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

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.