Tag Archives: NZ plant breeders

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

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A Tale of Two Plants

For the latest update, check out “A Case of the Emperor’s New Clothes?

How we have been ground down by opportunism and bureaucracy
Cordyline Red Fountain - CopyCordyline-BurgundyCan you tell the difference between these two plants? No? That is hardly a surprise to us and we should be experts because one of them is our own Cordyline Red Fountain.

The growing trials - can you pick the difference?

The growing trials – can you pick the difference?

Red Fountain was the lucky result of a sustained breeding programme spanning decades by both the late Felix Jury and Mark Jury. When it was first released, it was unique. There were no other clumping cordylines with rich burgundy leaves which arch outwards. We applied for, and received, the equivalent of a patent (Plant Variety Rights in NZ and Plant Breeders Rights internationally) first in New Zealand and subsequently in Australia, USA, Europe, South Africa, the UK and Canada. This means that nobody is allowed to propagate the plant for sale except under licence and provides the opportunity for a return to the breeder.

Father - Felix Jury (d.1997)  in a patch of Cordyline Red Fountain

Father – Felix Jury (d.1997) in a patch of Cordyline Red Fountain

When Malcolm Woolmore of Lyndale Nurseries/Kiwi Flora in Auckland released a look-a-like plant, we were intensely irritated. This is a man who loudly proclaims that he supports NZ plant breeders – but not, apparently, breeders who are not his own clients. He didn’t mind attempting to compete at home and internationally with us, using a plant which few, if any, can tell apart. He named it Cordyline Burgundy while ours is marketed on the major USA market as Cordyline Festival Burgundy (ref footnote 1). The similarity in names did not seem a coincidence.

and son - Mark Jury with Cordyline Red Fountain

and son – Mark Jury with Cordyline Red Fountain

When he applied for Plant Variety Rights here and overseas, we were confident that our interests would be protected. After all, the legislation specifies that a plant must be distinctively different (ref footnote 2) to be able to be patented and his had no distinctive differences that we could see, nor indeed anybody else to whom we showed his plant.

In this country, plant variety rights are decided by the Deputy Commissioner of the NZ PVR Office, a very small division of the new super Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. When we started to suspect that the Deputy Commissioner was determined to find differences between Red Fountain and the ring-in, we began to ask for a blind test. That is where plants of both varieties of the same size and age and in the same pots are mixed up and a group of suitable people are asked to separate them into the two varieties. That, we thought, was a fair test – they were either alike or able to be accurately differentiated. Our requests were ultimately ignored.

Growing trials (pictured above, photo 3) were carried out at an independent location. Apparently, none of the professionals or staff who looked after these growing trials could pick any difference between the two varieties.

In due course, the Deputy Commissioner, Mr Chris Barnaby, ruled that Cordyline Roma 06 (marketed as Cordyline Burgundy) was distinctively different and he awarded it PVR. This was based on the trial and examination by measurement of 8 leaves of Red Fountain and 8 leaves of Roma 06. Apparently when you get out the tape measure, the pedicel on Roma 06 is a little shorter, when measured over 8 leaves. The pedicel is the narrowing at the base of the leaf where it grows from the central stem. There is no difference in colour, shape or growth habit.

In the Examination Report it is even admitted that when the 16 leaves were mixed up, the examiners could not tell them apart. In other words, no customer is ever going to be able to tell the plants apart and precious few growers or plantspeople will either but the Deputy Commissioner was not going to let that stop him from granting equal rights to this identical looking variety.

We were stunned by this decision.

Our agents, Anthony Tesselaar Plants, immediately lodged an appeal on our behalf, reiterating earlier requests for a blind test and questioning the sample size for the assessment (eight leaves only of each). It became clear that despite having made the original decision, the review was also to be carried out by the same individual, Mr Barnaby. Both our agents and we contacted Mr Barnaby’s superior, the Commissioner, to table our concerns at the lack of independence in the review process and to ask for a blind test. It took a long time and, we assume, a question from the Minister’s office before the Commissioner replied saying nothing of note and declining to get involved.

