I would like to make it clear that I do not grow or supply plants or propagation material. I am simply a Camellia enthusiast writing about Camellias. I may be able to advise about availability in the UK but I do not know what is available elsewhere.
I wrote an article on pruning camellias two years ago in this post. I’m not sure that in writing a new article I’m saying anything much that’s new, but I have added more detail about some aspects and it now feels more complete. There is also new functionality on the WordPress blog which I wanted to take advantage of for before and after comparisons.
The advice in most of my books seems to be a variation on regular pruning being unnecessary for Camellias with a rider that if they get too big they can be cut back severely. I wouldn’t say that either of these is untrue but it does lack detail and for anyone growing Camellias in a confined space some regular pruning will almost certainly be needed. I have been growing camellias in Cornwall for many years and for various reasons have found myself carrying out a lot more pruning of them than one might be led to expect.
In setting out what I have done and what has resulted from it, it is important to realise that Camellias will grow differently in different conditions and that it is a very large group of plants not all of which will have the same growth pattern and which will not all respond in the same way to a particular pruning method.
How Camellias grow.
A “typical” deciduous shrub, Spiraea for example, has a suckering habit. It has multiple stems from ground level and each year, if in good health, will produce several more. The new shoots grow quickly to the height of the shrub, with little, if any branching. In their second year they produce laterals on which the flowers are carried. The following year sub-laterals are produced and carry the flowers. Under the weight of increasing twigginess and flowering, the branches arch over and the new growth, which is fairly upright, comes up through the middle of the bush. Pruning consists of taking a proportion of the oldest, twiggiest, least flowery shoots each year. The plant is constantly renewing itself and even without pruning, the oldest branches will die off and be replaced by new ones.
Camellias do not renew themselves in this way. Like “typical” trees, they usually have a single stem at ground level and produce extension growth over their entire surface each year. This extension of the existing shoots may be as little as a couple of centimetres or as much as 60-80cms. Growth typically happens in two phases. In spring the buds break and produce a shoot between 5 and 15cm in length. Each dormant shoot may grow just from the terminal bud or from the terminal plus one to four or five lateral buds. This phase of growth is complete by May or June and is often all that is produced in the whole growing season. If that is the case, flower buds will usually form at the apices of both the terminal and lateral shoots. Alternatively, the terminal bud will break again in July or August and make further growth, usually a good deal longer than the earlier growth. This may happen across the bush, on a limited number of shoots at the top of the bush, or not at all. It makes the difference between the plant putting on 5-15cm in the season, or 65-85cm. Because this growth is produced quite late in the year, it rarely produces flower buds.
In the images below the early 2019 growth flush is marked in red, the late flush in blue. Some of the less vigorous laterals have flower buds, some not. The apical buds have made much longer second flush growths, none of which have flower buds. Only the early flush growth from 2018 and 2017 remains as the second flush growth was all pruned off in the autumn of the year it was produced.
By this I refer to the pruning required to get the plant off to a shapely start in life. Nurseries aim for a bushy, well budded plant as this is what they believe their customers want. To this end the first flush growth is pinched to encourage several second flush growths rather than one. This makes for a stocky, sturdy plant with several low branches. Planted out as a free standing plant, this will make it easy to maintain a foliage canopy right to the ground. My own preference is to allow the bush to develop more naturally so that it has a single stem for the lowest foot or so, branching naturally, i.e. not too densely, above this. In this case the first flush growth is not pinched but allowed to break naturally. In both cases the second flush growth will be shortened or removed completely as it will be unnaturally long if, as is usual, the young plant is growing under cover.
Once planted out, the rate of growth will be slower, but depending on the variety and how you want the plant to develop, removal of some or all of the second flush growth will likely carry on for a year or two at least.
If the space available is small, it is folly to plant a variety that will outgrow it in just a few years. If the bush has to be pruned to keep it at a fraction of its natural size, it will be at the expense of flowers and there will eventually be little point in having it at all. There are some smaller growing varieties, a few with a narrow upright habit and a few that keep quite low and grow sideways. The vast majority of readily available varieties however, will want to grow to a height of at least 3-5m with a width only a little less. If space permits, the plant can be left to develop on its own without any pruning and this is likely to give you the best flower displays.
If control over growth rate is required, the first and easiest option is to remove the second flush growth entirely. By August or September it is easy to distinguish flower buds from vegetative buds, the flower buds being much fatter. The purely vegetative growth can be removed from autumn onwards, so long as it is left late enough for their to be no risk of encouraging renewed growth. I have removed this type of growth from mid September on without any problems. There is the additional benefit that the flower buds are not now hidden beneath new growth so that in spring, when they open, they will be seen to best effect.
In the images below I have shown two possible pruning options but while you probably would chose to keep all the flower buds, how much or how little you prune off above them is entirely optional. Removing all the non-flowering shoots leaves the flower buds on top of the bush where they will be seen to best effect. Whether, as in summer pruning of fruit trees, removal of all the vegetative growth reduces the overall vigour of the plant, promoting flowering, or alternatively, is quite rigorous pruning that may encourage strong growth the following season, I don’t know. I believe other factors have a much greater influence on the plant’s response.
By this means, growth is restricted to the length of the first flush growth, usually 5-15cm a year, but it is not stopped altogether and the bush will still get larger. In the following sequence of shots, taken after autumn pruning to remove the second flush growth, you can see that this vigorous growing bush of Camellia ‘Debbie’ has made about an extra 15cm height each year.
It may be that even at this controlled rate of growth, the bush gets as big as you want it to be and you wish to keep it at around the same height indefinitely. To do so, an additional pruning operation is required. In spring, as the last flowers fade but before new growth starts (a window that not all varieties provide) more growth is removed.
