Tag Archives: Mark Jury

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 is another unnamed seedling of Felix’s

 

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

Mark’s story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnolia Felix Jury

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

A range of michelia seedling blooms

Fairy Magnolia White, with bonus kereru

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

Camellia Fairy Blush, Rhododendron Floral Sun and Magnolia Honey Tulip

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

Daphne Perfume Princess

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

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

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

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

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

The Jury magnolia legacy – first published in the RHS Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias 2017 yearbook

Back in 1973, when Mark and I were impoverished university students, his father, Felix, gave us the cheque he had received from Os Blumhardt for the right to release Magnolia ‘Serene’. It was for NZ$150 and that was the only money Felix ever received for any plant he bred. At the same time, Duncan and Davies released his Magnolia ‘Iolanthe’ but, despite being the powerhouse nursery of the southern hemisphere, paying breeders for their plants was never part of their operation. Sometimes we ponder how different the family finances might have been had Felix received even a very small royalty payment for his Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’, but that is another story. The remaining Felix Jury magnolia cultivars were not released until the late 1980s when Mark set up the plant nursery here. With the exception of ‘Vulcan’, where the immediate public response took us by surprise, the releases were all very low key.

Magnolia Apollo

Magnolia Athene

Magnolia Lotus

Magnolia Milky Way

It takes time for magnolias to prove themselves and it is only in the last couple of decades that the Jury magnolias have become known internationally. There aren’t many of them. Felix only named eight of his own breeding – Magnolias ‘Apollo’, ‘Athene’, ‘Atlas’, ‘Iolanthe’, ‘Lotus’, ‘Milky Way’, ‘Serene’ and ‘Vulcan™’ . We don’t include the variety M. ‘Mark Jury’ in that list because it arrived here as a seedling and all Felix did was to grow it and, in due course, name it. Mark vetoed his father’s suggestion of naming a few more because they were too close to ones already selected, although we have a few fine sister seedlings from those breeding lines in the garden here.

In his turn, Mark has named four deciduous magnolias so far – ‘Black Tulip’, ‘Burgundy Star™’, ‘Felix Jury’ and ‘Honey Tulip™’ – though he has raised many more controlled crosses than his father ever did. Records here do not include total numbers of plants raised but certainly Felix never raised a large number – maybe 50 or so. Mark has been much more focussed and a rough guess puts the number of deciduous magnolias raised to flowering size in excess of 1000. If a particular cross shows promise, Mark will locate the plants in places where they have the space to grow to maturity and, as the years pass, the display just gets better. There are a lot of what we call “also-rans” – not destined to be named but too good to chainsaw out. Late winter and early springtime here is simply glorious.

Magnolia Atlas

When it comes to naming a plant, consideration is given to whether it represents a breakthrough in some aspect and is significantly different to anything already named. It must also produce flowers on young plants, bloom on bare wood in our climate, not grow so rapidly as to indicate it will become a forest giant, propagate relatively easily and flower reliably every year while setting buds down the stems to prolong the season. That list may be why Mark has only named four so far.

At the time when Felix started crossing magnolias, there were few varieties available in New Zealand and most were species. He wanted to see if he could get large cup and saucer blooms with good colour, flowering on a young plant. His lucky breeding break came with the cultivar he imported from Hilliers. It was meant to be M. campbellii ssp mollicomata ‘Lanarth’ but when it bloomed for the first time, it was clearly a hybrid, probably ‘Lanarth’ x sargentiana robusta. He named it for his youngest son, Mark Jury. It proved to be an excellent breeder plant and five of Felix’s eight named cultivars used ‘Mark Jury’ as pollen donor.

Magnolia Iolanthe

We rate ‘Iolanthe’ as one of the very best he named. The original plant is still located beside our driveway and has now achieved magnificent stature at about 10 metres high and a canopy the same distance across after 50 years. Every year it takes our breath away with its beauty. The blooms have stayed very large (some cultivars produce smaller blooms once past juvenility) and because it sets flower buds down the stem, even the worst spring storms do not ruin the display for the year. At about two months in flower, it has one of the longest seasons.

Magnolia Serene

Serene is the last of the season to bloom for us and we have always been surprised that this top performing strawberry pink variety has not gained the reputation and market traction it deserves. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and with the passage of time, we think ‘Atlas’ would not meet the selection criteria today. Despite a huge flower, possible unequalled at the time, with good form and a pretty colour, its performance falls short because it only sets buds on the tips of branches. A storm can take out the flowering for the year. That said, it is one that appears to perform well in Britain. ‘Athene’ and ‘Milky Way’ are both wonderful performers but probably too similar to have named both. ‘Lotus’ is lovely but the pure white magnolia field is very crowded now. ‘Apollo’, while abundantly floriferous and more compact in its growth, does not have the same beauty of flower form that the others have.

