It was very cold riding up to Mt Edgcumbe on my motorbike yesterday and with ice about, not much fun. I didn’t know what to expect flowerwise.
I needn’t have worried. Positioned as it is on the west side of Plymouth sound, I doubt whether they ever get frost of any significance.
Blossom was to be found in fair abundance and I put this montage together to post on Twitter. Unfortunately I didn’t have space for the names, so here they are.
Row 1. Winter’s Interlude, Snow Flurry, Mine-no-yuki, Sparkling Burgundy.
Row 2. Setsugekka, Winter’s Toughie, Plantation Pink, Fukuzutsumi.
Row 3. Gay Sue, Paradise Hilda, Hugh Evans, Navajo.
Row 4. Dazzler, Rainbow, Paradise Blush, Bonanza.
Very often all the autumn flowering camellias are referred to as “sasanquas” but Camellia sasanqua is in fact one of three or four species that may be involved. Of the varieties shown here, Mine-no-yuki, Plantation Pink, Fukuzutsumi, Gay Sue, Paradise Hilda, Hugh Evans, Navajo, Rainbow and Paradise Blush are given in the Camellia Register as forms of C.sasanqua.
Sparkling Burgundy, Dazzler and Bonanza are listed as forms of C.hiemalis, a species regarded by some as a sasanqua hybrid.
Winter’s Interlude, Winter’s Toughie and Snow Flurry are all from Dr William Ackerman’s program to breed winter hardy camellias for the colder areas of the USA. C.sasanqua, C.sinensis, C.oleifera and C.hiemalis all feature here.
It seems likely that hybridity, in the wild or in cultivation, is involved in many or most garden camellias. They are often raised from seed produced with no knowledge of the pollen parent and sometimes found as seedlings where neither parent can be identified.
There were more than the 16 in the first picture. This set comprises Winter’s Rose, Narumigata, Baronesa de Soutelinho, Winter’s Charm, Paradise Glow, oleifera, Maiden’s Blush and Lavender Queen.
The sasanquas don’t usually produce a flower display to stop you in your tracks but at a time of year when there is very little else flowering at all, they are very worthy of a place in the garden. I took this picture of Navajo because it was really turning it on.
Not for the first time, I spoke to someone passing while I was snapping away, who remarked on how early the camellias were flowering, unaware that this subset of the genus are meant to be flowering now. There were a handful of blooms on varieties that are meant to be spring flowerers, though in one case I would say it sits on the fence.
These four, clockwise, are Campsii Alba, Peter Betteley, Nobilissima and Gloire de Nantes. All are japonicas, usually spring flowering, although Nobilissima is always very early.
Peter Betteley is interesting. Mr Betteley was a camellia enthusiast whose camellia collection was donated to Mt Edgcumbe after he died. There are two plants, side by side, labelled ‘Peter Betteley’. In both Mt Edgcumbe’s records and in the Camellia Register their parentage is given as Bokuhan x Scented Sun. In the Register Lee Stenning of Mt Edgcumbe is credited with raising it “from plants in the Betteley collection”. Lee denies having done so. It seems entirely plausible that Bokuhan was one parent and there are two plants of it that are part of the Betteley collection but Scented Sun as the other seems to me less convincing. In the meantime, the two plants labelled Peter Betteley are in fact different from each other, sister seedlings I imagine, and one of the differences between them is that one flowers earlier than the other. In fact it flowers so early that an autumn flowering pollen parent might be suspected.
The last of the varieties flowering yesterday was Shiro-wabisuke. There seems to be confusion around the name. One botanist elevated the cultivar to species status, making it Camellia wabisuke. However there is another variety which used to known by this name, prized by masters of the tea ceremony, which was renamed Sasameyuki. The descriptions make them sound very similar.
As well as flowering very early, this variety, whatever its correct identity, is lightly but pleasantly scented with a proper perfume, as distinct from the slightly oily smell that passes for scent in many of the “sasanquas”.