Supply of plants

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.

Azurea or Pilida, or something else?

There are still close to a hundred plants in the Mt Edgcumbe collection which do not match their labels and which I have been unable to positively identify. I will give a full description of one of them, which for reasons I will explain, I think may be ‘Azurea’ or ‘Pilida’. I am hoping that anyone familiar with either or both varieties will be able to confirm my identification or definitively rule it out while pointing me elsewhere.

There are two plants of this variety, (let me call it A/P for now), the original plant and another propagated from it. The original plant was probably planted around 1980 and is now at least 5m high and wide. The flowers are full peony form, to around 10cm across and 6cm deep when fully open. They are red, sometimes a little purple tinged. An occasional stamen may be evident, usually there are none.

The growth habit is fairly distinctive in that in most years the terminal buds break to produce growth but not usually any of the lateral buds. Thus there are frequently lengths of a metre or so, consisting of successive annual 20cm growth increments, with no laterals. Flowering is sparse and over a longish period, often on the tips of the shoots.

Photo 27/1/2022

The leaves are broadly oval and tend to get a brownish edge in their second or third year. They remain attached for 5-6 years. The photos of leaves are taken against a 5mm grid.

91cm long shoot comprising five season’s growth with no laterals produced.

As you can see, the flowers are quite good if not exceptional but the sparse display and rather gaunt habit make it barely worth growing, at least in our conditions. However, it may be historically significant and is likely to be a rare variety in the UK.

David Trehane was the main driving force behind getting the collection started and was at the time trialling several hundred camellia varieties in his garden at Trehane House, Tresilian, near Truro, Cornwall. Many of these were Australian varieties, sent by the nurseryman Walter Hazlewood. In 1981 Trehane said of these that “nearly all have a permanent place either in our catalogue or what may be the national collection at Mount Edgcumbe.” For all the implication that they were to go either in the catalogue or the collection it appears that there is little or nothing at Mount Edgcumbe that was not in the Trehane Nursery catalogue in the mid 1960’s and for some years after that. Nor is there a great deal in the catalogue that is not, or hasn’t been, in the Mt Edgcumbe collection. I had long assumed that most were relatively new varieties but it turns out that sixteen or more are pre 1900 varieties.

‘Azurea’ is a variety that used to be in the collection but the only plant of it was destroyed by a falling tree before I ever saw it. It had been propagated but the young plants seem to have gone. It is in the Trehane catalogue described as follows: “(Australia 1862) Anemone or paeony form, medium size, dark red with a purple sheen. Compact upright growth.” In the Camellia Register the description is a quote from the raisers catalogue: “Shepherd & Co. Nursery Catalogue, 1862: Raised from seed by ourselves, a free grower and an abundant bloomer. The flower is of the largest size, peony shaped, the colour is a dark or metallic purple, and is, perhaps, the nearest approach to blue that has yet occured in the tribe Flowers early to late. It has sometimes been confused with Zambo which, however, is formal double.”

‘Pilida’ does not appear in the collection records but is in the Trehane catalogue. It is described: “(Australia) A dark red anemone to paeony form with purple shading. Upright moderate grower. This may be the same as Azurea introduced in Australia in 1862 and much planted there and in New Zealand.” In an RHS Yearbook article by Tom Durrant in 1963 he describes it as “a deep red semi-double with anemone to paeony form centre”

Both varieties are in the online Camellia Register on the ICS website. ‘Azurea’ has three images which could all be of different varieties. ‘Pilida’ has plenty of images but again they are too variable to draw a frim conclusion.

Every one of the early Australian plantings in the collection is in the Trehane catalogue from the time. I would give a pound to a pinch of snuff that whatever this thing is, it’s in that catalogue and I have been through it with a fine toothed comb ruling out of contention all but ‘Azurea’ and ‘Pilida’, and just possibly ‘Speciosissima. It seems all but certain it is one of them, but which one? And are ‘Azurea’ and ‘Pilida’ in fact distinct cultivars or could they, as David Trehane suggests, be one and the same, or could he have been growing the same thing under two different names?

Of the names in the collection records and/or in the Trehane catalogue, these two seemed the most likely contenders for variety A/P. Everything else was either known to me or their descriptions made it clear they were wrong. I was minded to rule out ‘Azurea’ for three reasons. Firstly, a plant had been in the collection under that name, so presumably had to be different from A/P or it would have been identified as being the same. Secondly, there is a plant at Greenway garden in Devon labelled ‘Azurea’ and it is completely different to A/P. Thirdly, A/P only occasionally has a noticeable purple look about it.

