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

Pruning.

“These popular evergreen shrubs require very little pruning.”

Advice on pruning Camellias generally starts from the above standpoint, taken from George Brown’s “The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers.” The implication is that very little pruning will ever be required and that you’ll probably get away with none at all.
Camellias however, are long lived plants, their lifespan on the scale of trees. Their growth rate is much slower than most trees though, so gardeners don’t give the same amount of thought to how big they will eventually get and what the consequences of that will be. It is a similar scenario to that of “dwarf” and slow growing conifers; massively popular in the 1960’s and 70’s, now nearly all gone because they outgrew their location and the only course of action was removal.

Perhaps the ideal is to let the plant get to the size required, or the maximum that its situation allows, then maintain it at that size. If you have a bush that is at that point it is possible to achieve that aim in one of two ways. You can clip it into a rounded (or square or whatever shape you want) dome and go on doing so on an annual basis. There is no denying that this works; there are several plants in gardens nearby that have been maintained in this way for years. They even flower pretty well.

Alternatively, and much more satisfactorily as far as I’m concerned, you can stand back and look for the branches that go beyond the outline you require and cut them back to a side shoot that is within the outline you require. That is likely to be best carried out after flowering in the spring and can be followed up in the autumn by removing any long extension growths that have been made in the second half of the summer and which have no flower buds for the following season on them.

Bob-Hope

This bush of ‘Bob Hope’ is as large as I want it to get and as soon as it has finished flowering I will cut back all its longer shoots so that its outline is about a foot further in all over.

In practice, most people don’t do this and the plant eventually outgrows its space. Paradoxically, it is the people with small gardens who are most likely to prune their plants. In a bigger garden plants need to be larger to be in scale with their surroundings but once the plant is too tall to be pruned from the ground it is more difficult and liable to be put off until unavoidable. Groups of Camellias grow into each other and become dark and bare stemmed beneath an evergreen “roof”. If they flower it is only the birds overhead that witness it.

Camellias are not averse to pruning in the way that most conifers are and when they have outgrown their situation there is a second option available which avoids removal. This is to prune them hard and to retrain them to a small sized bush that can then hopefully be maintained as described in the previous paragraph.

Camellias are hard to kill. I have seen large bushes, 8-10 feet tall, crushed under large falling trees such that all that is left is a jagged stump a few inches tall sticking out of the ground; then a year later they have produced shoots and are starting to come back. I have even dug plants out completely with a decent sized rootball only to come back a couple of years later to a ring of shoots growing up from the roots left beyond the rootball. So reducing a tree by half or two thirds is very unlikely to kill it.

In the vast majority of cases, if hard pruning is carried out in late winter, by the end of the following summer there will be a forest of new growth from just below the cut ends. Even if you can’t bear to cut a large bush in flower or just about to flower and delay pruning until the flowers are finished, you are likely to get almost the same response. It can be anywhere between six inches and 30 inches in my experience, with a whole raft of factors affecting the response. In general a strong healthy plant in good growing conditions will respond much better than a less favoured plant.

Bush-1

Two large bushes pruned hard in May 2015. By mid June they were beginning to shoot.

The upshot of this is that a strong plant will be back to the same size as it was before cutting but with much denser growth, in as little as five years. Since it may take as long to start flowering freely again that is clearly unsatisfactory. Plants in shade are worse in this regard, the shade causes more lanky growth and lack of sun reduces the number of shoots whose growth is cut short by a flower bud forming.

Pruning needs to be carried out with a picture in mind of what size you want the plant to grow back to. You need to anticipate the amount of regrowth you expect and cut back enough such that with that regrowth, the plant is still within the size desired. So if you want an eight foot bush and expect three feet of new growth after pruning, you need to cut to five feet.

Bob Flowerdew, talking about thinning plums on Gardeners Question Time said to thin them until you cry, then go back and thin them some more. It is much the same with camellias. If you have cut off 10 branches, why would you want 50 or 100 to regrow? They will be thin, crowding each other and drawing each other up in competition for light. They need to be thinned out to probably a maximum of three to each cut stem. They should also probably be shortened back, particularly if they are very long and thin. Thinning can be done any time, the sooner the better. Shortening back is perhaps best done in early September, late enough for regrowth not to occur that season and for flower buds to be visible, yet early enough for the reduction in foliage to reduce the plant’s vigour a little.

