool have been added – and a whole lot more planting, although most of the original trees remain. The road runs left to right through the centre of this photo but is now screened by trees.


This second photograph was probably of more interest to us than it ever was to Mark’s parents, Felix and Mimosa, because we bought the property in the foreground in 1994 – giving us both sides of the road. The house is shown centre right with the much smaller rimu trees running left to right and a large cluster of puriri trees to the right of the house. Many of these we had to fell because they were in such poor condition in the late 1990s.  No planting has yet taken place in the area we refer to as the park with one notable exception – the significant kauri tree which was the first plant Felix put in.


And a similar view from last week. The little church on the left belongs to the neighbour’s but the heavily planted areas on both sides of the road are mostly ours. Mark always regrets that a previous owner of the foreground property (the one we bought in 1994) felt the need to take out all the land contours on the lower paddocks that border the road. Mark would have preferred to work with the better drainage and more interesting  contours that were original.


What struck both of us from the air, was just how tree-d the place now looks. This was a surprise to us because we work hard to keep a sense of openness at ground level so the effect in the garden is more park than woodland.

All we need now is a friendly person with a drone so we can get the late winter, early spring photos which show the deciduous magnolias and the michelias in full bloom. We have many of both, in the gardens on the right hand side of the photo and in all the wind breaks and plantings on the more utility left hand side of the road. In the meantime, we will continue to beaver away at ground level.

For the sake of the birds

I love cats. But when our last cat was in her twilight years, Mark commented that he did not want another. I felt a twinge of sadness, resentment even. But I knew he was right and these days I make do with the cats of the internet.

The late Buffy

The late Buffy

In our years together, we have had a succession of furry felines. Every one was both loved and ginger, male or female. To me, all cats should be ginger. Buffy, our final cat, was named by the children for the vampire slayer. She took her name seriously and slayed not vampires, but rodents, probably skinks, birds in abundance and she gave no quarter to visitors who thought they might stroke her without permission or – horrors – move her from a chair that they might sit there instead. Buffy met the world on her terms. And she was a killer.

If we still had a cat, we would not have the ground-dwelling quail

If we still had a cat, we would not have the ground-dwelling quail

I believe Gareth Morgan when he says all cats are roaming killers, contrary to what their owners think. The hidden cameras prove him right. Urban cats may not achieve the same tally of bird kill but that is likely to be because of a lesser population of birds. We live rurally with no domestic cats in residence nearby. Mark maintains an ongoing rodent control programme, particularly against rats, and is on constant alert for other predators, including feral cats. We can never be predator free, but vigilance keeps the incidence lower than the norm.

Waxeyes feeding from aloe

Waxeyes feeding from aloe

The rewards lie in the bird population. Everybody I know claims their garden is ‘full of birdsong’ and we are fortunate that there is a certain base-level bird population throughout most of the country. A friend who recently moved from a very large, cat-free country garden to a leafy town suburb commented how much she missed the birdsong. I bet if you asked her neighbours, they would be shocked and think this a gross misrepresentation. But the difference between that base-level population and an environment that is truly rich in bird numbers and variety is huge.  These days, our garden feels so alive. 

Our beautiful but lumbering native pigeon - the kereru

Our beautiful but lumbering native pigeon – the kereru

We have never set out to feed the birds. But on a property which is heavily planted in both natives and exotics with many different varieties, particularly flowering ones, across 25 acres, there is a succession of food all year round.

We have seen the kaka again recently so it appears to be resident in the area

We have seen the kaka again recently so it appears to be resident in the area

It is not that we have much in the way of rare birds, although the arrival of a kaka for two months in late winter was a thrill and we are on the feeding flight path of native falcons (karearea).  Mostly it is about the tui which we count by the score, the kereru that are permanent residents here, korimako (bellbirds), ruru (moreporks) at night, piwakawaka (fantails), white-faced herons, silvereyes, pukeko, shining cuckoos in season and all the formerly common birds of our bush and grasslands. Then are the introduced varieties. It is one of the delightful introductions that we know we would miss entirely if we had a cat. The Californian quail spend a lot of the time on the ground and nest at ground level so are extremely vulnerable to predation. These are charming additions to the garden, a gentle presence all the time. We do not eat them.

