With their revolutionary line of compact, evergreen and profusely flowering Fairy Magnolia, Australian plant breeder’s agent Anthony Tesselaar and award-winning plant breeder Mark Jury from New Zealand add a special and fragrant dimension to plant borders, hedges, patios, and balconies. Launched nearly ten years ago, the Fairy Magnolia brand continues to thrive in the global nursery stock sector as it creates a magical experience for wholesale plant growers, plant buyers and gardeners alike.
Innovation is key in today’s ferocious breeders’ competition, and the global nursery stock sector is no different. Plant breeders and growers are constantly pressured to introduce new products for customers. But successful innovation does not occur overnight. In ornamental plant breeding, the ‘magic’ often happens after a myriad of crossings, trialling, and a relentless search for the perfect growth habit, hardiness level, colour, pest and a good pest and disease resistance and fragrance.
The roots of Fairy Magnolia – for example, go back to the turn of the century when plant breeder Mark Jury from Taranaki in New Zealand took a particular interest in Michelia, which until 2000 was a separate genus but was subsequently reclassified botanically as a Magnolia.
Mark Jury, aka New Zealand’s Mr Magnolia, loves the way how magnificently Magnolias express themselves in the more than 200 species in the genus that originate worldwide.
Magnolias belong to the Magnoliaceae, a family of trees and shrubs native to North and South America, the Himalayas, and East Asia. They are valued for their large, fragrant white, yellow, pink, or purple flowers and frequently handsome leaves and unusual fruits. Some are important garden ornamentals; others are local timber sources.
Magnolia plants can be evergreen or deciduous and feature smooth-margined leaves. The flowers are cup-shaped and fragrant, with three sepals, six to 12 petals arranged in two to four series, and many spirally arranged stamens.
Not all Magnolias are among Jury’s favourites. Blooming Magnolia grandiflora or Southern Magnolia, or Magnolia x soulangeana, he thinks, may well be incredible statement trees, stealing the limelight in any landscape; they also grow extremely tall and chunky, but they do not mass flower, and their leaves are so leathery they take forever to decompose. So, Jury began tapping into the potential of Michelia to bring added value to the world of Magnolias.
Back in 2000, advancements in DNA sequencing suggested that evolutionary relationships would be more accurately represented in the genus Michelia was renamed Magnolia. Both Tesselaar and Jury reckon that’s ok for botanists and taxonomists but definitely confusing for the general public.
The latter perceives a Magnolia as a large flowering deciduous tree or shrub. By contrast, Michelia is evergreen and small-flowered and something totally different. Perhaps the most significant distinction between Michelin and Magnolia is that unlike Magnolias, which have a single flower at the end of a given branch, Michelia has set flower buds down the stem at nearly every leaf axel, not just on the tips. Fairy Magnolia blooms culminate in spring, but they continue flowering for months on end, and some will have a second blooming in the summer.
The first Fairy Magnolias debuted a decade ago. There were supply constraints at this time as cuttings production resulted in more complexity than anticipated. Much progress has been made since then. Anthony Tesselaar recalls, “We then established a programme to try and get them into tissue culture. But this was not an easy process either. In fact, it took us seven years of work to finally get the Fairy Magnolia into commercial realisation to where we are now; all plants of Fairy Magnolia are multiplied through tissue culture to ensure the cleanest and quickest of stock availability.”
According to Tesselaar, Fairy Magnolias is arguably the quickest-to-grow Magnolia series available on the market today. The series includes three different colours: ‘Blush’, ‘White’, and ‘Cream’, all of which are uniform, vigorous, and very floriferous.
Tesselaar advises commercial growers to grow 2in (5cm) plug plants into an 8in (20cm) pot in summer. In four to five months (autumn), the plants will have reached 60cm in height. Next spring, the saleable plants will stand more than one metre tall when ready for shipping.
The global expansion of Fairy Magnolias has been rapid and strategic. The series is produced on nearly every continent on the planet. Master growers include Kwekerij Ronald Roos in Boskoop NL, Van Son & Koot in Kaatsheuvel NL, Kerisnel and Stervinou in France, Ball Colegrave and Fitzgerald in the UK and Ireland, Briggs Nursery and Heritage Seedlings in the USA, Humphris, Benara, Colourwise, Coolwyn and Humphris in Australia and Thirkettle, Ambrosia Nurseries Annton, and Growing Spectrum in New Zealand.
Gardeners and landscapers praise Fairy Magnolias for their versatility. The shrub can act as a stunning focal point, be clipped tightly, and makes a good green backdrop for other plants in summer. When in full bloom, it is a magnet for pollinating insects.
What’s more, with the arrival of Fairy Magnolias, hedges no longer must be boring green blocks. Leylandii, Ligustrum or Prunus hedges may provide lush green backdrops and privacy, but they also resemble austere, dull green walls that look the same all year round.
By growing Fairy Magnolias as a medium-tall hedge, the garden becomes a place of pure magic that dances alive with thousands of flowers. Even when it drops its petals, a Fairy Magnolia hedge continues to create a sense of wonder as it covers the ground in a snow of blooms. When planting Fairy Magnolia hedges, plants should be spaced a little under a metre apart along the trench — water well and weekly for the next few weeks.
Trim as needed to restrict or re-shape growth from spring to mid-summer to give the hedge a formal look: leave it alone for a loose natural look (which is also zero maintenance). Tesselaar says, “Fairy Magnolias thrive in full sun through to part shade and, in Australia, reach a height of four metres if you leave them alone. In our trial gardens in Australia, we give them a small cut after flowering each year, which helps them branch out and fill in.”
The news of the moment is that Tesselaar and Jury are working on new colours and a dwarf Fairy Magnolia, about half the size of the current three varieties, which would be a stunning feature in the smaller garden. Trialling is still a work in progress, with the pair anticipating the compact version’s launch within three years.
Fairy Magnolia® at a Glance
• Masses of fragrant flower clusters
• Bushy growth habit of growing 9-12 ft high and 5-7 ft
wide over 5- 7 years
• Attractive russet-coloured buds
• Evergreen foliage
• Ideal as a specimen plant, either in the ground or a
• Great for hedges and privacy
• Plant 3 ft apart as a hedge
• Moderate moisture levels
• Full sun to partial shade
• Hardy in USDA Zone 7b – 11
• Available in three colours: ‘Blush’, ‘White’ and ‘Cream’