I now realise that the Greenway plant, with its small formal double flowers, is almost certainly something else. As to the plant of ‘Azurea’ that was in the collection, I have no way of knowing what it was like. If it had been the same as A/P but under a different name, it wouldn’t be the first time. ‘Azurea’, from the descriptions and pictures I’ve seen, seems the better bet.

Identity issues, ‘Setsugekka’ and ‘Kenkyô’ – Part two.

I promise this will be my last word on the subject. I have been back up to the park again today specifically to scrutinise these two varieties minutely. A dog walker passed by, couldn’t contain her curiosity and asked me what I was doing. I bet she wished she’d never asked.

I have homed in on a few new characteristics that may be useful in distinguishing these two varieties and I have looked more closely at leaf size and shape, which I referred to before. In the first of the following two pictures of ‘Setsugekka’ there are several leaves where the widest point of the leaf is markedly closer to the basal end, though it is less noticeable in the second. The leaf tip is acute, the base rounded or almost so. Another thing I noticed was that the leaves stick out sideways from the stem almost at right angles, or more precisely, the petiole leaves the stem at about 45° then bends at the base of the lamina, which then sticks out nearly at right angles.

By contrast, in these next images of ‘Kenkyô’, the leaf base is never rounded and the broadest part of the leaf often goes on longer, narrowing more abruptly to the apex. The leaves are almost forward along the shoot, at 45° or less in most cases. Finally, though the difference is not great, ‘Kenkyô’ is less glossy than ‘Setsugekka’.

Another thing I wanted to look at was the flower buds. Kenkyô has buds that are usually wholly green, becoming green and white as the petals begin to show. The bud scales are green in the centre, paler towards the margins. Only in around one bud in ten did I see any pink pigment on the emerging petals. Silky hairs were sometimes quite evident, other times less so.

The two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ are growing near each other but 3C-027 is at the front of the planting in full sun, 3C-028 is further back and in the shade of a conifer. It also has fewer buds because it is recovering from extensive damage from a falling tree. I have labelled the pictures to distinguish them. In almost every case the bud scales are pigmented reddish-brown and in the majority of cases when the petals start to emerge they have pink pigmentation on them. It is perhaps worth noting that there is no absolute dividing line between bud scales and petals with some intermediates.

I’m unsure how useful a piece of information it is but for Kenkyô and 3C-028 ‘Setsugekka’ (the vigorous one) I picked out ten “typical” leaves and measured them. Those of ‘Kenkyô’ averaged 34.8mm wide, 74.6mm long inc. petiole, with average petiole length 6.2mm. 3C-028 ‘Setsugekka’ came out at 32mm wide by 70.8mm long with an average petiole of 4.4mm. “Typical” is a subjective term; I avoided the smaller leaves produced at the beginning and end of growth spurts as well as any unusually large leaves.

Where then does this get us. You have an unknown plant. On the basis of the flowers it might be possible to narrow the possibilities to a handful of possible varieties. One or two of them could perhaps be quickly dismissed on a single characteristic, for example having leaves that are far too big or too small. It would then be practical to compare the specimen on all of characteristics I have mentioned to hopefully get a definite match. That would tell you that your plant is the same as mine.

What it doesn’t necessarily tell you is whether you now have an accurate identification for your plant because it is far from certain that my plant, on which I have based the description, is correctly identified. The reasons for plants being wrongly named are legion and there is little mileage in trying to apportion blame. It does seem to me though, that we now have the technology to put together detailed descriptions backed up with plenty of photographs and to put that information into the public domain. It then requires interested parties to start a dialogue around the areas of disagreement and see whether they can be resolved.

For starters then, are the two plants in the collection actually ‘Setsugekka’ and ‘Kenkyô’? Are they identified the correct way round? What else might they be? I am open to the possibility of either or both of the names being wrong and would be happy to be convinced of an alternative identity. I wouldn’t be happy to be told that they’re something else with no explanation or evidence to back it up. I’d be interested to hear that what appears to be the same plant as either of them is being grown under a different name, even if the grower is no more certain their name is right than I am.

Identity issues, ‘Setsugekka’ and ‘Kenkyo’

Mt Edgcumbe has two plants of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ and one of ‘Kenkyo’, or does it?

In section 3C are two plants which are labelled C. sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’. According to the collection records both came from Stonehurst Nursery and were planted in 2003. In early March 2018 a large tree fell on top of one of them, reducing it in size by around 75%. I tidied it up and it has made an impressive recovery, with strong new upright growth of 6-8 feet in the four seasons since. Last year it produced the first flowers since the mishap and it is flowering again this year.

