Tag Archives: Mark Jury

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

The plant breeder’s garden

“It’s very white out there,” he said

“It is very white out there,” Mark observed. We were standing in the roller door of our large shed, sheltering from another rainy squall and looking out to the new summer perennial gardens. The photo doesn’t fully convey the white experience. The row of Fairy Magnolia White, Camellia yuhsienensis and Mark’s hedges of michelia seedlings were all in view. Mark was envisaging a carpet of snowdrops at ground level as well, even though they are but a fleeting delight. I was looking at the michelia seedlings.

Mark has planted two sides of the new garden area in michelia hedges. Technically – in accurate nomenclature – these are all magnolias now but we continue to use the earlier term ‘michelia’ for the sake of clarity. When we say ‘magnolia’ here, we are almost always referring to deciduous magnolia trees so it is confusing to include the world of evergreen michelias which also feature very large in our lives at this time of the year.

Some of the seedlings are simply gorgeous but won’t be named

When planting seedlings, it means every plant will be different. For the largest length of visible hedge, he planted out one particular cross that had not come out as he hoped because very few were coloured. The nature of the parentage means that they will flower well, not grow out of control and be suited to clipping but they will never have the precision of planting a row that is all one clone – in other words, identical to each other. Mark likes seedlings for mass plantings because it adds interest to have them all similar but not identical.

Others are pretty on their day but floppy blooms don’t cut the mustard

I paced along his hedging, estimating how many individual plants there are. Getting close to 200, was the answer, planted at about 30cm spacings because we want a quick hedge that can be trimmed as required. Each individual plant in bloom is lovely on its day but some are lovelier than others. However, none will be named and put into commercial production. Mark has already named Fairy Magnolia White and Fairy Magnolia Cream and he won’t name any more white or cream ones unless there is something that is radically different or a major improvement. So these are ours to enjoy alone.

Heading into pink 

Part of a breeding breakthrough in colour but not good enough to select

At one end, there are about three different pink-toned varieties which are something of an oddity in amongst the cream and white majority. Again, he has already named Fairy Magnolia Blush in this colour range so they will just stay as a quirky aberration in the hedge at flowering time. We are okay with quirks.

Hardy michelias are basically white or cream. While there are new tropical species still being discovered and some of those show more colour, Mark has no interest in trying to breed with them, even if we could get them into the country to work with. Most of the michelias are not overly hardy at the best of times and he has been trying to get hardier selections (will they grow well and flower consistently in places like the UK, is one of his measures) without introducing more tropical genes. But he has managed to get as far as pinks, purples and primrose yellow by ever more complex crosses using the material he has available.

From white through to pinks and purples with a few heading into pale yellow –  blooms from the breeding programme

I see it was four years ago that I set out to pick a representation of single blooms from his seedlings to show the range in colour, flower size and shape that he has reached in what is predominantly a white or cream plant genus. While he has continued to flower more since, this photo remains a fair summary. We have selected three new ones that are currently in propagation and performance trials for probable release but there is a whole lot more to selecting a plant than the just flowers. My lips are sealed as to what makes these three worth singling out until we are further down the track of commercial trials.

Fairy Magnolia Cream just coming into flower

In case you are interested in what goes into selecting a plant (or you want to name something you have found), off the top of my head, the checklist includes the following:

  • Is it either distinctively different or a major improvement to similar plants already on the market? (This is arguably the single most important criterion).
  • Are there plenty of flowers? How long is the flowering season (some can be a short flash in the pan)? Does it flower consistently well every year?
  • Are the blooms reasonably weather hardy?
  • If it is scented genus, are the flowers fragrant?
  • Do the blooms age gracefully and fall cleanly?
  • Is the foliage as good as the flowers?
  • Is the foliage in proportion to the flowers?
  • Where do the leaf buds open from? In the case of michelias, does it just set leaf buds on the tips (in which case it will look leggy and bare very soon) or does it set leaf buds right down the stem.
  • Does it ever defoliate in a wet spring (a feature of Magnolia laevifolia formerly known as Michelia yunnanensis)?
  • What is its performance like as a garden plant , not just grown in a container? It takes several years to make this assessment. In the longer term, will it stay a garden-friendly size? Does it take pruning, trimming or clipping well?
  • What is its international potential? How is it likely to perform in more extreme climates?