The aim is to keep the bush looking as natural as possible; to remove as much growth as required but to not be able to see where it has been removed from. This is a job I do every two or three years, meaning I need to remove two or three years worth of growth to maintain the size of the bush. I track the shoots that form the extremities of the bush back into the bush, to a well furnished sideshoot, then cut the main shoot just above the sideshoot. Repeat this over the entire bush and the overall outline will shrink but still look reasonably natural. It doesn’t have to be done with great precision but you do need to know exactly what you are about to remove before you make the cut. I find it works best if I don’t overthink it, but I’m aware that’s easy for me to say.
You can easily end up removing quite a lot of growth from the bush and the more you remove, the greater is likely to be the impact on flower bud production later in the year. It may also encourage more second flush growth but that is simply removed later in the year.
Removing second flush growth inevitably leads to a denser bush, with more shoots produced on a bush that is not increasing much in size. Thinning out the growth can make for a more pleasing appearance, especially on a plant that has a clear trunk and something of a tree habit. The method is the same as for reducing the size but with the focus on the densest areas of the canopy rather than the tallest shoots. Don’t get carried away, removing a third of the canopy is as much as should be done at one time. It is also the case that a very dense canopy of foliage will shade out leafy growth inside the bush, leaving nothing green to cut back to if you want to reduce the size of the bush. Reducing the density of the canopy lets more light through to the ground below, perhaps opening up possibilities for growing shade lovers beneath the bush.
In the sequence below I reduce my Camellia ‘Bob Hope’ by 30-40cm. I start by visualizing where I want it’s outline to be and what currently is beyond that. I cut out longer shoots, hiding the cuts within the new outline of the bush. You can see the length of the shoots and the beginnings of new growth in the pile of prunings. Two years on, it has put back on what was removed and is covered in flower buds. I will probably prune it again this year or may leave it for one more year.
Not so regular pruning.
If you plant camellias in significant numbers and allow less than four metres or so between them, then leave them to grow without intervention, you will eventually end up with a spooky dwarf woodland, very dark, with smooth sinuous trunks supporting an unbroken canopy of evergreen foliage. Dead leaves and flowers will often accumulate in the foliage canopy, making it denser still, and it may be that a fine flower display is produced above it each year but you won’t know, because you won’t be able to see any of it. If only this were an exaggeration, or even a rarity; sadly it is not.
In an ideal world, such a situation would not arise but we don’t live in an ideal world. Once this point is reached, or preferably a lot sooner, rather more drastic pruning is required. Fortunately, Camellias usually respond remarkably well to harsh pruning, but it would be untrue to say there are no risks involved.
Before carrying out severe pruning on a camellia it is as well to have a pretty clear idea of what the response will be and what you want to end up with. If the bush is twice as high as you want it and you remove half its height, the very first growth it makes takes it back above the height you want. In most circumstances it is better to err on the side of cutting too much off rather than too little.
When cut through their main branches, Camellias respond by long dormant buds growing out to replace what has been removed. Almost always, the vast majority of regrowth will be within 30cm of where you made the cut. Growth is often vigorous, predominantly vertical and you can expect 6 shoots or more to grow from every cut branch. In good growing conditions you will get two flushes of growth a year and 60-90cm increase in height. If conditions permit, that vigorous growth can be repeated for several years, taking the bush back to its original height in around five years. The exact response seems to depend heavily on the growing conditions the plant gets in the years following pruning. In drier, sunnier locations, there may not be enough moisture available by midsummer for the plant to make a second flush of growth. The short early flush growth gets a chance to produce flower buds instead and the desired end of a smaller, but free flowering bush is achieved. If moisture is available the bush may soon be back to the size it was before pruning, but with growth much denser than before and with minimal flower production.
You may choose to prune the bushes down to 50-100cm so that the regrowth is at viewing height. If deer are a problem, they may feast on the regrowth, so pruning should be higher, aiming to produce regrowth beyond their reach. There is also a slightly increased risk of killing the bush with more severe pruning. The biggest drawback with this mode of pruning is that the regrowth is often so strong that in around five years the plant is back to the size it was before and often only just beginning to flower freely again.
This type of severe pruning is usually carried out immediately after flowering and before new growth commences. From the point of view of the plant’s response, it would best be done between mid February and mid March irrespective of flowering but the difference it makes is probably not very significant. By June or July new shoots will be pushing through the bark, concentrated in the 15-30cms behind the cut end. There are likely to be many shoots, all around the branch and by seasons end there may be up to 30cm of new growth.
Essentially you now have the choice of letting the plant grow back unchecked or adopting one of the strategies described earlier to keep the plant’s size in check. If you decide to try to keep the plant under control, you need to manage the very strong growth that is likely to occur following hard pruning. The response can vary a great deal, you may get dense masses of short, early season shoots and no late season extension growth or you may get metre long shoots with hardly a pause between first and second flush. What you do next depends on how the plant has behaved. Dense clusters of shoots should be thinned out, removing half to two thirds completely, cutting as neatly as the bunched shoots allow. The following year there will probably be the usual pattern of two flushes of growth. Much or all of the second flush growth can be removed in the following winter and further thinning can be carried out at any time. Thinning should be targeted at the densest clumps of shoots. It may be easier to remove whole branches with all their new growth in some instances, especially if the branch system is congested following earlier hard pruning treatment.
Some varieties will produce new shoots all along the branches but most will have them heavily concentrated near the cut branch ends. New growth around the sides of the bush is likely to be sparse compared to that at the top. Shoots arising from well down the main branches can be left to furnish the lower parts of the bush or removed to create a clean limbed, tree-like effect.