Prior to 2018 I never had cause to consider whether the two plants were identical. They flowered at the same time and looked very similar, they’d come from the same source, they had the same label; I took them to be the same. Looking back at old pictures they look the same.

However, to look at them now it is hard to believe they are the same variety. The plant that was trashed by the falling tree is growing very strongly and has healthy lustrous dark green foliage. The other plant looks to be in poor condition. It is making very little new growth and its foliage is comparatively yellowish and spotted. Like many seriously stressed plants it is flowering as if this might be the last year it gets a chance to but the flowers are a little smaller than they should be.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyô’ is at the other end of the collection, in section 1G. It has a label on it saying Camellia hiemalis ‘Chansonette’. ‘Chansonette’ is described in the Register as having formal double flowers in strong brilliant pink so the name is clearly wrong. The records show that it came from Coghurst Nursery in 2002 and a few years back I checked their website to see whether they were listing anything that looked like it. Back then ‘Kenkyô’ was in their catalogue. ‘Setsugekka’ seemed like a contender too, based on pictures and descriptions but similar though they are, it isn’t the same as the two plants in section 3C. Eventually I found a plant labelled ‘Kenkyô’ at Trewithen Garden and was able to compare it closely, reaching the conclusion that they were the same.

It has been suggested to me that the two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ might in fact be ‘Kenkyô’, meaning that the 1G plant might in turn be ‘Setsugekka’. It doesn’t help the cause that the blooms on both varieties are somewhat variable, especially on the one I’ve been taking to be ‘Kenkyô’, so a single picture of a bloom in a book could probably match either plant and photos of foliage, which might help corroborate a tentative identification, are seldom provided.

I have been looking for characteristics on the two varieties that might support the floral evidence and the first problem is that the two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ are so different. It seems to me that I must first find characteristics that are common to both plants in spite of their differences and to then compare those characteristics with ‘Kenkyô’.

‘Setsugekka’ (3C-027) x 2, ‘Setsugekka’ (3C-028) x 2, ‘Kenkyô’ (1G-014) x 2. Top side. (5mm grid on background)
‘Setsugekka’ (3C-027) x 2, ‘Setsugekka’ (3C-028) x 2, ‘Kenkyô’ (1G-014) x 2. Underside. (5mm grid on background)

I reckon the leaves of ‘Kenkyô’ are larger and don’t taper to the apex as quickly. The widest point of the ‘Setsugekka’ leaves is often nearer the base than the apex while in ‘Kenkyô’ it rarely is and may be nearer the apex. The extreme margins (0.5-1mm) of most of the leaves of ‘Setsugekka’ are turned down slightly whereas the leaves of ‘Kenkyo’ are usually flat to the edge. Some of the leaves of ‘Setsugekka’ have bases which are rounded, as in the third leaf above, while ‘Kenkyô’ bases usually have a narrower angle.

On another occasion I took pictures of the flower buds of ‘Kenkyô’, thinking they looked like they might be distinctive. I didn’t at the time follow up with pictures of the buds of ‘Setsugekka’ so that’s one for next time I’m up the park.

The two bushes of ‘Setsugekka’ are upright, ‘Kenkyô’ is wide spreading, and ‘Setsugekka’ was into flower a week or two earlier than ‘Kenkyô’. I’m not sure I’d trust either characteristic to be the killer blow.

I’m trying to think as if I was keying out the two varieties using a botanical key. Single to semi-double flowers, opening flat, of a certain size, autumn flowering, just the occasional touch of pink. That gets you down to maybe three to five varieties, but homing in on just one takes a few more details. A person very familiar with all the contenders would perhaps recognize which was which at a glance, without necessarily being conscious of exactly why they knew. That’s not me. I want someone to say that you can always recognize ‘Kenkyô’, or ‘Setsugekka’ or whatever by some specific, unique character or combination of characters. Here are some more pictures.

‘Kenkyô’ 1G-014

‘Setsugekka’ 3C-027

Are they ‘Kenkyô’ and ‘Setsugekka’? Do I have them the right way round. And, crucially, how do you know?

Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights’ Jasmine

New Camellias tend to slip quietly onto the market, appearing first in specialist nurseries  before making it into mainstream garden centres, presumably after the wholesale sector has adopted them and produced them in large numbers.

Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights’ Jasmine has been available for a year or two but this year’s September Chelsea Flower Show saw it given a higher profile than I recall being given to any previous new Camellia variety in the UK.