Bush-2

Ten or more shoots have grown from this one cut stem. All but two or three well spaced and positioned shoots need to be removed completely.

This pruning needs to start in the same year as the pruning took place, at least for the thinning. It then becomes a matter of keeping in mind the size of bush that you are trying for and cutting out the growth that goes beyond this. This removal should always be done in such a way that the cuts are hidden and a natural looking outline is retained. It may be that hard pruning will eventually need to be repeated but it is not very satisfactory as the only method of pruning used. If that becomes the case many of the shyer flowerers will not have started to flower freely after one cut before they need the next.

bush-3

Most regrowth is from near the extremity of a cut shoot. This bush couldn’t be cut too low because of browsing deer so already the new growth is hard to reach from the ground. Some thinning has been done, more is needed, and the long extension growth at the top should be shortened in early autumn.

Two more things need to be borne in mind. The first is that you can’t maintain a bush at a particular size if you can’t reach where you need to cut. If the bush is taller than you are, reaching the middle of the top will be difficult. A ladder is not a good platform from which to lean three or four feet across the top of a camellia. A ladder on soft, sloping ground is even worse. Suitable long pruning tools may work but are expensive for only one or two bushes.

Secondly, a “typical” camellia produces an early flush of growth between March and June and a second flush between July and August. The second flush seems almost optional. In 2018’s very hot summer, almost none of the camellias at Mt Edgcumbe made a second flush at all. It is at the tips of the first flush that most flower buds form and if a second flush is produced it is at the expense of flowers. The second flush may be from many shoots on a bush or very few. It is usually the case that no flower buds are carried on the second flush growth which can be removed in whole or part from September onwards without detriment to the plant.

This plant of Debbie was cut back by around two thirds four years ago. The regrowth was thinned and shortened and in September 2018 I cut back all the extension growth made after mid summer. Plenty of flower buds had formed on the shorter, early season growths and these were all left on the bush. Now it is flowering with the flowers well displayed and not hidden amongst foliage and the bush is at least a foot shorter than it would have been if left unpruned.

Bush-4

Pruned in 2015, this bush made several inches of growth in 2015, a lot more in 2016 and less in the hot dry summer of 2018. It has been drawn up by overhead shade too. It should have been shortened in the autumn, cutting the long stems back to side shoots.

Bush-5

This bush has responded well to pruning but has not made long extension growths in mid-late summer. Thinning is the priority here or the stems are liable to flop out under the weight of flowers, rain or snow. Birds love to nest in these dense bushes so timing is critical.

On labelling and re-labelling.

labels

I spent most of my volunteer day this week putting on labels. I have for some months been working my way systematically through the Mount Edgcumbe collection putting numbers onto the reverse of the labels to identify individual plants. I have been noting broken and missing labels as I’ve progressed and have attached temporary labels where appropriate.

I went out with 34 labels to attach, most of them for plants which had no label or had broken labels. In addition to these were seven where I removed and replaced the existing label because it was showing the wrong name. I have created a new page below the Mt Edgcumbe tab called labelling notes and will note all labelling alterations from now on.

I am now at the point where I am sufficiently certain that the existing labels on some plants are incorrect, AND am certain to a high level of confidence what the variety correctly is, to be replacing them. The first part of that requirement is much easier than the second and there are many plants in the collection where it is only the first part that has been satisfied. Most of those plants still have the incorrect label on them but where labels have been lost on varieties that seem to be incorrectly identified in the records, I have not replaced them. Here are the changes I made.
1) 1G-054 Replaced label showing Camellia japonica ‘Katie’ with one showing Camellia japonica ‘White Nun’. Two plants had been purchased from Coghurst Nursery and planted in 2003. The one at 1L-015 fits the description for the variety, ie large and pink; this one is white and seems identical to ‘White Nun’ at 1H-029 & 1H-030.

Katie

1G-054 and 1L-015, were both labelled ‘Katie’. 1G-054 has been relabelled ‘White Nun’

2) 1G-070 Replaced label showing Camellia japonica ‘Mathotiana Alba’ with one showing ‘Camellia japonica ‘Mathotiana Rosea’. The plant flowers uniformly pink and is a good match with ‘Mathotiana Rosea’ at 2C-036.

3) 2C-008 Replaced label showing Camellia williamsii ‘Candy Stripe’ with one showing Camellia x williamsii ‘Marjorie Waldegrave’. Plant is an exact match for the three plants of this variety in sections 2D and 9.