Tui feeding from veltheimia

Tui feeding from veltheimia

The one grief for us is the incidence of bird-strike on our windows, exacerbated by double glazing which turned the windows almost mirror-like. Because the reflection is all of sky and trees, too many birds think they can fly through. Window decals do not work. Believe me, I tried. A young kereru still died when it flew straight into one. Mark constructed an open bamboo grid that he suspended from the eaves in front of our very large picture window which claimed too many birds. It does not impede the view from indoors and we can still open the windows. Upstairs was more problematic because we lack eaves. Reluctantly – and I say reluctantly because we like the views – we have hung sheer curtains in the two worst affected rooms. These work – Mark has seen a young kereru take avoiding action when it registered the visual barrier.

The grief of window-kill kereru

The grief of window-kill kereru

One solution to window-kill

One solution to window-kill

We place a high value on creating a sound eco system and the increasing bird population tells us we are succeeding. It is not just the birdsong. It is the movement, the interaction between the birds (we witness many a battle), the charm of different nests, even the falling feathers – all enrich our lives well above and beyond just having a garden. If the trade-off for us is forgoing the character and pleasure of a resident cat, then so be it. We would rather have the birds.

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

Fantail nest

Fantail nest

Garden diary February 5, 2017 – all about flowers this week

The exquisite Worsleya procera after all the rain

The exquisite Worsleya procera after all the rain

I shall ignore the weather, bar noting that we had over 100ml of rain on Thursday night and while we get some sunny days, this is not summer as we know it. As we enter February, we may just have to accept that full-on summer is bypassing us this year. In the meantime, large parts of the country are in drought.

At least the beautiful worsleya didn’t mind the torrential rain. Maybe it is used to heavy spray, given its natural habitat beside waterfalls in Brazil. W. procera now flowers every year for us – though rarely more than two flower spikes despite the fact we have more than two bulbs – but it never fails to wow us. This really is a most exotic bulb in a particularly unusual blue shade, though neither easy to source nor grow. Ours never set seed because they are all the same clone. It is always extremely slow to set offshoots from the bulb.

Not a Hippeastrum aulicum

Not Hippeastrum aulicum

...despite the label

…despite the label

While on bulbs, I shall be a little unkind and post this photo from my visit to Auckland Botanic Gardens last week. Hippeastrum aulicum? Ahem, I think not. For they are red and flower in August and September. This patch looks mighty like belladonnas to me.

Not a camellia - a tutcheria, we think

Not a camellia – a tutcheria, we think

We went to visit a friend this week for a stroll around his garden – he is very strong on hydrangeas that go way beyond the commercial mop-top macrophylla types. But, while charmed by these, it was the yellow ‘camellia’ that excited us. Here, we thought, was an interesting summer-flowering yellow camellia that was far more sun tolerant than the yellow species we grow and that we had spent some time looking at in China last year. Ignore the background foliage which is the dreaded Rubus pentalobus (though not out of control in this shady spot). I just used it as a carpet to arrange the fallen blooms upon, with a leaf of the plant to the left. It certainly looked like a camellia in flower form, bud shape and texture and it was from a recent interesting plant collection in Asia.

I was about to email photographs to an Australia expert on yellow camellias for an identification when Mark saved us great embarrassment. Sometimes he surprises me with his knowledge, as when he came in and said he thought it was a tutcheria, not a camellia. It took a while to find the right spelling to enable a net search (he is better on names than he is on spelling) and it appears to be Tutcheria championii syn spectabilis and is found in woodlands of Hong Kong. Yes it looks like a camellia bloom and the habit of growth is similar but, like the gordonia, it is simply one of those related plants in the theaceae family which includes all camellias.


Probably Dietes butcheriana

Probably Dietes butcheriana

Another plant mystery was solved when we managed to get what we think is the right species name on this dietes. After finding our neomarica was not a dietes, I wasn’t entirely sure whether Mark was right that this was one, either. The foliage is more spectacular than the flowers, which are rather small in comparison and not at all showy. But it appears it is the lesser known Dietes butcheriana that has made itself completely at home in a shaded area of the garden.

img_3976It is auratum lily season here and we have quite a few of these. I managed to get around staking the garden plants, in anticipation of the UK tour ten days ago – though they failed to flower on cue this summer. I don’t like to pick the flowers from the garden but… out in one of Mark’s vegetable patches, we have a large number of auratum lilies of many hues which Mark has hybridised and raised from seed in preparation for a new garden under construction. This has taken longer than anticipated so the lily patch has expanded and I can cut these to my heart’s content to bring indoors or give away.