Very occasionally the bush will respond by producing no new growth and dying. Sometimes parts will make regrowth and other parts will die. Sometimes there will be strong re-growth only for it to wither during the winter and the whole branch or bush to die. Even when this happens it is as well to cut off the dead wood but not rush to dig out the roots as a proportion of apparently dead plants will rise, phoenix like, by producing new shoots from below ground. In my experience regrowth followed by winter dieback or death is only likely in cold, wet situations such as north facing slopes under trees and even then affects only a small minority of bushes.
In a large collection, it may be available time that dictates how plants are managed. To carefully thin and reduce a plant every two or three years may take 30-45 minutes per plant, requiring skilled labour to do it. Hard pruning can be done in ten minutes per bush using unskilled operatives and not need repeating for a decade. In the latter situation it is unlikely that there will be any follow up to the “hatrack” pruning, the bushes being left to grow unchecked until it becomes necessary to repeat the process.
Another factor is the scale of the planting and the size of the plants within it. In my small garden 2m is as tall as I want to allow most of my camellias to grow. That does mean that regular pruning is required but it also means that the entire bush is within reach of my secateurs from the ground. In a larger scale planting, 2m is the point at which the plants start to look in scale with their surroundings and 3-4m tall bushes may be the norm. Even on flat ground working from step ladders on a bush 3m wide is challenging. On a slope it is almost impossible and quite hazardous. I have a telescopic pruner which makes it possible to prune 3m bushes provided they have something of a taper in to the top, rather than being very rounded. Second flush growth can be fairly quickly pruned off, any time between mid September and spring. Accuracy of cutting isn’t critical but working from the ground can lead to a stiff neck and bright sun can be very unhelpful.
Managing a collection becomes a matter of deciding how each of the plants is going to be managed, trying to avoid pruning where possible, keeping it simple and ground based and spread it over as wide a time period as is compatible with the needs of the plants and other tasks that must be carried out. Received wisdom is that Camellia reticulata responds much less well to hard pruning than do the other more widely grown groups, so these should be planted where they can be left to grow naturally. Certainly bushes in poor health are likely to respond poorly, it is not a reliable method of rejuvenation and likely to fail if the reasons for the plant being in poor health are not identified and addressed.
The following images will hopefully give you a clearer idea of what the likely response to severe pruning will be. There is no certainty about it but it may help you to get where you want to be in a shorter time.
Finally, by way of saying keep your eye on the prize, five camellias in my own small garden, where keeping things within bounds is essential, photographed five minutes ago. All have been pruned to a greater or lesser degree, I don’t want them all looking the same and I certainly don’t want them to look like topiary. I do want them to flower well and I do want them to look at home in a fairly informal garden.
Most visitors to Mt Edgcumbe will start at the top of the collection and work their way down. This will take them along the level path known as the Earl’s Drive, along both sides of which are planted camellias. One of the most prominent of these, in section 5A, not quite at the path edge but with nothing in front of it to spoil the view, is a large bush that every year is smothered in striking red flowers blotched heavily with white. It has no label on it and I have not produced one for it because I don’t know what it is.
On the original hand written plan for the area it is shown as Masayoshi/Donckelarri Improved, as in the picture above. According to the Camellia Register the two names refer to the same cultivar. In the version of the Register that I have there is a long entry discussing the numerous versions of the spelling of Doncklaerii but search the online version and it goes straight to ‘Masayoshi’ and though it directs you to the entry for ‘Doncklaerii’ for more information, I haven’t managed to find it. All I get when I search for ‘Donckelaerii’ is seedlings and sports. ‘Donckelaerii Improved’ doesn’t seem to come up anywhere.
It is in the entry for ‘Doncklaeri’ that various sports are listed: ‘Eugene Bolen’, ‘Ville de Nantes’ and ‘Lady Kay’. The latter two produced ‘Ville de Nantes Red’ and ‘Lady Kay Red’. The sports are not listed under the entry for ‘Masayoshi’.
In its own entry ‘Eugene Bolen’ is described as a solid red form of ‘Donckelaerii'(Masyoshi). The entry for ‘Ville de Nantes’ doesn’t say how it originated but lists ‘Ville de Nants Red’ as a self red sport, ‘Lady Kay’ as a peony form mutation and ‘Lady Kay Red’ as her self red form.
Down in the Amphitheatre in section 3C is another plant identified as ‘Masayoshi’, somewhat buried in rather close planting. This does have a label and also has white blotched red flowers. It is however clearly quite different from the 5A plant. The flowers are smaller and brighter red and the foliage is glossier and significantly narrower. It was planted much later than the 5A plant in 2002 though for neither is a source given in the collection records.
There are plants of ‘Eugene Bolen’ and ‘Ville de Nantes Red’ elsewhere in the collection and I have compared both with these and with pictures in books and online. I am satisfied that the 3C plant is the correct one, which leaves me without a name for the 5A plant.
Which is where it all gets interesting. The older plants in section 5A are amongst the first to be have been planted in the early years of the collection, probably in the early 1980’s. While there appears to be no record of where they came from they are thought to have been donated as cuttings from notable collections such as Windsor Great Park and Wisley. Wisley do seem to have quite a few of the same old and fairly obscure varieties that are amomng the early Mt Edgcumbe plantings. They have, on Battlestone Hill, a fine bush labelled ‘Masayoshi’, which I have photographs of, which is, I believe, the same as the incorrectly identified 5A plant.