Candy-Stripe

2C-008 was labelled ‘Candy Stripe’, which should look like 8-004 ‘Candy Stripe’ (Waterhouse) on the right. It’s been relabelled ‘Marjorie Waldegrave’. It’s not obvious why anyone would think the plain pink one would be called ‘Candy Stripe’.

4) 1P-026 Replaced label showing Camellia japonica ‘Mathotiana’ with one showing Camellia japonica ‘Grand Sultan’. ‘Grand Sultan’ was widely grown under the name ‘Mathotiana’ but is quite different. This plant is a good match for ‘Grand Sultan’ 5D-008 and except for the flower colour, with its sport ‘Augusto Pinto’ 5D-002.

5) 2A-041 Replaced label showing Camellia japonica ‘Migali’ with one showing ‘Camellia japonica ‘Lady Vansittart’. Both this plant and the one at 5A-047 are clearly ‘Lady Vansittart’. ‘Migali’ is described in the Register as a small, shell pink single which these are not.

6) 1A-036 Replaced label showing Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Pearl’ with one showing Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Jewel’.

7) 1E-026 Replaced label showing Camellia japonica ‘Martha Brice’ with one showing Camellia japonica ‘Marie Bracey’. There is another plant labelled ‘Martha Bryce’ at 4C-003 which is different from this one and appears correct. There was also a reference to the variety ‘Marie Bracey’ being in this section on an old plan and it does match descriptions of that variety.

Martha-Brice

1E-026 & 4C-003 have been labelled Martha Brice and Martha Bryce respectively. 1E-026 has now been relabelled ‘Marie Bracey’. 4C-003 should be relabelled ‘Martha Brice’, which is the correct spelling, but for now there are bigger problems to deal with.

Little things

As a blogger I feel I should be producing output on a fairly regular basis, but also that I should keep quiet until I have something to say. Real life doesn’t always work like that and my dealings with camellias consist of a constant trickle of trivia around which I would struggle to construct any sort of coherent narrative.

Take last Tuesday for example. I headed up to Mt Edgcumbe as usual and spent a good deal of the day going around taking photos. I do this even though I have many pictures of most of the plants in the collection because I want to build up a picture of how the flowers vary from one season to another. I also have a better camera than I had when I started, so I hope to get better pictures than I already have.

There are also still quite a number of plants in the collection that I have yet to see flower. Some were pruned hard just before I turned up to photograph them. The time it takes for a plant to get back to flowering varies from no time at all to five years or more. It depends on the variety, the severity of pruning, the location of the plant, follow up thinning of regrowth, the weather and probably several other things as well.

On Tuesday I took photos of two plants I had not seen flower before. In Section 4D is a plant labelled ‘Barbara Mary’, pruned some years ago and with a few buds this season. I took a picture of a small and squiffy flower then noticed a much better one at the top of the bush. Sometimes the only way to get a picture is to cut the shoot off, in this case I was able to pull it down and hold it in a reasonably natural position to take the picture.

Camellia japonica 'Barbara Mary'

Camellia japonica ‘Barbara Mary’ (4E-024)

When I got home I looked up the Register entry for this variety which describes it as “Colour blush pink. A large, peony form flower with a delicate scent. Early to mid-season blooming.” The blush pink bit seems correct and perhaps it will develop into a peony form as it opens more. I seldom think to check for scent, so few have any.

In Macaboy’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Camellias he echoes the blush-pink peony form description but has a picture of a semi-double, almost anemone-form flower that I would describe as light red.

There are pictures on Camellias.pics and the colour is a good match but not the form, at least so far. Camellias Australia have a picture on Flikr which is similar; right colour, wrong form.

It is common, the norm even, for camellia blooms in the relatively cool climate of the UK to differ from blooms of the same variety in a hotter climate. In general there is a greater tendency for stamens to develop into petaloids or petals in a cool climate. Blooms become more double, with less stamens at the centre; they may take several days to open fully to the point where stamens are visible, fooling you into thinking they are not going to have any.

So I will revisit the same bloom next Tuesday and see whether it has become peony form. If it has I will be reasonably satisfied that it is what the label says it is.

The other “new” flowerer was in European Section 5A. This is one of the oldest sections and a lot of the plants were pruned several years ago. Most have now flowered again but they are back to the size they were before and are denser than ever. They will need to be pruned again soon. There is a plant with no label that on the plan is marked as ‘Tricolor’. It is now in flower and appears to be the same as ‘Tricolor Siebold’ at 5B-026. It has a small to medium, white formal double bloom on a very upright bush.

