Tag Archives: Quaker Mason pink magnolia campbellii

New Year New Zealand style – Matariki

Opening right on cue with Matariki and the winter solstice, Magnolia campbellii var campbellii, albeit against a leaden, wintry sky

The winter solstice this year is this coming Tuesday, 21 June. On Wednesday, we can wake in the knowledge that we are past the shortest day of the year. The days will grow longer again, imperceptibly at first but the cumulative effect means we will start to notice soon enough.

Next Friday, on June 24 we celebrate Matariki with a public holiday for the first time. Matariki marks the rising of the Pleiades star formation and the new moon which means that traditionally it covers a longer period but it has been narrowed to the one special day on the calendar of public holidays. It is the Maori new year and it is a source of awe to me that in pre-European settlement days, Maori determined the commencement of a new year which closely corresponds with the seasonality of the European new year with its arbitrary date of January 1.

For me, Matariki is synonymous with the flowering of the campbelliis and the start of a new year of gardening

I regard Matariki as a marker in time which is relevant to our country in a way that the northern new year and Queen’s Birthday are not. Because I am not a fan of winter, the declaration of hope that the year is changing and spring is just around the corner lifts my spirits. And my spirits certainly need lifting in the current run of unrelenting leaden skies punctuated by rain.

The Powderham Street campbelliis have a lovely location beside the Huatoki Stream and can be viewed from the road above so the dominant view is looking down or at least across at eye level

On the first cold day of winter here this week – the first day that has seen me needing to wear a coat – I went to town. And yes, right on cue, the campbellii magnolias are indeed in bloom. These are the pink Quaker Mason form of M. campbellii var campbellii which is the most widely grown selection around here. I photograph and write about them every year and I am not at all sure that I have anything new add but the emotional response I have to seeing these magnificent trees coming into bloom on or near the darkest day of the year never dims.

As usual, the three trees on Powderham Street in New Plymouth by the Huatoki Stream have a fair number of blooms already open although they won’t be at their peak until mid July.

The last gasp of autumn – the golden Ginkgo biloba to the left of the church…
and the promise of spring with Magnolia campbellii to the right.

I think the tree in the grounds of St John the Baptist Church is Waitara is matching it for open blooms. All these trees are in sheltered positions, very close to the coast and, being urban, surrounded by large amounts of concrete and tarseal which warm the areas they are planted. I like the juxtaposition of the gingko to the left of the church in its golden raiment and the magnolia to the right opening to its pink glory. Autumn meets spring in the churchyard of Waitara.

The promise of much to come on our tree of M. campbellii

Our tree in the park is always later. We are about 5km inland and our tree is in a colder position and that can make a difference of ten days or more to the blooming. But we have the first few blooms showing colour although not yet fully open, with the promise of many more to come.

I managed to line up one of the first blooms just opening on our tree with a rare patch of blue this week

Spring is just around the corner.

The flower to the left is an immature Stenocarpus bloom. When fully open, it has long clusters of red stamens as seen just above

Unrelated, but picked up in our park, I like decayed leaf skeletons. In this case I think it is a leaf from Magnolia insignis, formerly Manglietia insignis. The curious pin-wheel item beside it is an immature flower from the Stenocarpus, probably sinuatus, or Queensland Firewheel Tree.  To be honest, our specimen of this tree is so tall and the flowers are so high up that we largely notice them only as the fallen red stamens on the leaf litter below. They are sometimes used as street trees in warmer areas both in their homeland of Australia and California and, when pruned and shaped and in a warmer climate, the flowering appears to be showier than here. I assume this flower head was blown off the tree before it could open fully. How amazing is that structure of the flower cluster?

A day in the life of the magnolia and te maunga

I rushed out at 7.40am on Monday because the day had dawned sunny, clear and calm and I thought the mountain should be in view. We only have one really good view from the garden and at this time of the year, Magnolia campbellii is in bloom in our park. It being just past mid winter here and the subject being a mountain, it is more often shrouded in cloud. We are inclined to get apologetic about this in Taranaki but I remember driving round the South Island with our son some years ago. We never once saw the Southern Alps and that was down the east coast and up the west coast in January. Mountains attract cloud which is all the more reason to celebrate the winter view when it is revealed.

This is 15 minutes later at 7.55am when the sun has risen. It is Mount Taranaki, more commonly referred to by locals simply as the mountain, or te maunga in Maori (or indeed, te mounga in the local dialect). Or maybe the brother of the more famous Fuji. (I still have Barbara Trapido’s ‘Brother of the More Famous Jack’ in my bookcase). It is an active volcanic cone standing in splendid isolation surrounded by a ring plain and bounded by the coast for maybe 200°  of its circumference.

Thirty five minutes later at 8.30am and this is as clear as we can ever see it. With bonus bird. Te maunga is somewhere between 35 and 40 km away from us, the magnolia is in our park so these shots are right at the limit of my camera zoom and my ability to get both the tree and the peak in relatively equal focus.