Magnolia Vulcan

It was ‘Vulcan’ that cemented Felix’s reputation, even if this cultivar has never proven itself in the cooler climes of Britain and northern Europe. You will just have to take our word for it that in milder climates, it can be the most remarkable red colour and, for its time, it represented a colour breakthrough and set the standard for the next generations of red cultivars. We have a remarkable intensity and quality of light in New Zealand even in the depths of winter, and the first red buds to break in July never fail to impress. For many years after we first released this cultivar, we could track its flowering from north to south by the phone calls we received. That is a rare plant.

Over time and with many competing unnamed seedlings of the next generations flowering here, we certainly concede that ‘Vulcan’ blooms do not age gracefully and later flowers are much smaller and in murky purple shades. It appears that those later flowers are the best most British gardeners can ever expect to see in their conditions. Mark is still on the quest for the perfect Vulcan upgrade – a large bloom on a smaller tree, flowering later in the season to extend the climatic range and with colour that ages more gracefully, which means losing the purple undertones that the parentage of ‘Lanarth’ brought in. He is tantalisingly close to pure red but not yet ready to take the plunge and name another in his red series. Having named three so far, a fourth must be something different, special or a significant improvement.

Magnolia Black Tulip

‘Black Tulip’ was the first release of Mark’s cultivars and we were gratified by the immediate public response. Mark’s personal preference is for solid colour in blooms and in the windy climes of New Zealand, we have to select for heavy textured petals and firm blooms that can withstand the equinoctial winds that often strike at peak flowering. ‘Black Tulip’ certainly fitted these criteria and is suitable for smaller gardens though it will never be as bold and showy as grander specimens.

Magnolia Burgundy Star

‘Burgundy Star’ has yet to prove itself overseas. Being three quarter M. liliiflora nigra, the hope is that it may prove to be hardier in colder climates. The original plant in our carpark is exceptional –  fastigiate in its growth which is to its credit as a driveway or courtyard specimen, with a mass of good-sized, red, starry blooms over a long period of time. Only time will tell if this translates to other climates and locations.

Magnolia Felix Jury

Magnolia Felix Jury

So far, ‘Felix Jury’ is the stand-out performer of Mark’s selections. He named it for his father because it was what Felix had been trying to get to – a rich-coloured, large-flowered cup and saucer bloom with a long season. It is a source of pleasure to us that Felix was still alive to see the first blooms. On the first young plants, we described it as rich pink, but with age and maturity, the blooms have deepened to red in our climate and this is a specimen magnolia that just gets better with age and size. We have been delighted to see specimen plants well established in the UK, particularly at Wisley and also The Garden House in Devon. While we haven’t seen those plants in bloom, we are assured they are impressive, though probably more pink than red.

 

Magnolia Honey Tulip

Mark’s latest release is ‘Honey Tulip’, his best yellow cultivar so far. Again the flower shows excellent heavy texture in the petals, unlike the softer texture we see in the American yellow varieties we grow here. The form is different with a solid cup and the colour does not fade out as the season progresses. We are also pleased with the generous bud set we see on the plants here and it does not look as if it will ever get as large as some of the yellows. It is still early days – ask us in another twenty years how we rate it.

The ultimate goal would be to get to a pure yellow cup and saucer bloom of ‘Iolanthe’ or ‘Felix Jury’ size and splendour, along with the performance characteristics of those two cultivars but that is still a long way off and may not be attained in Mark’s lifetime. The pure red magnolia is closer. The deciduous magnolia programme is ongoing here.

The property is planted out in seedlings

The evergreen magnolias are a separate thread. We are with the Chinese – it is much easier to continue to refer to these as michelias and differentiate them from the better known grandifloras. Mark became interested in these 20 years ago and they are very much a work in progress. When he started, there were only a small number of species to work with and even fewer hybrids but he wondered whether he could extend the colour range and the habit of growth to get more garden-friendly options. In the time since, there has been an explosion of new species collected, particularly in China and Vietnam but New Zealand’s borders are now closed to new plants and he has had to rely on the original species he has access to – particularly M. figo, M. doltsopa, M. maudiae and M. laevifolia (formerly known as Michelia yunnanensis). He is not overly worried about this situation because most of the recent discoveries have been tropical and he is keen to increase hardiness overall, not to decrease it by introducing tropical genes. He had already decided that M. champaca and M. x ‘Alba’ – both of which we have here – were blind alleys when it came to his breeding programme.

Fairy Magnolia White

Most of the hardier species are white or cream flowered but the advantage in terms of colour has come through the most common form of M. figo in New Zealand being more colourful than those we have seen in other countries. Our form includes yellow and purple and that has extended the colour range in the hybrids.

