A new addition.

Yoimachi-1
A few days ago I found myself reading a 1982 article by Dr Clifford Parks about hybrids of Camellia sasanqua. I was looking up the background to C. ‘Snow Flurry’, an Ackerman cross with C. oleifera, one he was to repeat many times.

Perhaps the most interesting cross that Parks mentioned was one he made himself with Camellia fraterna, the other parent being C. sasanqua ‘Narumigata’. He had named it ‘Yoi Machi’ and described it as “a fine textured shrub with very delicate flowers”. It seems to have become ‘Yoimachi’ in the Camellia register.

Yoimachi-3
It reminded me that I knew where there was one growing, and effectively abandoned. I am very pleased to say that it is abandoned no more, having today been dug up and transported to Mt Edgcumbe where it has been planted in the species section, Area 10.
The pictures above are of it in its previous quarters in February 2017.

Yoimachi-2

A good proportion of the plants in Area 10 are forms of Camellia sasanqua or the closely related C. hiemalis. There are around 20 mostly large bushes flowering there right now and looking ethereally beautiful in the low light of autumn.

sasanquas-4

Top row: ‘Paradise Hilda’, ‘Plantation Pink’, ‘Sparkling Burgundy’.
Middle Row: sport of ‘Hugh Evans’, Paradise Glow’, ‘Rainbow’.
Bottom Row: ‘Hugh Evans’, ‘Navajo’, ‘Dazzler’.

Propagation by cuttings.

Introduction.
Almost all the camellia cuttings I have ever taken have been done between late July and late August. In my nursery days the big groups of plants we propagated were camellias, fuchsias and conifers. The Camellias were taken in summer and were rooted by mid winter when they were weaned off and replaced by conifers. The conifers were moved on in early spring to be replaced by Fuchsias. As it happens, the camellias could have been taken in autumn/winter with similar results but the conifers wouldn’t have succeeded in summer.

At a guess, most people reading this won’t have a mist system and I think it may be easier to take camellia cuttings in autumn/winter without one. Apart from the timing, everything else remains the same.

There are several methods available for propagating camellias but the overwhelming majority of those on sale in the UK will have been raised from cuttings. Cuttings provide a reasonably inexpensive and quick way to produce a saleable plant for the nursery or garden centre. Furthermore, the plants will usually be true to type and resemble their parents in all characteristics.

In principle, we take advantage of the plant’s ability to regrow missing parts, in this case a root system, by taking a shoot and providing it with an environment that is conducive to it surviving in good condition long enough for new roots to develop. The principle is very simple; in practice it is more complicated as there are many variables involved and getting each of them right will increase your success rate in terms of percentage take and quality of end result.

Cutting material.
Cuttings are taken from shoots of the current season that have finished growing and firmed up. The bark will probably have turned from green to brown. This may be available from late June to the end of August, depending on the season and the variety. Different varieties of camellias start into growth at different times from March into May. Typically they will make new shoots all over the plant of around 75-100mm in length. Poorly growing plants may only produce shoots of 25mm or less; strong growers may reach 150mm or more. Since we are aiming for cuttings around 75mm long, it is often the case that the shoot can be cut at the base of the current season’s growth. Where the shoots are longer than this, the cutting may be taken below a leaf, at a node. It is still the terminal 75mm or so that is used. Where growth has been very poor, very short cuttings may succeed, again taken at the base of the current season’s growth. Making a longer cutting by using some of the previous year’s growth is unlikely to succeed.

Cuttings can be taken later in the year, up until November. The same material is used but flower buds will likely have formed and should be removed. The shoot will have hardened up and will as a result take a little longer to root. If further growth has been made after August it is unlikely to be suitable for cuttings, being too soft, too long and with long internodes. I did a batch of 90 cuttings in late February 2019 and had 62 (69%) rooted and potted up by autumn. Most of the rest are still alive and may still root.

Care must be taken that at no stage does the material dry out. Ideally collect cuttings early in the day, placing them into plastic bags which have been wetted in advance. Keep them in shade. Write a label at the time of collection and be sure it remains with the batch of cuttings at all times.

Cutting-1
Camellia shoot from which cutting to be prepared.
a) Point at which cutting removed from bush.
b) Cut made here to produce cutting approx 75cm long.
c) Alternative cut position if shoot were longer.
d) This leaf removed.
e) This leaf probably kept under mist, otherwise removed.
f) Flower buds at early stage of development.
e) Vegetative buds.