I was recently sent some samples from the Wisley plant, so I was able to compare the foliage side by side with the Mt Edgcumbe plant. Taking account of the fact that the Mt Edgcumbe plant was hard pruned in 2019 and is making particularly strong regrowth, plus the fact that it is, in Cornwall, growing in a much higher rainfall area than Wisley, I am fairly sure that the two are the same. Neither is flowering at present, but photographs show the flowers to be a good match. Even if there is doubt about it being the same as the Mt Edgcumbe 5A plant, there is no room for doubt that it is every bit as distinct from the Mt Edgcumbe 3C plant which I believe is ‘Masayoshi’.
My question is, what is it?
This first set of pictures is of the Mt Edgcumbe plant that I’m trying to identify.
The second set of images is of the Mt Edgcumbe plant of ‘Masayoshi’ which I believe is correctly identified.
The third set of images is of the Wisley plant labelled ‘Masayoshi’, which I believe to be the same as the unidentified Mt Edgcumbe plant.
Plant Heritage is the organisation that oversees the business of National Collections and as part of that they provide an online database system onto which collection holders can put the records of their collection. It’s called Persephone. Their earlier database system was called Demeter. Cultured lot, Plant Heritage.
As far as the Mt Edgcumbe collection is concerned, I have taken over the record keeping for the collection as part of my volunteer input. It is very time consuming and the park staff simply do not have the time to devote to it. What makes it especially valuable is that if my involvement with the collection stops, all the work on the collection records that I have done is available for whoever comes along.
As of today, there are 1747 records in the database. 1641 are live plants the identity of which is known with a measure of confidence. 96 are live plants where the name appears to be wrong but which I have not so far succeeded in identifying with confidence. These are flagged as excluded. There are a few on either side of the line which could be moved the other way, these things are seldom clear cut. A further 10 records are of plants that have died in the last few years, while I have been doing the records.
The database is currently recognising 909 taxa, the 1641 live plants includes many single specimen varieties and some with multiple specimens. In theory there should be two of each taxa but quite where they would go and who would look after them is a big unknown. Most of the excluded 96 are one offs, so there would be around 1000 varieties in the collection if they could be identified.
For each accession there is a basic data set that should be included. The name, accession number, date planted, source. Additional information can be put in to existing database fields and extra fields can be added if they are required. I have been adding photographs of flowers and in some cases foliage for every variety for which I have them. GPS coordinates have been collected for about half the collection.
It is a work in progress and always will be. I like to keep taking pictures year after year of the same varieties; it highlights how different they can be from one year to the next. I am constantly revisiting the varieties excluded because they are unidentified, trying different angles to pin down what they are.
It’s an excellent rainy day job and we’ve not been short of rainy days this winter. I have completed 35 sections out of 43, so I’m hoping to get it wrapped up before the main flowering season kicks of in 2021. I’m hoping not to have last year’s restrictions on access to contend with this spring; I have very long lists of things to check, photos to take, labels to replace and much else besides.
Let me give one example of a question I am trying to answer.
There are three plants in the collection of C. japonica ‘Twiss Cornwall’. One was a plant I gave them, the cuttings for which will have come from one of the Mt Edgcumbe plants. The source for one is given in the records as “Garden House, Buckland Monochorum 1980/1988”; for the other it is “Champernowne 1998”. Champernowne is a wholesale nursery also in Buckland Monochorum. It seems likely they share a common ancestor. I have spoken to the proprietor of Champernowne Nursery and he doesn’t recall ever having the variety so the source information may be wrong.
‘Twiss Cornwall’ doesn’t have much of an entry in the Camellia Register. It reads thus:
“Twiss Cornwall. (C.japonica) Woodward, L., 1987, International Camellia Journal, No.19, p.77. No description. Originated in England. No valid listing located.”
Now Les Woodward was the collection curator at Mt Edgcumbe prior to 1990 and the article referred to here was little more than a list of the camellias in the collection, so it gets me no further forward. However, I realised last spring that ‘Twiss Cornwall’ appears to be identical to the variety ‘Saturnia’, represented by three plants in the collection. I have no particular reason to doubt the authenticity of the plants of ‘Saturnia’ so it seems likely that ‘Twiss Cornwall’ is no more than a synonym for ‘Saturnia’. It’s easy to imagine someone in Cornwall by the name of Twiss sending cuttings of their excellent but unidentified red camellia to someone else, who labelled it “Twiss, Cornwall” for want of anything better.
What adds a little twist to it is that there is a good sized plant on Battlestone Hill at Wisley labelled ‘Twiss Cornwall’, for which their records show no origin.
It doesn’t really matter how the name ‘Twiss Cornwall’ came to be if I can be certain that it is in fact no more than an erroneous moniker for ‘Saturnia’ but it would be interesting to know. I may yet get the chance to tell Mr Twiss what his camellia really is.
It being sasanqua season, which always seems particularly fleeting, I have been looking again at plants that appear to be wrongly labelled in an attempt to identify them correctly.
In Area 10 at Mount Edgcumbe there is a plant labelled C. oleifera and another labelled C. sasanqua ‘Fukuzutsumi’. Both have been flowering for a couple of weeks and I have been comparing them very closely. As far as I can tell they are identical.
The flowers are pure white, just occasionally having a touch of pink on the outside of the bud. They are 8-10 cms. across, initially cupped but opening out almost flat. They have the usual sasanqua scent, quite strongly.
C. oleifera is a very widely grown species in China, cultivated for oil production and may be expected to be variable. However, in Collected Species of the genus Camellia its flowers are said to be 5.5-7cm across and too small for the plant to have much ornamental value.