By 10 am, the cloud is starting to roll in on the lower slopes.

At 10.45 am I expected to lose the sight within the next few minutes.

But it was still visible at 11.50 am and looking as beautiful as I have ever seen it. I have not used any filters or enhancements on these photos.

But gone from view by mid afternoon. I liked the Facebook comment that the mountain is always shining; it is just the rain (and cloud) that gets in the way of us seeing it. The magnolia is the unusual pink form of M. campbellii known as the Quaker Mason form. Because this was put into circulation so early in this country, we tend to regard pink as the dominant colour in the campbelliis but white is far more common in the wild and therefore in cultivation internationally. I have written about this M. campbellii in earlier posts. It is always the first magnolia to bloom for us each season and is really only suited to milder climates where those early blooms will not get taken out by frosts.

While we struggle here at times with the unacceptably high impact of the fossil fuel industry (Tikorangi Gaslands, anyone?), it is scenes like the magnolia and te maunga that keep us anchored to this piece of land both physically and spiritually.

Our pink Magnolia campbellii

Quaker Mason, the magnolia and our maunga


The magnolia and the maunga from our garden in Tikorangi

In the heart of wintry July, M. campbellii is the first magnolia to open and promises the delight of a new spring. At least, that is when our tree blooms. All the tarseal and concrete in the central city of New Plymouth lifts the temperature and the cluster of trees in the Huatoki Reserve by Powderham Street open their first flowers in June, before they have even shed all their autumn foliage.

For the past two Julys, I have spent more time than I should have taking photos of our tree against the snow-capped peak of Mount Taranaki. The magnolia and the maunga, I call the series. There is a distance of maybe 40 km or so between the two so this is right at the limits of both the zoom on my camera and my technical skills but I keep trying for the perfect image without having to resort to cheating with filters and the computer.

M. campbellii in the grounds of the Church of St John Baptist in Waitara

When I look at my photo file on campbellii, I have a series of trees framed against backgrounds – one in our local town of Waitara against the spire of the Church of St John the Baptist, a specimen at Tupare garden with the backdrop of the rushing Waiwhakaiho River, the aforementioned Powderham Street specimens against a carpark building, even one on Mount Baotai, framed by Chinese roof lines. I think what drives me is the effort to capture the spirit of over the top, gorgeous flowers appearing in a winter landscape.

Quaker Mason form

Magnolia campbellii is one of the oldest varieties in New Zealand. It dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century and was sold commercially by Duncan and Davies as early as 1915. Before you rush out to buy one, you need to be aware that this species can take many years before it sets flower buds and ultimately grows into a very large tree. Its early season blooming also makes it vulnerable to frost damage in cooler parts of the country. If you are only going to plant one magnolia, maybe look to one of the more recent hybrids, although M. campbellii itself belongs in any collection. Our specimen here was one of the first trees planted in our park by Mark’s father, Felix, in the early 1950s.

The pink campbellii is the most common in Taranaki where the majority are the particularly good ‘Quaker-Mason form’. It is traced back to Thomas Mason (commonly referred to as Quaker Mason, on account of him being a Quaker), a prominent Wellington horticulturist who arrived as a new settler in 1841 and had a huge influence through until the end the century. But the pink that we take as the norm here, is in fact not at all common in the wild where most campbelliis are white. Apparently our pink originated in Darjeeling – an area better known for its tea in India’s north east.

M. campbellii on Mount Baotai in south west China, with Chinese powerlines

Overall, M. campbellii has a wide natural distribution. It grows from eastern Nepal, across Sikkim and Assam into south western China and down to northern Burma. We were thrilled to see a plant on Mount Baotai in China last year, even though its pale pink blooms showed it to be a pretty average form of the species. We couldn’t tell if it was naturally occurring or had been moved into its current position, as the modern Chinese are wont to do.

The white form at Tupare

We don’t have a white M. campbellii in our garden so I had to head to Tupare Garden in New Plymouth to photograph their mature specimen that dates back to the late 1940s or early 50s. The blooms have a curious green flush at the juvenile stage but the tree is not a strong growing, distinctive form. It is not a patch on all the pink Quaker-Mason specimens around but there will be other white forms available in New Zealand.

These are all Magnolia campbellii var. campbellii. The other popular form of the same species, known as Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata, originates from areas further to the east and flowers several weeks later. Our fine specimen of purple ‘Lanarth’ (or Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’, to be pedantic) will not flower until halfway into August.

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


The pink campbellii at Tupare with the rushing river beyond

Two footnotes:

The word maunga means mountain in the Maori language. In Taranaki, where the presence of our beautiful maunga (Mount Taranaki) is a defining element for all who live here, the word maunga is often used in preference to the English word.

The blue skies are indeed genuine. We have a clarity and intensity of light here all year round, even in mid winter. Though it must be said that not every day in winter has blue skies!