Preparing cuttings.
Lower leaves are removed, leaving two or three leaves for most varieties, up to five for small leaved forms. Leaves are best left intact so as not to encourage disease. A clean cut is made with a sharp knife either just below a leaf or at the base of the shoot.
It is widespread practice to wound the cutting by cutting the bark off one side of the cutting for about 1-1.5 cm at the base.

Cutting-2
Prepared cutting with wound at base. One or two more leaves could be removed.

The use of hormone rooting treatment is likely to produce a better root system on the cutting but won’t make something root that doesn’t have the capacity to do so. Professional growers usually use IBA, Indol butyric acid, whereas growers relying on retail products will find most products contain NAA, napthylacetic acid. Powder, liquid, gel and tablet formulations may be found. Cuttings should not be dipped into the main container: as much as needed should be tipped into a smaller container and any surplus discarded. Dry products will last for several years if kept dry, uncontaminated, air tight and cool.

Cutting-4
Cell tray with 20 cuttings in Sylvagrow compost.

Once treated, the cuttings are stuck into trays of compost. Cell trays have the advantage of less root disturbance when potting the rooted cuttings up but the volume of compost available to each cutting is very small and drying out can be a problem, especially at the edge of benches or with bigger or leafier cuttings. I have found coir compost to produce good results under a mist system, it generally remaining moist from the mist without becoming waterlogged. Currently I am using Melcourt Sylvagrow compost and getting good results. Many substrates are used, with each grower having found something that works for them. Thus various mixtures of peat, bark chips, perlite and various other ingredients will all work provide that they provide support for the cutting and have a suitable balance between water retention and good aeration.

Cuttings should be stuck only deep enough to hold them vertical. Most root growth is from the basal 10mm of the cutting and strongly downwards. If the cuttings are stuck too deep or the rooting medium is too shallow, the rooting zone may be very limited.

Cutting-3
Rooted cuttings showing root growth downward only from cutting base.

Rooting environment.
In a commercial setting the trays of cuttings are likely to be put onto a mist bench with bottom heat. An electronic “leaf” is placed amongst the cuttings; when it dries out a signal is sent to a controller which operates a valve and produces a burst of fine mist over the cuttings. The “leaf” is wetted, making a circuit between electrodes on its surface and the controller then stops the mist burst. Depending on conditions, the mist burst may be from every few minutes to every few hours.

Setting up a mist bench is quite costly and its relative complexity means there is quite a lot to go wrong. For small numbers of cuttings it is probably inappropriate and one very good grower of my acquaintance managed very well without. (or bottom heat either)
An atmosphere of 100% humidity can be provided around the cuttings by covering them with polythene. This could be a plastic bag secured with a rubber band over a pot containing a few cuttings, right up to low polythene tunnels 1-2m wide and many metres long. Polythene films are available specifically for propagation and may be clear or milky. Clear plastic hoods that fit a standard seed tray are readily available.

Shade from direct sunlight is essential. An unrooted cutting will not be doing a lot of photosynthesizing, so quite low light levels will suffice and in summer at least 50% shading will be in order.

Bottom heat is usually reckoned to speed root production and the combination of cool tops (from the cooling effect of evaporation) and warm bottoms, is supposed to be the winning recipe provided by a mist bench. I would caution against temperatures over 21°C as I am fairly certain that too high a temperature can lead to a lot of callus production which the new roots cannot then break through. It also increases the risk of the compost drying out, another thing I suspect encourages excess callusing.

Aftercare.
Camellia cuttings root very slowly so it is likely to be winter before they are rooted and early spring before they need potting up. A dilute liquid feed at 6-8 week intervals will prevent the cuttings getting starved over the rooting period. The rooted cuttings will then be potted into 9cm pots in a suitable compost and grown on for a season. I would leave cuttings in their cell trays until late winter even if they are rooted much earlier, not wanting to disturb and possibly damage the root system until it is poised to make new growth.

When roots are poking through the bottom of the propagation container they are ready for potting up. Sometimes a mass of callus is produced but no roots and it may be worth cutting much of this away, re-treating with hormone and sticking them back in the rooting medium.

Cutting-5
Cutting taken 31/7/2019, potted spring 2019. Photo 2/11/2019. A beautiful variety you won’t find in any UK nursery to my knowledge.