C. sasanqua ‘Fukuzutsumi’ is a name that has been applied to more than one variety; the Camellia Register lists three. There is a white single, a red and white single and a red semi-double. The only entry with any reference to the plant outside of Japan is the red and white one, a view supported by pictures in Macaboy’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia and 1001 camellias in Nantes and Brittany. There are also images on Camellia.pics. All show a single flower, white at the centre and grading to pink at the edges.
Having concluded it seemed unlikely that the Mt Edgcumbe plants were either C. oleifera or C. sasanqua ‘Fukuzutsumi’, I posted the pictures above on the Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group Facebook page and I am grateful to Dan Everard for steering me towards C. sasanqua ‘Fragrans’.
It seems likely that both the Mt Edgcumbe plants were obtained from reputable nurseries who were selling them in the belief that they were what they said they were. They may still be doing so. I now have another name to attach to this variety but what does it take to be certain that it is the right one? The Register entry for C. sasanqua ‘Fragrans’ is not especially enlightening: “of graceful, erect habit, bearing ovate-lanceolate leaves and fragrant, white flowers which have a neat cluster of golden stamens”. That could apply to quite a few varieties. There is nothing about its origins. It was shown by Lt. Col. L. Messel of Nymans in 1938 so there may be an “original” plant still there.
Going back to Dan Everard’s pictures on Facebook at least one was of a young plant at Nymans. That strikes me as a basis for a fair degree of confidence in the identification. It is certainly a great deal more likely to be right than the two names I have at present.
As well as the flowers matching well, it has a rather distinctive leaf, a bit shorter and broader than many of its kin. It’s the foliage at least as much as the flowers that I am looking at when comparing plants. There is a second plant at Mt Edgcumbe labelled C. ‘Fukuzutsumi’ which was badly damaged by a tree falling on it a year ago. It has no flowers, but the similarity of the foliage leaves little room for doubt that it is the same variety as well.
I wonder where the Nymans plant came from. Did they raise it there? It seems unlikely; more likely it came from Japan and was given the name here. Is it grown in other countries under a different name?
Unconnected with Mt Edgcumbe the variety C. sasanqua ‘Cotton Candy’ came across my radar this week accompanied by a big question mark about identity. Back in my nursery days I had bought liners of this in 1996. They came from Liners New Zealand along with ‘Fairy Wand’ and ‘Jean Claris’. I had no reason to doubt the accuracy of their naming and the internet had barely started so checking on it would have been much more difficult. A couple of the original batch of 25 were planted at the nursery as stock plants and many more cuttings taken in later years. As it turns out, all were ‘Plantation Pink’. To anyone who bought ‘Plantation Pink’, wrongly labelled ‘Cotton Candy’, I apologise.
Let me end on a positive. Every year without fail I am amazed anew when Camellia ‘Show Girl’ comes into bloom. The autumn/winter camellias in the main have medium sized or small flowers, as often as not singles. Their impact largely comes from the lack of any competition at this time of year. ‘Show Girl’ is different. I measured two blooms at 14.5cms across, nearly 6 inches. It would be a large flower among the bigger spring bloomers.
This plant grows in an opening surrounded by trees. It is shaded from direct sun but the sky above is blue. My camera, set to daylight, sees it as mauve. One day I will take a picture of something white beside it and correct the white balance but most of the camellias are in similar conditions and your eyes get used to it.
I have managed to resume my volunteer days at Mt Edgcumbe on a weekly basis for the past few weeks and have been focussing on planting. The park has a small nursery area where they have been growing on small plants that they obtained a few years ago and last autumn I brought some of the more needy ones home to nurture through this growing season with a view to planting them this autumn. Along with a few obtained elsewhere, it has turned into quite a good year for adding to the collection.
This is what has been planted so far this year, some in the spring, most in the last three weeks.
Dr Clifford Parks
Dark of the Moon
Sasanqua Alba Plena
Sasanqua Variegata x 2
Souvenir de Claude Brivet x 2
It seems like a respectable list to me. Sixteen are new taxa for the collection, the others provide a duplicate for varieties with only one plant previously.
The ground in the park is astonishly poor and it really amazes me how well most of the Camellias planted over the years are doing. In almost every hole I’ve hit numerous pieces of rock and in several cases the rock is solid before I’ve gone a spade’s depth. In most places there is a layer of organic material derived from fallen leaves and other vegetation and I can only think that the camellias root into this and the top few inches of soil.
I have a dozen or so still to go, which will hopefully get planted in the next two weeks. Partly because the soil is so thin, drying out in summer is a serious threat and getting water to new plants is no easy matter. Winter, on the other hand, is no threat; the place barely gets frost at all and most areas are too steep for water to collect. Autumn planting will hopefully give the new plants a chance to get their roots down, or out, before the summer stress starts.
One of the new additions to the function of WordPress blogs that I am finding a use for is image compare. Here is a before and after of Camellia ‘Debbie’ from my garden, showing how I pruned it recently. I pruned it hard back about three years ago as it was top heavy and falling over. It responded by making a lot of extension growth with very few flower buds. It has now started to bud up more freely but there is still a lot of growth without flowers that I wanted to remove.
When camellias are growing strongly, they will make two flushes of growth in a year. The first flush is short, 3-6 inches long typically, and it is this flush that should produce flower buds. On a strong growing bush, a young plant perhaps, or one that has been hard pruned, the apical bud on each shoot will rest for a few weeks then grow away again. As you can see from ‘Debbie’, these shoots can be two feet long or more.
The side shoots have in many cases formed flower buds but these are going to be obscured by the growth above them come spring.