Fairy Magnolia Blush

Michelias have a much quicker turnaround than deciduous magnolias and the number of hybrids here already greatly exceeds the number of the latter. A number of the hybrids show exciting promise in colour and flower size and are certainly extending the range. But the selection criteria includes several critical new factors. The hybrids must not set too much seed, they must make foliage growth down the stems and not just on the tips and they must not show the tendency of some michelias to defoliate either at flowering time or in wet spring seasons. Even more problematic are the issues of fragrance and ease of propagation from cutting. There is frequent disappointment. Mark oft bemoans the fact that he can cross two of the most fragrant of michelias and the offspring lack discernible scent. And the best coloured michelias have so far failed the propagation test. He is also after clean colours. With purple and yellow being the available colour genes, there is a disappointing number of murky coloured offspring which are rejected out of hand. There is a long way to go yet and the downstream crosses are getting ever more complex although he continues to work with the same narrow, original species base.

Moving large Fairy Magnolia Whites into the new garden where the plan is two pleached rows

The upshot of this is that only three cultivars have been released to date and none of these show the exciting colour breaks. It is heartening, however, that these three are showing more hardiness than expected, considering the use of two somewhat tender species in M. figo and M. doltsopa. These cultivars are being marketed internationally by our agents, Anthony Tesselaar Plants, under the Fairy Magnolia® branding. ‘Fairy Magnolia Pink’ is a foggii x laevifolia hybrid and brought indubitably pink tones into the range. It is floriferous over a long period of time and particularly good as a clipped specimen. Our row of five clipped lollipops are a real feature and easy to maintain at a set size with an annual hard spring prune and a light autumn trim. On the downside, the foliage is a little more olive green than we would like.

Fairy Magnolia Cream

The selection released as ‘Fairy Magnolia Cream’ is from similar breeding lines and has beautiful flower form, excellent fragrance and foliage in a cleaner hue of green. ‘Fairy Magnolia White’ is different breeding, bringing in more M. doltsopa and is therefore larger growing but with correspondingly larger blooms, also fragrant. We doubt that it is as hardy as the other two and see it more as an improved, garden-friendly version of the M. doltsopa parent. In recent times, we have planted a double avenue of ‘Fairy Magnolia White’ with a view to pleaching them and we have been pleased with how well this cultivar is responding to clipping and training.

A collection of blooms, showing the range in size and colour

The breeding programme will continue. There is a long way to go yet, although really what Mark would like is for one of our children to come home and take it into the next generation. With all three of our human offspring living overseas, this is one aspect of the breeding programme that is not looking hopeful.

Fairy Magnolia White

Apollo (probably liliiflora nigra hybrid x ‘Lanarth’, bred by Felix Jury) Released 1990

Athene (lennei alba x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1988

Atlas (lennei x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1989

Black Tulip (‘Vulcan’ x, bred by Mark Jury) 1998

Burgundy Star™ (liliiflora nigra x ‘Vulcan’, bred by Mark Jury) 2006

Fairy Magnolia Blush (M. laevifolia x foggii hybrid, bred by Mark Jury) 2008

Fairy Magnolia Cream (M. laevifolia x foggii hybrid, bred by Mark Jury) 2013

Fairy Magnolia white (M. laevifolia x doltsopa, bred by Mark Jury) 2013

Felix Jury (‘Atlas’ x ‘Vulcan’, bred by Mark Jury) 2000

Honey Tulip™ (‘Yellow Bird’ x ‘Iolanthe’, bred by Mark Jury) 2013

Iolanthe (lennei x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1970s

Lotus (lennei alba x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1988

Milky Way (lennei alba x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1988

Serene (liliflora x ‘Mark Jury’, bred by Felix Jury) 1970s

Vulcan™ (liliiflora hybrid x ‘Lanarth’, bred by Felix Jury) 1989

Fairy Magnolia Blush – the original stock plants, now lollipops

An award!

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I was going to head this “We Won!”. That would, of course, have been using “we” in the royal sense for I had nothing to do with developing this new cultivar, Daphne Perfume Princess – all credit belongs to Mark. But yes, the Australians do like it and it has been given the Plant of the Year Award from the Nursery and Garden Industry. It is easy to be self-deprecating, cynical even. But awards and recognition are pretty hard won and it was gratifying to receive this trophy.

We arrived home from China on March 4 to find the first buds opening on Perfume Princess in the garden. We know from previous experience that it will also have the latest season blooms of any daphne we grow. Mark is a cautious man but he is quietly confident about this plant.

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IMG_8116While on trophies, how can I not share the Dali camellia medal we brought home from the International Camellia Congress? There is no personal recognition attached to this medal. All overseas attendees were given one. This meant, of course, that we had two. As they are relatively substantial and heavy, we re-homed the second one and only carried one back.

IMG_8117Bear with, bear with on the slow reveal.

IMG_8118It is quite remarkable. And quite large.