Just a one-off auratum seedling

Just a one-off auratum seedling

This soft pink specimen is decidedly over the top. With 20 separate blooms, the flower spike is much too heavy to ever make a good garden plant and indeed it looked a bit gross out in the lily patch. But it looks splendid cut and put in a vase. You may notice the outward facing blooms. Florists prefer upward facing blooms and many of the auratums offered for sale are upward facing. Felix and now Mark started breeding for outward facing blooms because these make much better garden plants. They are hardier to weather conditions, do not gather debris and suffer less from pollen staining when grown in open conditions. Like many of Mark’s efforts, these are not oriented to commercial production, just to get better plants for our own garden. But oh we do get such a lot of delight from these summer flowers.

The lily patch in the vegetable garden

The lily patch in the vegetable garden

Garden diary, January 22, 2017: weather bombs and little green apples

It is indoors sort of weather

It is indoors sort of weather

A friend on Twitter commented yesterday that she preferred global warming to climate change. And indeed we could do with some warming here – summer has still to arrive this year but we are certainly getting extreme weather events. These, I notice, are now styled as “weather bombs” and it was a fairly remarkable weather bomb that passed through overnight. Mark had to get the chainsaw out to clear the driveway from the fallen branch of Magnolia Iolanthe. Fortunately, it did not break the meandering but wafer-thin stone wall that edges our driveway.

img_3763We had the next three days planned for a concerted swoop through the garden in preparation for a small UK gardening tour due on Thursday. While the garden is generally closed, this tour is coming through the Royal Horticultural Society – an organisation to which we have a few personal links and which has resulted in some really interesting and enjoyable garden visitors in the past. We maintain the garden at all times, but there are final grooming tweaks that make all the difference in presenting it well to paying visitors. We may be scrambling for the next few days with the added storm damage. Unless we get some of the elusive commodity this summer – uninterrupted sun – the lilies may not open in time to wow the visitors.

img_3752Yesterday was so miserable that I retreated to the kitchen, in part to deal with a surplus of Sultan plums. The tree is cropping very heavily this year but is not particularly flavourful. Mark put this down to his failure to thin the crop earlier in the season but I am sure the shortage of hot sun hasn’t helped, either. Jam, I thought. I shall make some Sultan plum jam, channelling my late mother-in-law who was the best jam-maker ever. These days I only make small batches – we are not great consumers of jam and a few jars for gifts are all I really need. I have learned that reducing the boiling time to set is what makes all the difference. Sometimes I resort to using the jam setting sugar which is, presumably, so heavily laced with pectin that it only takes 4 minutes of boiling to reach setting point. But I didn’t have any in the cupboard and it seems excessive to get in the car to drive to the supermarket for just one item. But fear not. I now know that one can make one’s own pectin by boiling up little green apples and those we have in abundance. I thinned some of the apple crops and chopped and boiled the fruit, using that liquid instead of water in the jam.

img_3755The result was a few jars of brandied Sultan plum jam though the brandy was a bit of a waste. I am not sure it is discernible except, maybe, to those with the most refined jammy palates. I then went onto fresh orange and ginger marmalade and finished up making some plum sauce. After all that, I felt so virtuous I opened a bottle of wine.

I wrote about the invasive, weedy nature of Commelina ‘Sleeping Beauty’ three years ago. Despite being vigilant weeders here, it is still making its presence felt. Not only is it a weed, it is a weed that is very difficult to eradicate. It has staged an appearance in odd places where it was never even planted. I found another three escapees of it this week.

img_3760At least we knew the showy equisetum was invasive. I planted it in a pot because it was an interesting looking plant. It succeeded in breaking the first terracotta pot and making a bid for freedom but I was quick enough to nip that in the bud. This week, I will lift this second pot and get rid of it altogether. It is not good enough to keep sacrificing pots to the cause and it is a high risk plant. I asked Mark if he knew which species it was and he shrugged, saying he has zero interest in equisetums except he does know that it can be dried and used as a polishing agent, though we are talking about fine sandpaper polishing rather than furniture oil. We have another little equisetum that his father planted in the rockery and we have been attempting to eradicate ever since – for decades. We will not be inviting any more members of this ancient plant family into our garden.

But will the auratum lilies in the garden open in time for Thursday's visitors?

But will the auratum lilies in the garden open in time for Thursday’s visitors?