Tag Archives: Phormium Yellow Wave

Postcards of Devon

The hunt dogs! Or hounds, I have just been informed (see reader comments below). Indubitably hounds. Out for a morning run on a Devon lane with their keepers on bicycles. Beautiful hounds, so very well trained and an interesting scene but still incomprehensible to me. English garden media personality and writer of steamy romantic novels, Alan Titchmarsh, may defend foxhunting on the grounds that it is, apparently, a traditional part of country life – country life, that is, as experienced by the toffs who cry ‘tally-ho’, not so much a traditional pursuit for the peasantry. But tradition alone is not a justification for anything, really.

It was interesting to be told elsewhere that the keeper of another pack of hounds had recently resigned because, he told my informant, he was worried by how often he was expected to break the law. Apparently, foxhunting may just have become more covert and is sometimes justified on the grounds of an upsurge in the population of foxes. Hmmm. The failure to institute other, more humane strategies of population control is a dubious justification for a savage method of hunting a terrified animal to the point of utter exhaustion and then letting it be torn apart, all for the pleasure of privileged humans who regard it as “sport”.

Lovely dogs, though.

The Devon roads can be notoriously narrow, though they are by no means alone in that. These roads can carry more traffic than the upgraded, single carriageway that passes by our place at home but there does not appear to be an uproar with loud demands that they be widened, straightened and allegedly made ‘safer’ for cars and trucks. It means drivers must be fully alert, dropping speed to meet the conditions, courteous and capable of backing up to the passing bays that are dotted along these roads. It is a very different ethos to the aggressive driving on New Zealand roads. If we were more defensive, tolerant and patient drivers, maybe our corner of the world would be a better place?

We went to south Devon to have another look at one of our all time favourite gardens – Wildside. More on this garden in a future post, but it is on the edges of Dartmoor. It rained on our day there, though fortunately it was not cold. There is a certain evocative gloom to the open moorland on a grey day with low light levels. Because I have always done my reading from across the world in New Zealand, the geographic location of different moors is hazy at best (though I think I have the heaths and heathers of Scottish moorland separated in my mind). I kept thinking of the likes of Daphne du Maurier but I see she set ‘Jamaica Inn’ on Bodmin Moor which is the next one down and Dartmoor belongs to ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’. But one can imagine this landscape with the bleak winds of winter blowing across it and it certainly has its own identity, including the roaming stock and lack of fencing.

While in the area, we headed over to see the RHS garden, Rosemoor. The original garden and accompanying land was gifted to the RHS by Lady Anne Berry, now a long-time resident of Gisborne. Lady Anne had been particularly kind to us in our earlier years so we were pleased to finally get to see Rosemoor. While the traditional rose garden left me unmoved, the rose and clematis combinations in the adjacent garden enclosure were a delight.

I make Mark pose for vanity photos beside what we call ‘Jury Plants’ as we come across them around the world. Part gentle boasting, part family record. In this case it is Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’, bred by his father Felix and one of the first generation of variegated flaxes for home gardens. He never received a cent for it (or a penny, as it would have been back then) and is rarely credited with it. It is not easy to keep good foliage on phormiums in New Zealand so Felix moved on to astelias and then clumping cordylines in his attempts to get an extended colour range into plants with this habit of growth and foliage. Eventually, this led to our Cordyline ‘Red Fountain’ but Phormium ‘Yellow Wave’ continues to hold some ground internationally.

Still at Rosemoor, the herbaceous plantings are terrific. If you are looking for a middle road between the traditional herbaceous border and the grassy new wave look of Oudolf, Stuart-Smith and New Perennials proponents, you probably end up with something closer to these Rosemoor beds and borders. Lots of vibrant colour and care with combinations, often quite tight colour toning but also lighter on plant options that need continual maintenance to keep them flowering and looking good. However, these are herbaceous plantings for large, public spaces, not so much for downscaling to the home garden. You can see more in the album on our Facebook page if you are interested.

The Jury Plants – Cordyline Red Fountain

CORDYLINE RED FOUNTAIN (syn. Festival Grass and Festival Burgundy).

A flagship Jury plant, this one, the result of many years of effort which started with two different plant genus altogether. Initially there was the work Felix did with coloured and variegated flaxes (phormium). One of the most successful plants internationally became Phormium Yellow Wave – widely grown to this day in British gardens. We have always joked that had Felix received just one cent royalty for every Yellow Wave sold, we would never have had to earn a living but back in the 1960s, there was no protection of intellectual property rights and no expectation that a breeder be rewarded financially. There were other coloured cultivars (including Misty Sunrise and Pinky) from the breeding flurry but these have not stayed in the marketplace as Yellow Wave has. However, these coloured phormiums perform better in other places than our climate with its high humidity. We struggle to keep good foliage and they look pretty tatty and badly marked by insect and rust damage along with growing too large for a small garden. So Felix moved on to the next plant genus which offered similar clumping habit and pointed leaves without being spiky.

Over 30 years ago, Felix and Mark were both fascinated by the habit and appearance of our native Astelia chathamica (often sold under a cultivar name of Silver Spear). There was little that needed improving in the pointed silver leaves of this clump forming plant, but both father and son saw the potential in trying to create a different colour-way with red foliage. So began a twenty year effort before Mark pulled the plug and decided that his red astelias were simply too difficult and too unreliable to market widely. We still have them in cultivation in the garden here and a few of the selected clone were released by us onto the market. Other seedlings found their way onto the market by devious means on the part of a third party (that is a story best kept in-house) but clearly others found the plant just as difficult to build up – and indeed to keep alive at all – because it has never been a huge commercial hit despite the demand. Sometimes breeding directions are more blind alley than interesting path and Mark reluctantly abandoned the red astelia.

Undeterred, Felix looked to the cordyline genus where he crossed two lesser known NZ forms – banksii and pumilio. In this country where Cordyline australis is by far and away the most common form around (called cabbage trees and an icon of our country), cordylines are expected to have trunks and grow several metres tall. When Mark raised the seed from this cross, there was the lucky break which came to be called Red Fountain in the first instance (but also marketed in the US as Festival Grass and Festival Burgundy).

It is clumping, rarely putting up a trunk much above 10cm with exceptionally good colouring in shiny burgundy red which lasts all year round. The narrow strappy leaves are relatively soft and fountain out around the base. In early summer, the tall, arching flower spikes are in pale lilac and highly fragrant.

Cordyline Red Fountain – one of our flagship plants here

We have been delighted at the success of this cultivar on the international market, thanks to the efforts of Anthony Tesselaar International in the capacity of our agent. Less delighted, one might say with the efforts of competitors to come in behind it with ring-ins and substitutes, some even raised from Red Fountain (how we wish they would show some originality and come up with their own ideas) but we are confident that nothing has yet appeared that is the equal of Red Fountain.

Mark has continued with the cordyline breeding, but with the market being flooded with different cordylines from other sources, many proving difficult and unreliable, he has put any further releases on hold.