‘Tricolor Siebold’ is a synonym for ‘Tricolor’ so I know this is wrong, even allowing for the variability of the flowers of ‘Tricolor’, several forms of which have been named. The foliage is quite different and that clinches it for me. What I now have to attempt is to put the right name to it. It is similar in flower and growth habit to a plant in Section 2A labelled ‘Alba Plena’ so I shall start by comparing it very closely with that.

There are very many formal double white camellias. I can go through my books but there is no way I can identify my unknown variety from a single picture with no foliage, little indication of size, nothing about growth habit, nothing about whether it was ever grown in this country.Camellia japonica 'Tricolor'

Of course the reverse is also true. You may be looking at my picture, thinking it looks very like an unidentified plant that you have and wishing that I’d put up 10 pictures of blooms, their size, some foliage, its size, and so on. To which I would say that the only way you could be sure enough that yours was the same as mine would be to cut a piece of yours and take it to the plant that I had illustrated and compare every possible detail.

It’s the only way I know to get from “I think it might be” to “I’m very nearly certain it is”. I’m not sure it is possible to get to “I’m absolutely certain it is” unless you can prove that it was propagated from the original plant of a variety.

I moved a plant.

Seriously though, I just moved a sizeable camellia sasanqua ‘Tanya’ from my allotment to my garden. Here’s how it went.

Tanya-5

Camellia sasanqua ‘Tanya’ on 24/10/2018

We had a good drop of rain a few days ago. I gave it a couple of days to drain away, but a reasonable amount of water in the soil is essential and it is rarely safe to lift plants this size until well into the autumn. There needs to have been a good deal of rain to get the soil below a large evergreen shrub really moist.

I reduced the size of the bush by about a third. This will help reduce stress on the plant while it grows a new root system and made lifting it a bit easier.


I have a narrow bladed, stainless steel spade that I like to use for the next stage, which is to cut round the rootball. I dig straight down all around the plant, just cutting through the soil and roots, without levering on the spade at all. Next I use my old rather worn down spade with a fibreglass handle to take out a wedge of soil outside the vertical cut. I then cut in under the root system at around 45 degrees and start to lever the plant up to break any roots that go straight down below the root ball. I might have had to chop through roots going straight down below the rootball but in this instance didn’t need to.


Once the plant is free, but while it is still in the hole, I chopped some of the soil away to reduce the size and weight of the root ball. My aim was to remove soil where there were insufficient roots to hold the soil in place. Since the root system was not evenly dense all around the plant, I cut more soil away on one side than the other.

I then pulled the plant out of its hole, remove a little more soil from the top and bottome of the rootball, taking care not to damage the base of the stem, before trimming the bits of root sticking out of the rootball flush. It’s hard to say how big a rootball a plant should have. Too small will leave the plant struggling to stay upright and get enough water; too big and moving the plant without the whole lot breaking away becomes very difficult.

Next I lifted the plant onto a sheet of polythene which I drew tightly up around the stem base and tied with polypropylene string. This wrapping needs to be tight as possible to help keep the rootball intact while it is moved.


I lifted the plant into my wheelbarrow and pushed it back the mile or so to my garden in the village. Got a few odd looks. Avoided curbs and potholes.

Dug a hole, popped the plant into it. Too deep, took it out, put a bit of soil back, put the plant back in, filled around the sides, working the soil down with the spade, gave it a good watering. Job’s a good’n. It will take at least two seasons for the root system to be extensive enough to withstand drought as well as it did before being moved, so I’ll be prepared to give it an occasional drench if it is needed. Being a sasanqua variety I didn’t even consider feeding it. Had it been a japonica or x williamsii I still probably wouldn’t feed it until its second season.

dig-12

Planted in new quarters.

I have lifted several hundred Camellias in this way, some 6 feet or more tall; some to be potted, some replanted in the ground. Very large plants will usually suffer a check but all have grown away after a couple of seasons settling in.

I am in Cornwall, UK. In areas with colder winters it would be better to move them at the end of the winter but they would then have less time to put down roots before conditions became dryer, so watering would be more likely to be needed.