By September the flower buds are very obvious, as are the shoots that are not going to have any flowers. It is late enough in the season for pruning not to be followed by more growth, so in I went with my secateurs, cutting back all the later, non flowering growth. Generally I cut just above a lateral that is carrying flower buds and as you can see, it is not obvious that the bush has been pruned. I could have done this at any time during the dormant season But my thinking is that by removing it early it might diminish the vigour of the bush a little, favouring flower rather than growth, in the same way as summer pruning apples favours fruit.
Many Camellias will only produce the first flush and will bud freely on lateral and apical shoots. As a result they will be growing far less quickly. In dry summers secondary growth may be absent from almost all plants.
I have been up to Mt Edgcumbe only a handful of times since mid March. It just didn’t seem to be the right thing to do, whether or not it would have been legitimate under the lockdown rules.
Yesterday I spent the morning up there, wandering round the collection to take stock of how things were looking. Of particular concern were the small number of plants added to the collection over the 2019/20 winter. They’d had to endure an exceptionally wet February and then an exceptionally hot and dry May, it seemed unlikely that they would be thriving.
I needn’t have worried. There had been one casualty, Camellia sinensis ‘Benibana-cha’, but that was no surprise. It had been dug from the ground where its roots were entwined with a seedling birch growing only inches away and it hadn’t lifted well.
The rest were fine, which was quite surprising and pleasing in the case of one or two plants that had been lifted from open ground at quite a large size, cut back fairly brutally and transported stuffed into the back of my small car the 30 odd miles up to Mount Edgcumbe. Let’s have a look at what I was able to add to the collection.
Camellia ‘Yoimachi’ went into Area 10, the species section, in mid November. It was a good sized bush, at least 4 feet tall and quite bushy, with flower buds already on it. I feared losing the flowers but in the event it performed magnificently, flowering in January and the first half of February. It is now making new growth so seems to be settling in satisfactorily.
Camellia japonica ‘Sugar Babe’ went in to Area 1A at the end of January. There have long been two plants labelled as ‘Sugar Babe’ in Area 1L in the Amphitheatre. They are not, they are in fact ‘Wilamina’, doubly unfortunate in that there are also two correctly labelled plants of Wilamina also in Area 1L, and trebly unfortunate in that I may very well be responsible for the error, having been in the employ of the nursery that supplied all four plants.
The new addition is correct and a quite different character from ‘Wilamina’. It is a slow growing, very compact bush which did manage to produce one or two of its miniature red flowers in mid March, photographed on my final pre-lockdown visit. It is just now trying to make some new growth so it seems it was hard hit by the dry weather in May, it is in an open position, but looks like it will survive. It may well be a few years until it flowers again.
Camellia sasanqua ‘Early Pearly’ is at the back of Area 1J and settling in nicely. I assume it is deer that seem unable to resist a tied on label, this one is chewed but still readable, most have been chewed off. The plant seems uneaten. Another sasanqua, ‘Paradise Venessa’, was planted in Area 4C where it is doing well. This is a second plant of the variety, there being a much bigger plant in Area 10.
Camellia sasanqua ‘Souvenir de Claude Brivet’ is a French raised variety with single flowers which may be all pink, all white or bicolored with random sections or strips of colour. It is at the front of Area 5A, a new addition to an old section where almost all the very large bushes were hard pruned last year.
More planting was done in the Australia & New Zealand Area 4E. Camellia japonica ‘Odoratissima’ was a plant I had growing in my garden that I wanted rid of. Only one of the two plants in the collection that are labelled ‘Odoratissima’ is correct so this adds a duplicate of that one. ‘Gay Baby’ is a complex hybrid raised by Oz Blumhardt in New Zealand which should have semi-double deep pink flowers. ‘Cloud Nine’ was planted from a pot in the park’s nursery where it had been grown on for a few years. It is a japonica variety that arose as a sport of C. japonica ‘Ecclefield’ in New Zealand. It must be on one of the deer tracks as it has been browsed a little. Hopefully they will lose interest.
On 10th February I planted Camellia ‘Lammertsii’ in Area 1K. A section of felled tree had rolled down the bank and taken the variety ‘Lemon Drop’ off at the base. It may yet regrow but so far there is no sign of it. I planted a 5-6ft specimen of ‘Lammertsii’ to replace it. I hoped that since it was at the bottom of a steep slope that it would receive moisture more reliably than in some other places and it looks now as if that was right. It seems to have survived its move quite well and is making new growth. Another new variety for the collection, this is the first cross made between C. japonica and C. cuspidata, originated by Dr Lammerts, California, in 1957.
Some years ago I raised a lot of seedlings from seed collected from the collection’s plant of C. reticulate ‘Mary Williams’. I selected three that seemed to have potential and planted one in my own garden. The other two were in pots and needed to go somewhere so I gave them back to the park. One, named but unregistered, as ‘Serendipity’, is in Area 2C with other English varieties and is settling in well but seems to have attracted a large ants nest into its root ball.
The other, which in a moment combining rare wit and immodesty, I named ‘Yojimbo’, is down in the main reticulate section, Area 7. It has flowered in the past but didn’t this year, however it is seems to have settled in very well and has made good growth.
Another plant that is surviving against the odds is C. reticulate ‘Curtain Call’ in Area 10. It was seriously damaged by careless strimming three or four years ago, completely ring barking it. When I first noticed it, I didn’t think it would survive for long and I resigned myself to losing the plant. It had other ideas and not only survived but started to spread callus tissue out from above and below the wound in an attempt to repair the damage. This winter I thought it might help to bridge the wound with a graft, which I did. It failed though and the callus has not quite joined up. The plant is still just alive, the callus grows more slowly each year but the gap is now very narrow. Will it make it in time?