It is worth bearing in mind that camellia roots are much less hardy than the tops. Steps must be taken to prevent pots freezing as this is likely to be fatal.

There is a huge range of ease of rooting with camellias. At one extreme are the reticulatas, which if they root at all are likely to have poor, weak root systems. The reticulata hybrids can be almost as difficult and often produce very strong, thick shoots which are far from ideal propagation material. At the other extreme are modern varieties like Debbie, where 100% success is achievable. Very old clones are likely to be harder to root than younger ones. If a variety was raised 200 years ago, its physiological age is 200 years, even if you are propagating from a plant of it that is only 10 years old.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to worry more about keeping the cuttings in good condition and less about trying to make it produce roots. Success cannot be guaranteed. If it is achieved, satisfaction can be.

 

 

Notes from the park 21/10/2019

I popped up the park this morning with a few plants in the car. One was a large Agave which has become too big to keep lugging into the greenhouse for winter. They’re going to plant it in the park; they hardly ever get frost, being right by the sea.

Also on board was a camellia that I raised some years ago from seed of Camellia reticulata ‘Mary Williams’, a plant in the reticulata section that usually produces a good number of seed pods. I sowed quite a number and was amazed to have many of them blooming at less than two years old. I discarded the singles, kept the doubles and then selected three that showed promise. Today I took one back to the park. I call it ‘Serendipity’, though the name has not been registered. The plant is about five feet tall and was in a 20 litre pot, so it should be big enough to survive life in the big wide world. It has large pink semi-double flowers that have something of x williamsii about them, though the leaves are pure reticulata. ‘Mary Williams’ flowers very early so there will not have been any other reticulatas in bloom at the time so the nearest camellias in flower at the same time are some way off.
Serendipity

On the subject of raising Camellias from seed, I noticed today that C. ‘Admiral Spry’ had a good crop of pods on it. This is a bicolored single that is in one of the English sections. It has irregularly pink and white striped flowers with a few all white and all pink blooms as well. Since the genetics that underpins this is not chimaeral, I am wondering whether the bicolored character would come through in its seedlings. I shall certainly be giving it a try. Most of the seed pods are green with some red striping, which struck me as encouraging.Admiral-Spry-2

I had a wide angle lens on the camera, geared up to take a few floral close ups and maybe the odd view. As it turned out, my first photo opportunity was a fox standing on the path a hundred yards or so away. It had its back to me so I tried to creep a bit closer but it almost certainly saw me before I saw it. It’s a rubbish picture but here it is anyway.
fox

 

Sasanqua season 2019 – 2

Is it the right time to go up to the park to see the sasanquas? Well, no, not quite yet. I found eight varieties in flower today but most only just beginning with a handful of blooms. Give it another three or four weeks.

sasanquas-1

Here are the first four, clockwise from top left ‘Hugh Evans’ (1G-046), ‘Tanya’ (1G-110), ‘New Dawn’ (5A-050) and ‘Rainbow’ (10-075). Cropping the pictures makes the flowers all look the same size but ‘Tanya’ and ‘New Dawn’ are small at 3-4cm across, ‘Hugh Evans’ and ‘Rainbow’ about twice that. Poor old ‘Rainbow’ now has a large tree trunk lying alongside it, a beech tree that fell down earlier this year and is unlikely to be removed. The increased light levels will be very much to the liking of ‘Rainbow’ and the other camellias around, most of them sasanqua forms.

Further down in section 10 I found myself revisiting an old conundrum. ‘Narumigata’ (10-034) turned out to be two different camellias planted together. ‘Narumigata’ isn’t in flower yet but the other one, 10-078, is. It is very like ‘Rainbow’ in flower but the leaf is quite different, narrower and more pointed. There’s a plant of ‘Rainbow’ growing beside it and side by side the differences are obvious enough.

sasanquas-2

Top row is ‘Rainbow’ (10-047), bottom row the unknown variety. There are several single white sasanqua varieties that it could be and it would be nice to be able to put a name to it with high confidence.