We went to see our local Member of Parliament, Jonathan Young who appeared to grasp the issues quickly. He raised the matter with the Minister, but all that happened was that we received a reply couched in such bureaucratese that we burst out laughing. “Yes Minister” style, probably emanating from the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner. It satisfied our MP but not us.

Side by side at the garden centre. Is the customer likely to see any difference?

Side by side at the garden centre. Is the customer likely to see any difference?

The Deputy Commissioner completely ignored repeated requests for a blind test and ruled in favour of his earlier decision. No surprises there. To rule any other way would be to admit that he had made a mistake earlier, or that the comparison testing wasn’t adequate and that did not seem likely.

All that is left would be to take the matter to court – us vs the Government of New Zealand. We do not see that as an option. We lack their budget and the costs could well exceed the royalty returns even if the court ruled in our favour.

We no longer have any confidence in the Plant Variety Rights system in this country. Clearly all PVR has become is a rather expensive marketing tool controlled by a querulous individual in government employment. The only reason to continue with existing PVRs we hold is to honour contractual agreements already in place. It has become clear it offers no protection at all to existing intellectual property rights.

We have been disappointed at the willingness of Malcolm Woolmore, through his company Kiwi Flora, to take advantage of years of plant breeding and years of establishing a new plant in the international marketplace by releasing a copy product. He claims to have repeated the original cross (banksii x pumilio). For technical reasons of which only a few are aware, we doubt it. To us, it looks as if it is just a seedling from our Red Fountain.

Notes:
1) The marketing name of Cordyline Festival Burgundy for USA was to avoid confusion with an existing plant – Pennisetum Purple Fountain.
2) Distinctive differences, for the purposes of a plant patent, include specified minimal distances between key genetic characteristics.

For the record, in the photos at the top, Cordyline Red Fountain is to the left, Cordyline Burgundy to the right. In the photo below, Cordyline Burgundy (also known as Roma 06) is at the front and Red Fountain is at the back.

Postscript Sunday 27 January
I fully expected Malcolm Woolmore to come out swinging. In fact I would probably have been disappointed had he not, forever wondering whether he had read the piece above. I cut and paste the section from his February eBrief received today, Sunday 27 January because the link to his site appears to be faulty, taking you instead to his December eBrief. I have no desire to enter debate with Mr Woolmore so my only comment is that I will leave it up to readers to decide. Go and have a look at the two plants side by side in your local garden centre.

A One Sided Tale of Two Plants
Read Abbie Jury’s blog or Google Chris Barnaby, Cordyline Burgundy, Malcolm Woolmore, Lyndale Nurseries and heaps of other words and you will read a one sided story titled ‘A Tale of Two Plants’.
Mrs Jury does not seem to share UPOVS (International Union for the Protection of new Varieties of plants) respect for the Deputy Commissioner of the NZ PVR Office, Chris Barnaby. Chris, a past Chairman of UPOV, has been maligned and misunderstood in an attack that some might consider libellous.
I will not comment further, as Mrs Jury, I believe, says more than enough for most to question whether her story is complete and unbiased.
Suffice to say, that the intention to grant Australian Plant Breeders Rights for Cordyline ROMA 06 or Cordyline ‘Burgundy’ was published last year, after independently being assessed and found to be distinct.
That is, in addition to the decision made in New Zealand.
For the record, Cordyline ‘Burgundy’ has resulted from a collaborative breeding programme established between Robert Harrison of Greenhill’s Propagation Nursery (Vic. Australia) and Lyndale.
It is one of four plants selected, of which you will hear more about at least two. (One of which is dwarf). Cordyline ‘Burgundy’ is represented overseas by Kiwiflora.
Our breeding program did not take decades, but it did involve the application of embryo rescue and other technology.
(More on this when others cultivars are released).
Kind regards
Malcolm & The Lyndale Team”