ID time

campsii-alba-2
I grow a camellia under the name Camellia japonica ‘Campsii Alba’. It is the same as one in Moyclare Garden in Liskeard that is known by the same name. It also matches two of the three plants under that name in the Mount Edgcumbe collection. (5B-004 & 5C-003)

The third plant in the collection (5D-004) is different but I think it is more likely to be the correctly named one, in spite of the weight of numbers. I am fairly certain that my plant and the two similar Mt Edgcumbe plants were propagated from the Moyclare plant.

The Camellia Register describes it thus:

“The flower is full, spherical, regular and formed like a perfect rosette. The colour is pure, milk white. The petals, disposed in 7-8 rows, are of average size, rounded, close set, regularly imbricated from the circumference to the centre. Very early flowering.”

It would be helpful if a size for the flower was given. My plant and its kin have been flowering since well before Christmas. The other plant does not flower so early, my pictures of it have been taken in April. Both forms have small, pure white flowers about 5-7cm across. The 5D-004 form is almost always a formal double showing no stamens in its centre but I have on just one occasion seen a fully open flower with some stamens at the centre. The Moyclare plant always has anemone form flowers.

 

The Moyclare plant is probably at least 50 years old and will have been planted by Moira Reid. It is about 4m tall and flowers freely every year over a period of up to three months. The leaves are quite small for a japonica, glossy and robust. It’s a very fine variety and I would love to identify it correctly.

campsii-alba-4

Camellia japonica ‘Campsii Alba’ (5D-004)

Sasanqua season 2018 – 4

I made it back to Mt Edgcumbe on Tuesday after a three week absence to find that the sasanqua season there is all but over. On the other hand, there was a fair smattering of other things flowering and I ended up taking quite a lot of photos.

The sasanqua x reticulata hybrids are moving toward peak flowering. Usually ‘Show Girl’, especially the specimen in the species section, steals the show both on display and flower size. This year it is as good as ever but ‘Flower Girl’ is the best I’ve seen it and almost the equal of ‘Show Girl’.

‘Show Girl’ should be much more widely grown, it produces an astonishing display at a time of year when little else is around and seems able to withstand most of what the weather throws at it.

The Ackerman hybrids have done relatively well this year and have also stood out for the length of their flowering season. ‘Winter’s Toughie’ is good every year but makes a rather large and untidy bush. Light regular pruning would probably help. ‘Winter’s Rose’ and ‘Snow Flurry’ have both been excellent this year, helped by more light from the loss of tree cover. ‘Winter’s Rose’ is semi-weeping, wider than high, ‘Snow Flurry’ vigorous and upright. Both have given about six weeks of display. ‘Winter’s Charm’, growing nearby, has produced a few blooms, similar to ‘Winter’s Rose’ but on a more vigorous, upright bush, but is more shaded than the other two.

Another Ackerman hybrid, ‘Winter’s Joy’, seems reluctant to open out fully, which is unfortunate as it could be most attractive. I’ve not seen it behave like this in previous years.

C. hiemalis ‘Showa Supreme’ is represented by two plants in the collection in Section 1N, one of the shadiest areas. I don’t think this suits them and they never flower freely though this year is the best I’ve seen. This was a Nuccio raised seedling of ‘Showa-no-sakae’ with larger blooms. It’s wide spreading and dense, a good plant would be a fine thing; I must try to propagate it so it can be planted in a better location.

C. x williamsii ‘November Pink’ is usually true to its name, sometimes starting as early as late October. Not this year, just two or three blooms so far. Equally predictable are C. japonica ‘Gloire de Nantes’, C. japonica ‘Nobilissima’ and C. japonica ‘Daikagura’; all of them are flowering freely.

I was a bit more surprised to see C. japonica ‘Momijigari’, C. japonica ‘Bokuhan’ and C. japonica ‘Spring Promise’ with lots of blooms open. I don’t recall more than the occasional early bloom from previous years.

C. ‘Bokuhan’ is clearly one parent of both the plants labelled ‘Peter Betteley’. In an earlier blog I explained why I had concluded that, as similar as they undoubtedly are, they are not the same and seem to be sister seedlings. This year the flowers are as distinct from each other as I’ve ever seen them, though you still need to look carefully.

And then there were the rest. Mostly just one or two early blooms on varieties not especially noted for flowering early; unsurprising, given the summer we had.

Not a bad haul for 11th December. I think it’s going to be a good spring season but if the weather stays mild it may be an early one. Most plants seem to have set a heavy crop of buds and I’ve seen very little sign of them dropping. I have my fingers crossed.