Section 10 is known as the species section but about half of what is in it is sasanqua varieties. Hugh Evans and Plantation Pink are among the first to open and are starting to look good now.

sasanquas-3

Clockwise from top left, ‘Hugh Evans’ (10-022) consistently has the most and the largest blooms for the variety out of the five plants of it in the park. I put that down to it growing in the most suitable conditions, moist soil and a good bit of sunshine; ‘Plantation Pink’ (10-044) is one of two in this section, both good; ‘Setsugekka’ (3C-027) is in the Japanese section in the lower Amphitheatre and a little further down still in section 1L is ‘Snow Flurry’ (1L-040). This last plant is one of a number of William Ackerman’s hybrids along the back of section L and until a couple of years ago it was in the deep shade of a mature Beech tree. It is no longer, the tree having fallen. The transformation of ‘Snow Flurry’ and its neighbour ‘Winter’s Rose’ (1L-055) could not be more striking. From appearing barely worth growing for lack of bloom they have turned into some of the most floriferous winter flowerers in the park. Here’s a picture of ‘Snow Flurry’ that shows how much bud it has. The Red Admiral was enjoying it too.

Snow-Flurry-9

Snow-Flurry-10

IMG_3086a

 

Sasanqua season 2019

I had got it into my head that in previous years the first sasanquas had appeared towards the end of October so when I saw the first flowers today I thought it was an exceptionally early season. As it turns out, I have posted articles about the earliest blooms on 11th October in 2018 and 2017 and in both cases several varieties were flowering. Just one was today, ‘Hugh Evans’ in Area 10.
It nevertheless marks the beginning of a new flowering season so I’m getting my Camellia head back on again.
Hugh-Evans-9

There was a bud on ‘Dazzler’ that will be out in days but other than that no colour showing that I noticed. It could end up being a slightly later season than the last couple of years for many varieties.

Elsewhere I spotted a bud on the variety ‘Flirtation’ in Area 1P. As far as I know it’s not flowered before so I’m very much looking forward to seeing what it does. The Register describes it as having medium sized single light pink blooms so it sounds like it may turn out not to have been worth the very long wait. Unless it flowers much more readily on plants grown under cover it would be commercially useless; no-one buys plants with no buds or blooms when they’re surrounded by others that are blooming freely. Why would you want to wait years for a plant to bloom unless it was truly exceptional?

Another plant which is well budded this year is ‘Bonomiana’ in Area 5A. All the bushes in this area were cut back pretty hard this spring, except for this one. I asked for it to be left because it had not bloomed since it was hard pruned about ten years ago so I hadn’t had a chance to verify its identity. The extra light it has received as a result of all its neighbours being cut back has done the trick and it will be one of very few in this section with blooms in 2020.

Notes from the park

It’s a few weeks since I was last up at Mt Edgcumbe. Camellia season is over, but there are always a few stragglers, some that always manage a few late blooms and a few random things. I set about putting numbers onto the plants in section 5D, European varieties that are part of the Betteley collection. C. japonica ‘Maculata Superba’ had a single almost perfect bloom, that would fall under the random late flowerer category.
Maculata-Superba

When I came to re-attach the label on another plant in the section I spotted a birds nest right in front of me at eye level. It looked like an old one so I felt into it and pulled my hand out pretty quickly as there was something wriggling. I used the camera as a periscope and took this picture of three very young chicks before moving away to allow the parents back. It wasn’t long before a blackbird hen was back on the nest. They wouldn’t have stood a chance in most gardens as it was easily accessible for cats, but I’ve not seen a cat in the park and presumably other predators are relatively few in number.

There are a great many nests in the camellia bushes, especially where they’ve been pruned and clusters of branches have grown back from the same point.

C. japonica ‘Forest Green’ is a regular late flowerer; so much so that in some years a lot of its buds never open at all. This year it seems to have behaved fairly normally but still has a few late blooms dotted about it. Formal double reds account for most of the regular late flowerers in the collection, I have a hunch that in sunnier locations they might behave a bit more normally. I had a plant of ‘Forest Green’ in full sun on my allotment and it flowered profusely in normal camellia season and I have a plant of ‘Eximea’ in my garden which gets much more sun than its parent in the collection, it also blooms normal season. ‘Forest Green’ is noteworthy for its glossy foliage; it is as good as any plant in the collection in this regard.

A short way down from ‘Forest Green’ is a group of large bushes that have been pruned back this year. They have been done before and in most cases the pruning cuts this year were made 6 inches to a foot above where they were made on the last occasion, which I would estimate to have been 8-10 years ago. As you can see in theses pictures, the regrowth last time was not thinned, so many shoots grew back from each cut stem. The crowded growth quickly put on height and the bushes were soon back to the size they had been before pruning, only much denser.

