An ending of an ‘L’

I’ve just finished gallery page L. Nearly half way through the alphabet, probably well past halfway on varieties.

One letter, so many issues. There’s ‘Lady Clare’, correctly known as ‘Akashigata’. She’s followed by ‘Lady de Saumerez’, a solid deep pink derived from the bicolor, ‘Tricolor’. Variation due to genetic instability is built in. There is a plant in a nearby garden with pink blooms open now and masses of slowly opening fimbriated buds still to come. They are ‘Fred Sander’. There are also pure white flowers on the bush. I wonder what it was thought to be when planted.


‘Lady Clare’, ‘Lady de Saumerez’, ‘Fred Sander’ and ‘Lady Loch’


‘Lady Loch’, Lady McCulloch’ and the Lady Vansittart’ group are all bicolors and similarly unstable. You can plant one thing and end up with another.

‘Lady St Clair’ is prone to “balling”, whereby the flower doesn’t open properly and the flower remains bowl shaped. The outer petals are often damaged and perhaps this is what stops development.

‘Lady Vere de Vere’ is perhaps the most striking virus variegated camellia I have seen. The white on the petals is blurry, rather than the shrp edged stripes and splashes of genetically variegated flowers. It seems to me that this year the white on this and other virus variegated blooms is much less prominent than usual. One bush of ‘Grand Slam’ which was heavily variegated last year is showing none at all this.

‘La Genola’, ‘Leonara’ and ‘Lily Morel’ appear not to have been registered. All three are growing in gardens where I am inclined to trust the labelling, but only ‘Leonara’ is mentioned in the register, to say that no valid listing has been found.

I have been out and about taking many many photos of Camellias in the last few weeks, often of varieties I have photographed many times before. It is interesting to see the variation from year to year when comaparing photos. I am also always looking for a better picture of every variety. Some I have not seen again since taking their pictures years ago. I will have been using a less good camera and I cannot claim to have an accurate recollection of the colour of a flower when I took the picture. Thus when it comes to tweaking pictures prior to putting them on the website, innaccuracies will inevitably creep in.

Reds and vivid pinks are particularly challenging for a digital camera, with the histogram often showing reds overexposed and green and blue way behind. Shooting in RAW is well and good but when I can take a thousand pictures in a day, involve a massive amount of processing.

Bright sun is good for depth of field, vibrant color and minimal movement blur, bad for harsh shadows. Overcast means lower speeds and/or less depth of field, flatter colour. Perfect conditions are rare and fleeting.

So now I must get on with the letter M. From ‘Mabel Blackwell’ to ‘Mystique’, there are many more stories to tell.

On identifying camellias.

I am sometimes asked to identify a camellia that someone has in their garden but doesn’t know the identity of. My usual response is along the lines of mmmmm, I’m not sure, it could be this, it could be that.

“But you’re an expert, I thought you’d know”, they say, combining disappointment and accusation, to which I say something like “the trouble with camellias is that the more varieties you get to know, the more possibilities there usually are when confronted with an un-named bloom”.

Then I get into my stride a bit and point out that the Camellia Register is a large book, with small print and almost no pictures, that there are two volumes of it plus two supplements and that it contains 90,000 names (I have no idea how many names it contains, any large figure will suffice), many of them synonyms or of extinct varieties.

I explain that of the 30,000 varieties currently in cultivation (I have no idea how many varieties are currently in cultivation, I doubt whether anyone does) I have myself only ever seen around 1000, many of them only once and a long time ago and that my memory is not what it was and it wasn’t so good then anyway.

Assuming that the enquirer is too polite to have made an excuse and left, I go on to explain that they are in any case unusually variable, with flower size, shape, colour, flowering time and anything else that springs to mind varying from season to season and from one location to another.

Needless to say, the enquirer, who by now is bitterly regretting ever asking, is convinced that I am hiding the shallowness of my knowledge behind a smokescreen of excuses. It is unusual to be able to give examples that I have seen, like Satan’s Robe not having anthers one year or Desire producing blooms of an almost uniform pink.

Realising that they don’t believe a word that I am saying, and uncomfortable with that, I will sometimes tell them to leave the bloom with me so that I can compare it with the thousands of pictures that I have taken over the years. Thus I get to spend an hour or two of my own unpaid time trying to find a convincing match, at the end of which I usually am no further forward and have to admit defeat. Sometimes I think I have found it and duly impart my diagnosis to the enquirer in the full knowledge that they think I am a fraud, an ignorant fraud, and that they can dismiss the name I have given them because it is surely wrong.

I used to work under a head gardener who if asked to identify a plant he didn’t know would say “It’s American Lilac”, pretty much whatever it was. Make something up, say it with confidence and without hesitation, and most people will go away happy. Misinformed, but happy.


Camellias are one of the three large tribes of trees and shrubs that dominate many Cornish gardens, the others being Rhododendrons and Magnolias. Both the soil and the climate suit them well so that they thrive in most situations.

The association with Cornwall is such that four of the five Plant Heritage national collections are in Cornwall. The williamsii hybrids are so named after J.C. Williams, the Cornish landowner who first raised the cross. As well as the national collections at Mt Edgcumbe, Anthony House, Heligan and Tregothnan, extensive collections can be seen at Tregrehan, Trewithen, Trewidden and Caerhays, to name just four.

Camellia blooms are generally very photogenic and I have been taking pictures of them, mainly in Cornwall but also at other gardens in the UK and elsewhere, for several years. My aim is to share those pictures in the hope that they will both bring pleasure and also inform others of the enormous range and quality of varieties available.