When the garden is in need of a vivid splash of colour when little else is in bloom...send in the Camellias! Not only are they an essential part of the spring scene, Camellias are among the most loved of all flowering shrubs and trees, no garden is complete without them. Their bold evergreen foliage is key for giving form and structure, but it is their attractive, large, elegant flowers that will add the 'WOW' factor.
Where do they come from?
The first recorded Camellia in this country was grown by Lord Petre at Thorndon Hall in Essex in the 1730s, and we know it was thriving and flowering by 1745. The first named varieties to attract public interest were C. japonica 'Alba Plena' and 'Variegata', both of which were brought to England in 1792 on an East India Company ship.
The beginning of the 20th Century saw interest in Camellias decline, mainly because the C. japonica and C. reticulata varieties cling onto their flowers even when they start to fade, making them look like used tissue. The only way to deal with this is to dead-head each bloom by hand - the extra work seemed to decrease their popularity for a time.
They soon came back into fashion again in the early 1920s when John Charles Williams crossed C. saluenensis with an unnamed form of C. japonica, resulting in the Camellia x williamsii. The main advantage this has over its parents is that it sheds its flowers as they fade and is also noticeably hardier than the japonica Camellias. The C. williamsii varieties have smaller leaves so are generally better able to cope with more exposed positions. These hybrids also flower early and long.
One of the best known of these original crosses is Camellia x williamsii 'Donation' – an exceptionally long-flowering Camellia that produces large, semi-double, soft pink flowers among glossy, bright green leaves.
Which one should I get?
Our Camellia x williamsii favourites are:
‘Anticipation' ‘Bowen Bryant’
‘Debbie’ ‘Jury’s Yellow’
If you prefer Camellia japonoica varieties then our favourites are:
‘Comte de Gomor’ ‘Guilio Nuccio’
‘Lady Campbell’ ‘Nuccio’s Pearl’
Where should I plant them?
Camellias look great in the mixed border, woodland gardens or in patio containers provided their cultural requirements are met. Generally speaking, Camellias do best in an acidic soil with a pH between 5.4 and 6.5 and they like soil with a loose, open structure, so add plenty of compost before planting to allow the right balance between water retention and free drainage.
They are happiest in a semi-shaded position with a westerly or sheltered northerly aspect. It is important to avoid south or east facing positions because the flowers may be spoilt by the early morning sun that inevitably follows a clear, freezing night. Bear in mind that they will not tolerate an exposed windy position or a soil which tends to become waterlogged in wet weather. The light dappled shade provided by trees and other shrubs is ideal as long as there is sufficient moisture at the roots.
Although they need acid soil, they are easy to grow in containers of ericaceous (acidic) potting compost.
How do I care for them?
To keep your plants in tip top condition, they must have plenty of water in their growing season, from April to October and feed them regularly with a balanced fertiliser. We recommend Miracle-Gro Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron Plant Food.
Watch out for…
1) Sooty Mould – a black fungus, on the upper surface of the leaves. Although unsightly it rarely damages the plant and is the result of a sticky excrement (honeydew). Dropped by an aphid crawling on the underside of the leaf. The mould then grows on the honeydew rather than the leaf itself. Believe it or not the best medicine for this is to wash the leaves with soap and warm water.
2) Petal blight – this gives the petals a rusty appearance, and the whole flower turns brown, dies and falls to the ground, and a fruiting body can form at the base of the petals. It can lay dormant for a long time in the ground before growing into a small mushroom, which will explode in spring and send its spores a vast distance. Avoid the fruiting body forming by gather up fallen blooms as they fall before burning them.
Did you know?
…Tea oil made from camellia seeds is a popular and essential cooking oil for millions of people, especially those that live in southern China
…Sacramento, California is nicknamed the Camellia City
…The Camellia is Alabama’s state flower
…Camellia represents adoration, devotion and loveliness
…Camellia leaves have been used in Asian traditional herbal medicine