Already new shoots are pushing out from the cut stems and it is my intention to only allow a proportion of them to grow. My preference would have been to cut below where they were cut last time, removing the whole cluster of shoots to leave a single big branch, then to thin the shoots that arose from that. Cutting lower constitutes more severe pruning, with attendant risks, and anything below 4-5 feet is liable to be browsed by deer.

In July 2017 a tree came down onto section 1L, completely destroying a couple of the plants there. In Setember 2018, 14 months later, I spotted shoots just starting to grow on a bush of ‘Little Man’. Those shoots, tiny as they were, survived the winter and are now a few inches tall.

The greatest threat now is someone with a strimmer who doesn’t know the plants are there. I don’t want to flag them conspicuously for fear of someone stepping on the shoots while trying to work out what the marker is for. With no marker there is no reason for anyone to go near them. So far the deer have left them alone.

 

Change of plan

Not that I had much of a plan when I went up to Mount Edgcumbe this morning. I was going to number the plants in section 5B, see what was flowering and take some photos and get pictures of the labels I’d attached last week.

That’s not what happened. They have a group of young German landscape students over for a couple of weeks and today was given over to introducing some of them to the Camellia collection and getting their help to carry out some fairly drastic pruning.

Section 5A contains European varieties, mostly quite old. It is one of the oldest sections of the collection, probably planted in the 1980’s, and it is on a very steep bank along one side of the Earl’s Drive. The steep slope emphasises the height of the bushes, which were mostly 10-12 feet tall, and because you are looking up at them with a background of sky through the still bare branches of the trees, the flowers are not shown off at all well. Nor is it possible to see anything but the path facing side of the first row of plants.

The majority of the plants in this section were cut to 5-6 feet about ten years ago and I should think are now back to about the same height as when they were cut. No thinning or shortening of the regrowth was carried out so they are much denser than they would have been before cutting. Indeed the contrast between the bushes that had been pruned and the ones that hadn’t was quite stark, the latter having grown rather lanky with sparse foliage.

Most have been cut back to just above where they were cut a decade ago, which usually involved cutting around six strongly vertical shoots that had grown up from just below the earlier pruning cut. The plan now is to thin and shorten the regrowth in the hope that the bushes can be brought back into flowering without getting either as big or as dense again.

The challenge with that is that most of today’s pruning was done standing on the very steep ground and using loppers to make cuts almost at full stretch. In some cases I climbed into the bush to reach. Thus pruning the regrowth is going to need tools to reach a metre or more above my head.

The effect is brutal and several park visitors voiced their concerns. Hopefully by the end of the summer it will look very different. It already looks much lighter and far less overbearing and the glimpses of background between the bushes is a big improvement.
The unpruned bush in the picture has still not flowered since it was last pruned; it was one of the smaller bushes in the section but shows how dense the growth had been.


At the end of a full on day I made my way back to the carpark and was moved to stop and take pictures a few times on the way.

Camellia japonica ‘Fred Sander’ is a fimbriated sport of ‘Lady de Saumerez’, which is to say it has raggedy edges to very twisted petals. ‘Lady de Saumerez’ is a solid pink sport of ‘Tricolor’. ‘Fred Sander’ doesn’t seem to produce buds that are big enough to contain the petals and they are showing the coloured tips of the petals by the turn of the year or earlier, long before ‘Lady de Saumerez’. However, the buds are very slow to open and ‘Lady de Saumerez’ has all but finished flowering before ‘Fred Sander’ gets going. Sadly, because Fred has had the edges of his petals exposed for so long, they are very likely to have been frosted, as in this picture.
Fred-Sander

Further on I dug my camera out again for Camellia japonica ‘William Honey’. This will have been one of the earliest varieties in the collection but the original plant has gone and this is now the only one. At 8-10cm across the blooms are bigger than quite a few of the pink striped varieties and the mix of petaloids and stamens in the middle adds interest.
William-Honey

I bagged one more before I headed home for a cup of tea. Camellia x williamsii ‘Olga Carlyon’ is not in the Camellia Register so was presumably never registered. It was labelled ‘Rosemary Sawle’ and has only recently been re-labelled correctly. It has a loose, informal feel about it, combined with a delicate pink colour; I like it very much.
Olga-Carlyon