The glamour girls

The Camellia is the icon of winter, unrivalled for glamour;  it is the shining star of the sleepy winter garden.

Camellia are largely known for their lush, evergreen foliage, array of colour and variety, and their stunning flowers. But I simply love them for the warm welcome they provide, as I arrive home on a chilly winter’s afternoon.

The Camellia originated, and grows naturally, in Asia, particularly  China and Japan. It has been made famous  not only for its gorgeous flowers, but also for its many uses, including making tea, oil and in cosmetics.

The Camellia has a long history, and has had a fascinating journey around the world,  travelling to England and America. It wasn’t long before it was introduced here in Australia, too. It was commonly thought that the first importation of Camellia plants occurred in February 1831, when a shipment arrived for William Macarthur. These were planted at Camden Park, NSW. However, it has now been established that a consignment (sent to Alexander Macleay of Sydney) arrived somewhat earlier (in 1826) and were planted in Sydney, at Elizabeth Bay House.

Since exportation from its home in Asia, there are approx. 300 different Camellia species and many (many) more cultivars. However, there are really only three main groups which are commonly grown in Australian gardens:

The Glamour girls:

Sasanqua

Sasanquas are audacious princesses, and are the first to flower, from mid-autumn and into mid-winter.  They generally have smaller leaves, and small- to mid-sized flowers.  Flowering is still very impressive, so don’t be put off by that description.  Sasanquas are the most versatile of the Camellias, as they are the fastest growing, and make great hedges as well as specimen shrubs.  They are also the most heat and sun tolerant.

Japonica

Japonicas are the stately queens of winter, and flower later from early winter and into early spring. They tend to be slower growers, and need protection from hot summer weather.  However, they’re worth the extra care, as their flowers are larger and more decadent than sasanquas.

Reticulata

Reticulatas are the cheer girls that dance us into spring, with buds bursting from late winter into spring.  They produce more upright growth, with larger leaves and an open habit. Flowers can be up to 15cm wide (in some varieties), and look just like big ruffled skirts!  As befits something so lovely, reticulatas do require a little more care in planting and placement than their smaller sisters.

Some of our favourites include:

Sasanqua- Setsugekka (white), Jennifer Susan (pink), Bonanza (red)

Japonica- Kramer’s Supreme (red), Buttons + Bows (small pink), Desire (pink)

Reticulata- Dr Clifford Parks (deep red), Red Crystal (red), Howard Asper (salmon pink)

Growing tips

Camellias are acid lovers, so if plants aren’t performing, check the PH level (we can check this at the nursery with a small soil sample).

Protect the shallow root zone with a thick mulch of organic matter, such as cow manure and mulch.

Encourage larger flowers by liquid feeding in autumn.

Never let Camellias dry out, especially during summer – a drip irrigation system or regular deep watering during hot, dry periods will keep them happy.

Keep a close eye on them for scale and any insects that may damage or inhibit flowering and the fresh growth come spring time. Malathion and White oil are good products to control both.

There is a Camellia for every position in every garden for every purpose. They are not difficult to grow, and are generally hardy and trouble free. With a little care, they will give many years of pleasure with their attractive evergreen foliage and beautiful floral displays.

So come in to Wingham Nursery; we have a large range of Camellias bursting with buds and flowers. Our staff can help guide you towards the right Camellia for the right area, and check your soil PH to get things growing and off to a great start.

Caitlin Sawyer

Wingham Nursery
& Florist

02 6553 4570

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