Another survivor against the odds is a bush of C. japonica ‘Bokuhan’ in Area 3C, the Japanese section that suffered catastrophic damage when a mature Nothofagus dombeyi fell into it two years ago. The tree lay where it fell, on top of several plants, until it was decided that rather than cut it into small enough pieces to carry out, they would get a big machine and drag it out. One of the plants that had been damaged when the tree fell, but not destroyed, was C. japonica ‘Bokuhan’. It didn’t fare so well with the tree removal crew and ended up as a decapitated stump a foot tall. I found the label and couldn’t even find the plant the first time I looked. The park rangers evidently thought it had gone too as they planted a Magnolia about three feet away. The camellia is shooting and will most likely make a full recovery in time.
Some of the other plants damaged by the falling tree will need to be pruned back severely too. A couple are flat to the ground but shooting from the base so I will cut away the horizontal parts in due course. The capacity of Camellias to recover is truly extraordinary, though I would prefer not to have it tested quite so often.
That would be a good point to finish but I cannot resist putting in a picture of a Camellia that was still flowering yesterday, the 6th July. I have grown this in full sun and it flowers freely in usual camellia season, so in the right climate it may well be a good performer. In shade here it is singularly reluctant to open its buds, many of which remain tightly closed until they drop. It has exceptionally glossy foliage and might almost be worth growing for that alone. It’s Camellia japonica ‘Forrest Green’.
For several weeks I have been putting the records of the Mt. Edgcumbe camellia collection onto the online database system that Plant Heritage use. It has meant I have been revisiting issues that came up when I first became involved with the collection but had set aside because I was getting nowhere.
I was putting in the data for Area 1L this morning and came across the two plants of Camellia ‘Empire Rose’. The plant labels both say Camellia hybrid ‘Empire Rose’ but I’ve always thought of it as a japonica. Both flower and leaf seem more consistent with it being a japonica than anything else. Entering the record involves checking with the RHS database to see if the name is on there and if so, whether it is the same as I have it for the collection accession. I checked and found ‘Empire Rose’ given as a x williamsii variety.
Back to the Register I went, to see if its parentage was given, which it was, as C. japonica ‘Kimberley’ x C. x williamsii ‘Rendezvous’. I looked up ‘Rendezvous’ to find it was a hybrid of C. x williamsii ‘Joyful Bells’ and C. japonica ‘Australis’. On then to ‘Joyful Bells’, which is C. saluenensis x C. japonica ‘Fuyajo’. So while ‘Empire Rose’ has in its parentage both saluenensis and japonica, and nothing else, making it a legitimate x williamsii hybrid, the saluenensis fraction is one eighth, to seven eighths japonica.
It seems to me slightly ridiculous that it still qualifies as a x williamsii and if ‘Empire Rose’ was back crossed with japonica for another couple of generations, with the progeny then having only 1/32nd saluenensis in their blood, it would seem totally ridiculous.
Also in Area 1L is a plant labelled Camellia japonica ‘Cinderella’. It has flowers of two sorts, fimbriated and not fimbriated, but both in a plain light scarlet colour.
The fimbriated version is ‘Fred Sander’ and the simpler bloom belongs to ‘Lady de Saumerez’. ‘Fred Sander’ is a sport from ‘Lady de Saumerez’ and is quite unstable so reversion is not unusual. Interestingly, the extra tissue in the flowers of ‘Fred Sander’ means that the buds are larger and show colour much earlier than the buds of ‘Lady de Saumerez’, but then seem reluctant to open, doing so well after ‘Lady de Saumerez’.
‘Cinderella’ is a sport of ‘Fred Sander’ which has bicolored flowers, another unstable characteristic, so it readily sports bicolored but non fimbriated flowers or solid coloured fimbriated flowers. This is what it should look like.
Two sports of ‘Cinderalla’ have been named, ‘Robert Strauss’ and ‘Raspberry Ice’. In ‘Robert Strauss’ the fimbriation is gone and the pink and white have become the body and the edge of the petals respectively. ‘Raspberry Ice’ is said to be very similar.
‘Lady de Saumerez’ is a solid pink sport of ‘Tricolor’, an old Japanese variety brought to Europe in 1829 by Dr Frans von Siebold. The Japanese name for it is ‘Ezo-nishiki’. It has also produced a fimbriated sport directly, without ‘Lady de Saumerez’ as an intermediary, which is called ‘Dainty’ (California). Like ‘Cinderella’ it’s blooms are bicolored and fimbriated, but the petals are not twisted and crumpled as they are in ‘Cinderalla’. It is just as unstable and produces a mix of fimbriated and non fimbriated blooms most of which are red striped on a white ground, with some solid red and pure white flowers thrown in.
There are other names on the family tree, some of them variegated by dint of virus infection like ‘Lady MacKinnon’ as distinct from the genetic variegation of ‘Tricolor’ and all the bicolors mentioned here. The whole tribe though is a product of mutations rather than reproduction through seed. The genetics underpinning stripey flowers is intriguing and I cannot pretend to really understand it. If you want to know more you need to look up “jumping genes” or transposable elements, and check out the Nobel Prize winning cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock. Fascinating stuff.
One of the wrongly named plants that had been exercising me recently is a bush in the oldest of the European sections that is labelled Duchesse Decazes. There are actually three plants in this section, 5A, with that name and two are currently in flower. One appears to be correct and looks like this.