Only then do the propagation trials start. There is no point at all in selecting a plant that is difficult to propagate, where the percentage of cuttings that do not set roots is too high, where plants *whiff off* – Mark’s phrase meaning die – during production, or where very particular propagation and growing techniques are required for success – growers just do not want to put the time and expense into growing plants that are unreliable or too picky.

New releases used to be the life blood of our mailorder business. Some selections stood the test of time, others not so much. At least all the magnolias have proven to be worthwhile. It is the vireya rhododendron selections and a few of the camellias that have fallen off the Jury plant wagon. These days, we get a new plant through the initial selection and then we hand it over to our agents to manage through final trials and then getting it to market.

It is a long path to getting a new cultivar onto the market. But in the process, we get a lot of unique plant material to use in our own garden.

Magnolia doltsopa syn Michelia doltsopa – a selection released as ‘Rusty” by nurseryman, Peter Cave. Pretty flowers but showing typical floppy tendencies of this species and the original plant in our park is massive.

Rhododendron season – two generations of breeding

Mark’s ‘Floral Sun’ is a great performer for in our conditions

Rhododendrons have long been a part of our lives. The first ornamental plants we bought in our twenties for our first home in Dunedin were three rhododendrons, chosen with great care from a local specialist grower. They were ‘Mayday’, ‘Princess Alice’ and, obscurely, R. oreotrephes.

Mark is not exaggerating when he says he started the nursery here from one wheelbarrow up. We will give credit to his parents, Felix and Mimosa, for many things but starting the nursery was not one of them and attempts by others to credit Felix as a nurseryman never fail to irritate. The first mail order list we ever posted out in 1982 comprised fifteen rhododendrons and Magnolia Iolanthe. Five of those fifteen were first releases from his father’s breeding and the others were mostly species, including the rare R.bachii. Rhododendrons remained a key part of our mail order offering for the next 22 years, with a wide range of both species and hybrids.

Mark gathered up all the new hybrids he could find which meant a fair swag of material out of USA, very little of which thrived in our conditions. In our time, we grew all those popular varieties of their day – ‘Lems Monarch’, ‘Lems Cameo’, ‘Ostbo’s Low Yellow’, ‘Markeeta’s Prize’ and ‘Percy Wiseman’ amongst many, probably scores, of others. Very few of them are in the garden now. Most needed a colder winter and somewhat drier conditions than we could give them. They were particularly vulnerable to thrip, giving them silver leaves and weakening the plant over time because we were not prepared to routinely spray plants in the garden.

Felix’s maddeni hybrid ‘Barbara Jury’

Just another unnamed seedling from Felix’s breeding but it wasn’t that easy to sell these types of rhododendrons to customers who expected tight, ball trusses

Felix had dabbled in breeding for years and his interest in the maddeniis was because of their excellent foliage, high health performance and fragrance. He named about twelve which we released onto the market but they were always a bit of a hard item to sell because they didn’t have the full truss that most people associate with rhododendrons. No matter that they put up a wall – or maybe curtain – of gorgeous blooms, often well scented, and kept healthy foliage all year round, it took a more sophisticated gardener to appreciate their charm.

Mark’s ‘Floral Gift’ is proving to be a bit of a star over time in local gardens at least

In his turn, Mark took his paintbrush to the task of pollinating rhododendrons. He has only named four so far, three from the maddeni group and one, ‘Meadow Lemon’, with a full truss. There are more, quite a few more here but the rhododendron lost its elevated social status in the New Zealand garden. Sales declined and the earlier abundance of specialist rhododendron nurseries either changed tack or closed down. A highly competitive market became instead one of very limited supply and little specialist knowledge.