The International Camellia Society had a stand in the Grand Pavilion at Chelsea and gave it pride of place. With almost no other Camellias flowering so early, it was given due prominence and attracted plenty of attention from show visitors. It was also entered into the RHS Plant of the Year contest and though it didn’t make the last three, secured some TV coverage and was seen by a wide audience.

Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights’ Jasmine on the Plant of the Year display at Chelsea Flower Show 2021

This is a new variety of Camellia with an interesting story behind it. A new species of Camellia was identified in the mid 1980’s and named C. changii, a name subsequently changed to Camellia azalea but still disputed it seems. It was summer flowering but it soon transpired that it was not going to be easy to grow, so a breeding programme was launched to try to produce a variety that would be summer flowering in UK growing conditions. ‘1001 Summer Nights Jasmine’ is a hybrid between C. azalea and C. ‘Dr Clifford Parks’, the latter a cross between C. reticulata ‘Crimson Robe’ (‘Dataohong’) and C. japonica ‘Kramer’s Supreme’.

It is being offered for sale in the UK by various suppliers, here is the link to Thompson and Morgan’s sales information on it.

Even from the pictures in their publicity material there is a suggestion of variability, in that the flowers seem to range from being single with six or seven petals to semi-double with at least twice as many petals. The stamens of camellias readily become petaloid, usually in response to temperature, so this may well be within the natural variation for the variety and only time will tell what the flower form will usually be.

Thompson & Morgan’s Product Development Manager told me that he grew the variety in his garden for a couple of seasons before it was released and that it flowered from July until October.

I came away from Chelsea with two plants of it, one destined for the National Collection at Mount Edgcumbe, the other for me to keep under observation in my own garden. Both have flowers with six or seven petals, 8-10cm wide and of a bright shade of pink. It is evident that they have been flowering for some time and there are still a lot of unopened buds, most showing colour.

The same plant back home in Cornwall after a long trip by bus, train and car.

It is quite exciting to have a novelty come along like this that genuinely brings something new to the range of Camellias currently available. No doubt breeding will continue and this, the first of its kind, will get superseded by better varieties in the future. A new single pink Camellia would have almost no appeal without something as unique as a completely different flowering season. Even so, provided it proves reliably hardy and a regular flowerer, this is a welcome addition to the Camellia family, an evergreen shrub of a reasonable size with showy flowers over a long season.

There are, I’m told, more cultivars in the pipeline. These will all have C. azalea in the parentage but I don’t know what has been used as the other parent. A large number of successful crosses have been made in China using a wide range of both seed and pollen parents but given the sub-tropical conditions in which C. azalea occurs in the wild, it will be very necessary to trial new varieties in local conditions elsewhere in the world to assess their suitability. The International Camellia Journal had articles describing some of the new hybrids back in 2011 and 2012. Presumably the intervening years have been devoted to trialling and building up good stocks. The pictures suggested that they have started with one of the less showy forms; perhaps it stood out for some other reason, perhaps they’re hoping that the customers for ‘1001 Summer Nights’ will want to come back for another variety in a year or two’s time.

Camellia pruning revisited.

Camellia pruning revisited.

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.

Formative pruning.
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.

Regular pruning.

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.

These two shots from 2nd September 2018 show how much more growth there would be each year without pruning.

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.

5/6/2018 ‘Twiss Cornwall’, or ‘Saturnia as I’ve now realised it should be, two years after severe pruning. It was cut high to be out of reach of deer. I’just thinned it at this stage. I need to use my telescopic pruner to remove late season extension growth later in the year. Note that in addition to thinning the new shoots I’ve also removed a little more of the main framework.

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.

The accession page for one of the plants of ‘Twiss Cornwall’ that I have reallocated to ‘Saturnia’.

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.

A problem solved, maybe.

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 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.

‘Plantation Pink’ at Antony Woodland Garden, labelled ‘Cotton Candy’.

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.

Picture as taken on right, adjusted to how I think it looked on left. Actually, it looked like the picture on the right but my brain, seeing it in its context against green leaves, told me it looked like the picture on the left.

October reflection


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
Amazing Graces
Dolly Dyer
Fire Dance
Dwarf Shishi
Ariel’s Song
Sweet Jane
Dark of the Moon
Matilija Poppy
Pensacola Red
Sasanqua Alba Plena
Sasanqua Variegata x 2
Souvenir de Claude Brivet x 2
Gay Baby
Cloud Nine
Sugar Babe
Early Pearly
Paradise Venessa

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.