The other one is very different and clearly wrong, in that it doesn’t match any of the descriptions or pictures that I’ve been able to find of ‘Duchess Decazes’. They’re a tricky lot, these old bicolors. They have nearly all given rise to small families of sports, so my first thought was whether it was a mutation, but it’s a solid, clear red and that seemed unlikely.
Yesterday I was in an American section and came across ‘Firebird’ in flower. It seemed unlikely that a fairly modern American variety would have become confused with an old European but the similarity was there and they were flowering at the same time. I cut a shoot of ‘Firebird’ and took it along to compare minutely with the putative ‘Duchesse Decazes’. In this picture the flower on the right is from ‘Firebird’ and the two on the left from the supposed ‘Duchesse Decazes’. Not ‘Duchesse Decazes’ any more. I could find no significant differences in either flowers or foliage so I believe that’s another error resolved.
In the same section is a plant labelled ‘Bonomiana’ which, when the whole section was being hard pruned in spring 2019 I asked to be spared as it had not flowered since its last hair cut and I hadn’t had an opportunity to verify it’s identity. Yesterday I spotted a few blooms opening. It appears to be identical to two plants elsewhere that are labelled ‘Tricolor Sieboldii’, a name that is a synonym for ‘Tricolor’ and which makes no sense whatever. It also appears to be identical to one in the English section 2A which is labelled ‘Alba Plena’. Unhelpfully there is another Camellia in 2A labelled ‘Alba Plena’ but it is clearly not the same.
There are quite a number of formal double white varieties around so I’m not optimistic about pinning this one down but it does have a few notable characteristics. The flowers are quite small, 7-8 cm across at most. They shatter very readily, more than once I tried to manipulate a flower into a better position for taking its picture only to have it disintegrate in a shower of petals. The growth habit is dense and very upright, the more so on young or heavily pruned plants. As far as the Mt Edgcumbe collection goes, it is the first formal double white to be flowering.
I was pleased to find flowers out on a couple of recent additions to the collection. ‘Dream Girl’ completes the trio of Girls raised by Howard Asper from sasanqua x reticulata crosses. It will be interesting to compare the performance of the three varieties in similar conditions.
The other one is a seedling I raised some years ago from open pollinated seed collected from C. reticulata ‘Mary Williams’. Most of the progeny were singles like the parent but a few produced semi-double flowers. The bloom has only just opened and will get bigger; the colour is a fairly fierce pink. When I first saw a flower on it I fancied there was the influence of something other than C. reticulata in it, presumably that pollen had been carried in from elsewhere, there being nothing in the immediate vicinity flowering at the same time. ‘Serendipity’ seemed an appropriate working name. I’ll give it a year or two to really get established before making a decision on whether to register it.
The Presentation Area was the first part of the collection to be planted and is the last part to receive my attention. It was planted, or at least started, on 7th April 1976, so it will soon be 44 years old. I don’t have a definitive list of what was planted initially but the impression I get is that almost all of the plants there now are originals.
I didn’t have a plan of the area so have drawn a new one which I will put in the page for the section in due course. It is in the formal gardens, backing onto the recently created apiary. It is not a big area, being roughly 30m long by 5m wide, and contains 67 plants. That works out at an average of 1.5m spacing, which must have seemed quite adequate at the time but looks very crowded now.
It later transpired that they had homed in on almost the only outcrop of limestone in the county of Cornwall on which to locate the planting, perhaps accounting for the modest growth the plants have made. It is perhaps surprising that they have done as well as they have and have survived so long.
The planting was done as part of the International Camellia Society’s conference program in 1976 and in his write-up of this part of it in the ICS bulletin of November 1976, Robin Miller has this to say:
“We attended the ceremonial plantings, a pleasantly international affair with spades wielded by Milton Brown from the U.S.A., Monsieur Andre Baumann from France, Lady Mount Edgcumbe, William Kemp for the Middle Georgia Camellia Society, Les Jury from
New Zealand, the Chairman of Cornwall County Council and the Joint Park
Committee, the deputy Lord Mayor of Plymouth and, most appropriately of all, by
David Trehane himself, planting one of a group of Camellia ‘E. G. Waterhouse'”
In a further piece in the same publication, David Trehane adds:
“Lady Mount Edgcumbe planted ‘Inspiration’ (the planting being her idea!); the
Chairman of the Parks Committee planted’ Anticipation’ (for obvious reasons); the
Deputy Lord Mayor chose ‘Plymouth Beauty’; the Chairman of the Cornwall County
Council a ‘J. C. Williams’; Milton Brown (U .S.A.) a ‘Little Lavender’; Bill Kemp (for
the American and the Middle Georgia Camellia Societies) a row of ‘Brigadoon’; and
Les Jury (New Zealand) a ‘Grand Jury’.”
There’s a grainy black and white photograph showing a number of white haired gentlemen in smart attire, wielding shiny stainless steel spades to plant what look to be good sized camellias in full flower. 1976 suddenly seems a very long time ago. I remember it well enough for the hot summer and drought, a portent of things to come, though we didn’t realise that at the time.
Some of the plants have engraved labels, some have pencil written tie-on labels, some have no labels. My first task is to verify the accuracy of the labelled plants and to try to identify the rest. This will entail frequent visits through the flowering season, taking photographs and checking the identity against the name. As an overall picture emerges I shall put a set of pictures on the section page.
There are two reasons I have put off tackling this section; firstly, it is a long way away from the main collection and secondly, if I’m honest, the varieties in it are not very interesting. Most are early x williamsii varieties, nice enough but in hindsight, way too many similar varieties were named. ‘Donation’ (1941) and ‘Anticipation’ (1962) would have represented a foretaste of how much more potential the meeting of japonica and saluenensis had.