The row of latest hybrids ‘across the road’, as we say

A fair number of readers will know Our Mark. He has never let the changing market deter him and he has continued to potter away breeding rhododendrons, albeit without the sense of urgency because we don’t see any immediate commercial potential in them. He does it very quietly so when he asked me if I had seen the rhododendrons across the road (we have another block of land that is more Mark’s domain than mine), I knew he must be pleased. These were the latest lot of crosses that had hung about the nursery for a while and were finally planted out – a ragtag collection that had not received any tender, loving care and were put out into full sun in the field a year ago. They have never been sprayed or had added fertiliser so it is a regime which separates the good performers from the strugglers.

Just a few of the promising seedlings

I was impressed. I admit that I am not a huge fan of the full trusses. They are not my personal preference. But I could see the commercial appeal of these, were they presented in their pots in the garden centre, tidy little mounds in full bud and bloom. What impressed me most was the foliage. We are too well acquainted with grungy rhododendron foliage and, as our winters have become milder, the issue with thrip infestation is getting ever worse. I photographed a fine specimen at the cemetery last week – so badly thrip damaged that it was silver all over. Not a green leaf in sight. But it wasn’t a good enough photo to use.

We know plenty about grungy foliage

Look past the flower – that foliage! Grown in hard conditions and never sprayed. That foliage is a breakthrough.

To see plants growing in what are not coddled and managed conditions with perfect foliage is a joy to a gardener’s eyes. For readers with a technical interest, these are highly complex hybrids. Mark started many years ago with the red R. arboreum, ‘Sir Charles Lemon’ (for its indumentum), ‘Pink Delight’ and ‘Helene Schiffner’ and he introduced other genes from good coloured rhododendrons that did not thrive in our conditions. Because he has kept breeding with each generation of seedlings, the finer details of the genetic make-up of this latest lot is largely a mystery, even to him.

We have no plans to release any of these. Mark will no doubt carry out some propagation trials to narrow the selections down to those that root easily from cutting. Over time, we will replace some of the under-performing rhododendrons in the garden with better selections. The hybrids may just be a little legacy that he leaves to whichever child of ours eventually comes home – a collection of market-ready, high health, proven performers with commercial potential. By that stage, the rhododendron may have returned to popularity in good gardens again.  And who knows? His next generation of seedlings may be better yet.

The gorgeous nuttalliis are a favourite of mine though not a commercial viability

The big full trusses are not so much to my taste, even when it is R. macabeanum to the left. The giant pink ‘College Pink’. 

 

Tikorangi notes: a week of pests and petals

Magnolia Honey Tulip

Honey Tulip is going from strength to strength as the tree matures

The magnolia joy this week has been ‘Honey Tulip’. Mark is a modest plant breeder and inclined to describe a number of his best plants as a stroke of luck. I know how hard he works to get these so-called lucky breaks and there is not much left to chance. As we looked at a prominent specimen of ‘Honey Tulip’ at our entrance this week, he expressed relief again that it is indeed excellent and that we have not released a dog of a plant on the market. And he mused (again) that out of that particular controlled cross, he only got two yellows amongst the offspring and only one of those was of merit. That is what he calls a lucky break. I don’t think he is happy unless he gets a run of several – or many – very good similar seedlings worth considering but even then he worries into the future whether he picked the best one at the time to name and release! So the annual display that ‘Honey Tulip’ puts on for us is both a relief and a delight as it continues to go from strength to strength.

The battle with the rabbits continues. After the new lily border was decimated last year, it was a priority to try and get them up this year. While the bulbs will likely survive one year with all their growth having been chewed off, two years is stretching it. First, I spent a day erecting a mesh fence along the border. It was more diversionary than rabbit-proof. In an environment filled with tasty edibles, I just hoped they would take the hint and change their route. But the little fockers laughed at me. When the first shoots were chewed back to ground level in a single night, I started putting cut lengths of drainage tubes over the damaged ones. That works but there are literally hundreds of bulbs in that border and Mark didn’t think it was a realistic option for the whole area. He tried the expensive rabbit repellent spray we bought last year but they laughed at his efforts too.

Netting and tubes in an attempt to deter rabbits

Blood and bone works. Mark now does a daily round. He sprays water on the fresh shoots and sprinkles a light application of blood and bone on the wet surface. The moisture makes it adhere which means that he will only have to repeat the application after heavy rain. It requires vigilance and routine. We need to get them above maybe 40cm so the rabbits can’t chew off the top and the shoots can keep growing. It won’t matter then if they chew off the lowest leaves.

