Little things

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

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

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

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

Camellia japonica 'Barbara Mary'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 thoughts on “Little things

  1. Re. March 2919 Your mystery pink formal double Camellia japonica could be ‘Susan Stone’s. It is not the Waterhouse cultivar as labelled which has a faint fragrance.

    The white formal double could be anything but the commonly grown ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ should be sought out and compared.


    • Thanks for your comments Neil. Susan Stone is not a variety I can find much about but there is a picture in the Southern California Nomenclature and I see the similarity. I wish I’d thought to try it for scent but by the time I got back to try all the flowers were gone. It has only just started flowering again having been pruned hard a few years ago and it may be that when it gets into its stride it will produce bigger and better blooms. It is often the case, in our comparatively cool climate, that blooms are lacking stamens because they have all become petaloid and in America or Australia would have been semi-double in one form or another. I would be surprised if it turned out to be an American variety as its in an Australian section and a high proportion of the collection planted at the time this was were Australian, with relatively few Americans. The first thing I will do next year is smell it.
      Pretty sure the white is not Nuccios Gem, it has a rather distinctive upright habit and is a reluctant flowerer, neither of which apply to the Nuccio’s Gems in the collection; I will check to be sure though.


      • Hi Jim. A friend sent me your image of camellia Barbara Mary. What a gorgeous bloom, but to me it looks a little too perfect to be the true Barbara Mary. It a pity you didn’t get to smell it. I am the Barbara Mary for whom it was named. It was a Cho Cho San seedling either bred by my father Gordon G. Waterhouse, or my Grandfather the wonderful EG Waterhouse, my role model and life’s inspiration. The original plant was grown at our family property Euganea, at Kurrajong Heights NSW. The image in Stirling Macoboy’s book is definitely incorrect and a disappointment. My grandfather always used to quip that Barbara Mary grew better in the UK than in Australia. These days I find myself in the tropics where camellias don’t grow well at all, so I see lovely photos like yours with a healthy dose of nostalgia.


      • The plant of ‘Barbara Mary’, your camellia, at Mt Edgcumbe, was hard pruned a few years ago and proved very reluctant indeed to get back into flowering. The picture in the article was taken in March 2019, the first time I’d ever seen a bloom on it. At the time I took it, it was pretty much a formal double. I used the pictures I took then to illustrate both the blog post and for the illustration of it in the collection. I have another picture which I took six weeks later, which is quite different and which matches the register description very much better than the earlier ones did. I will email it to you as I would greatly appreciate your confirmation that it is indeed the correct plant. It is almost impossible to check the identity of Camellias from that era, many are not in any books or catalogues that I know of or possess and they all predate digital cameras and the internet so unless someone has found a labelled plant somewhere, photographed it and put it on the internet recently, I have nothing to go on but the register description.


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