Friday, January 7, 2011

Camellias - The Stars of Winter

Our house came with a few mature camellias. They are all planted in a semi-enclosed courtyard leading to our front door, mostly in morning and afternoon shade with some hot intense sun in the middle of the day. They all do well there except for one whose roots are severely constrained by the path and probably fry in the summer. One of the camellias was mottled (hot pink and white) with some variegation in the leaves too. It was not vigorous, the branches were weak and not well foliated. I thought the mottling might have been caused by a virus and got rid of it. All of mine are camellia japonica, and since I was not the one who planted them I am not certain about exact names (although I could probably guess at a few).

This one is my favorite camellia (maybe c. japonica Elegans Champagne).

It is a mid-season camellia with anemone-type blooms.

It has the biggest blooms of all my camellias (they are 5" across on average) and is a very profuse bloomer.

It is planted right by the front door and is the first thing I see when I step outside. This gorgeous plant brightens up my winters.

This is another one of my favorites.

I love this shade of pink, and it reminds me of scoops of strawberry ice cream.

This is a peony-type bloom form which shows its stamens when fully open.

For me, this camellia is a lesson in the virtue of patience. It was cut down to a single trunk barely 4' tall before the house was sold to us. I am not sure why it was done, perhaps to make the painting of the outside of the house easier. I have read that camellias do not recover well from hard pruning, and wanted to get rid of it entirely.  However, I had too much to do at first, and forgot about it. The first year it spent as a stick with about 10 leaves. The second year it grew tiny branches (not a lot). It didn't bloom at all. I still planned to get rid of it but couldn't find the time. In its third year it finally produced three blooms, and I fell in love. It still looks pretty bad as a shrub

but the blooms are so gorgeous, and there are a lot more of them this year! And I might have cut it down and missed all this beauty.... I will be patient from now on. I will probably prune it as a tree eventually, but for now I think it needs all its leaves, and I have left it alone just trimming the longest branches a little.

This one is a formal double camellia (could be c. japonica Nuccio's Gem). It has pure white petals and does not show stamens. I find I am not attracted to formal blooms as much because they somehow do not look real to me.

Still, it is a profuse bloomer, and has very dark green leaves which set off the blooms very well. Mine is still a tiny shrub.

The last one is another formal double camellia, but pink. It has beautiful form

and the color darkens slightly toward the outside of the bloom.

This is the plant that gets the most sun. I am really bothered by the yellow leaves.

It could be a nutrient deficiency, of course, but I doubt it. I have tried small doses of chelated iron and nitrogen (I found that full-strength applications can easily burn the leaves) but it didn't seem to make any difference. One of my neighbors has a camellia in the front yard which is in full sun (in consequence of a big cedar falling down in a bad winter storm) and its leaves are just as yellow...

My camellias last a few days in a vase if cut as a branch. I have not tried floating blooms in a bowl. None of my camellias are fragrant, a pity in such a gorgeous plant, but last year I planted Kramer's Supreme (a red peony-type camellia) which is lightly fragrant to me.  Mine is a very young plant and I have been taking the buds off because the blooms are too heavy for the tiny branches.

One day (and in a bigger garden) I would love to try some species camellias (especially those with yellow blooms which are not found in garden cultivars) and the tea plants (camellia sinensis) from which tea is made in China. But for now, I am very happy with what I have!


  1. Masha, Camellia sasanqua varieties tolerate sun here, and they start blooming in November. Some of them are truly amazing. I wish I had more room...and money. Yours are really luscious.

  2. Thank you, Sherry. I am aware of sasanquas being more sun-tolerant, but I was told at a nursery that they still like only morning sun. Also, the japonica I write about is a big mature plant, and I feel sorry to dig it up. The leaves are a nuisance though because they are so prominent....

    I also wish I had more room and money:-)


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