Blood and bone lightly sprinkled on damp foliage is the best rabbit deterrent so far

The longer term solution is obviously to reduce the rabbit population. Mark does daily rounds with the gun. The dogs have found the odd burrow of small ones, to their delight, but are pretty useless once they are larger and on the loose. We got desperate enough to buy some rabbit poison but it is also poisonous to dogs so it requires putting out at night and gathering it back up in the morning. On the first morning, not only had the rabbits totally ignored the bait but our Dudley dog ate one bait before Mark’s eyes. It put him off using it again. The option of getting a cat again is still on the table. It is the first time we have ever hoped a stoat may move back onto our territory to do a clean out of the rabbits. Not for the first time, we have muttered curses at the early British settlers in this country who introduced this pest so they could continue their what-ho-jolly-hunting traditions.

A magnolia bud that has been eaten out, usually by possums but we are now wondering if rats are also to blame

While on pests, a possum – or maybe rats – have wrought havoc this year on some of the magnolias in the distant parts of our property. You can see from the photograph how the offender has eaten into the bud and nipped out the centre at the point when the flower buds were forming. Every single bud on this tree was taken out, which is why Mark is wondering about rats as well as possums. It is very discouraging. Mark is the chief pest control officer here and he generally manages to maintain some sort of equilibrium with a combination of ongoing trapping and the gun but this year appears to be particularly bad.

Doryanthes palmeri or the Queensland spear lily

Two months on from when I first mentioned the Doryanthes palmeri coming into flower,  I am coming to the conclusion that it does not open any more than this. I had envisaged that massive stem covered in open blooms but I think it may just gently continue for a long time yet, opening blooms in sequence without that mass display. The bees love it. Every time I pass, I can hear the audible hum and most of the open flowers have a bee foraging within them.

I mentioned it as a nursery relic cast aside. And indeed, I found confirmation of that this week as I was clearing around the plant. Behold, the original black planter bag, still around some of the root system. Some plants are tough and determined. It was not going to stay constricted by a pathetic little PB as we call these nursery bags.

Dainty and fragrant Narcissus jonquilla

Finally, because we love the tiny as much as the large, here are two little scenes from the rockery. Spring is a glorious season here, never more so than when we get over a week without rain to enjoy the blooming. But suddenly we are on the cusp of the point where a long spring no longer beckons but instead we are under pressure to get the new plantings done before it is too late and we are too dry and too warm.

Moraea villosa or the peacock iris

When a handle is a thing of beauty

Behold a simple thing of great beauty. At least that is what I thought when I saw it leaning against the side of the porch. This is Mark’s designated spade for the digging out of trees and large shrubs. It is not that he is seven feet tall, but that he likes a long handle to avoid having to bend his back. He is a man who has learned the hard way to be seriously protective of his back.

The handle is yew, harvested from a dead tree in the park, hand whittled to size and required smoothness, oiled with linseed applied in repeated thin coats. You can’t feel it in the photograph, but I can assure you it is wondrously smooth and tactile, for nobody wants to get splinters from a spade handle.

Mark has always been a fan of yew as a timber. Back in the days when he was a woodturner, the favourite timber of most was, and probably still is, NZ kauri. That is because it is so easy to work with – in Mark’s words, it cuts like butter. It doesn’t have a particularly interesting grain like other woods, including heart rimu. Yew is not native but it also cuts like butter, so to speak, and has a beautiful grain. It was the traditional timber for longbows, presumably because it is both long lasting and stable. It does not warp and bend out of shape as readily as many other timbers. Just perfect for a long handled spade. I see another long handle being prepared for the drainage fork we use to clear out water weeds.

These examples of yew treen date back a few decades to when Mark was a craftsman woodturner, before his nurseryman, plant breeder days but post his university days.

Yew – commonly Taxus baccata, although there are other yew species.
NZ kauri – Agathis australis
NZ rimu – Dacrydium cupressinum