I have been up to Mt Edgcumbe only a handful of times since mid March. It just didn’t seem to be the right thing to do, whether or not it would have been legitimate under the lockdown rules.
Yesterday I spent the morning up there, wandering round the collection to take stock of how things were looking. Of particular concern were the small number of plants added to the collection over the 2019/20 winter. They’d had to endure an exceptionally wet February and then an exceptionally hot and dry May, it seemed unlikely that they would be thriving.
I needn’t have worried. There had been one casualty, Camellia sinensis ‘Benibana-cha’, but that was no surprise. It had been dug from the ground where its roots were entwined with a seedling birch growing only inches away and it hadn’t lifted well.
The rest were fine, which was quite surprising and pleasing in the case of one or two plants that had been lifted from open ground at quite a large size, cut back fairly brutally and transported stuffed into the back of my small car the 30 odd miles up to Mount Edgcumbe. Let’s have a look at what I was able to add to the collection.
Camellia ‘Yoimachi’ went into Area 10, the species section, in mid November. It was a good sized bush, at least 4 feet tall and quite bushy, with flower buds already on it. I feared losing the flowers but in the event it performed magnificently, flowering in January and the first half of February. It is now making new growth so seems to be settling in satisfactorily.
Camellia japonica ‘Sugar Babe’ went in to Area 1A at the end of January. There have long been two plants labelled as ‘Sugar Babe’ in Area 1L in the Amphitheatre. They are not, they are in fact ‘Wilamina’, doubly unfortunate in that there are also two correctly labelled plants of Wilamina also in Area 1L, and trebly unfortunate in that I may very well be responsible for the error, having been in the employ of the nursery that supplied all four plants.
The new addition is correct and a quite different character from ‘Wilamina’. It is a slow growing, very compact bush which did manage to produce one or two of its miniature red flowers in mid March, photographed on my final pre-lockdown visit. It is just now trying to make some new growth so it seems it was hard hit by the dry weather in May, it is in an open position, but looks like it will survive. It may well be a few years until it flowers again.
Camellia sasanqua ‘Early Pearly’ is at the back of Area 1J and settling in nicely. I assume it is deer that seem unable to resist a tied on label, this one is chewed but still readable, most have been chewed off. The plant seems uneaten. Another sasanqua, ‘Paradise Venessa’, was planted in Area 4C where it is doing well. This is a second plant of the variety, there being a much bigger plant in Area 10.
Camellia sasanqua ‘Souvenir de Claude Brivet’ is a French raised variety with single flowers which may be all pink, all white or bicolored with random sections or strips of colour. It is at the front of Area 5A, a new addition to an old section where almost all the very large bushes were hard pruned last year.
More planting was done in the Australia & New Zealand Area 4E. Camellia japonica ‘Odoratissima’ was a plant I had growing in my garden that I wanted rid of. Only one of the two plants in the collection that are labelled ‘Odoratissima’ is correct so this adds a duplicate of that one. ‘Gay Baby’ is a complex hybrid raised by Oz Blumhardt in New Zealand which should have semi-double deep pink flowers. ‘Cloud Nine’ was planted from a pot in the park’s nursery where it had been grown on for a few years. It is a japonica variety that arose as a sport of C. japonica ‘Ecclefield’ in New Zealand. It must be on one of the deer tracks as it has been browsed a little. Hopefully they will lose interest.
On 10th February I planted Camellia ‘Lammertsii’ in Area 1K. A section of felled tree had rolled down the bank and taken the variety ‘Lemon Drop’ off at the base. It may yet regrow but so far there is no sign of it. I planted a 5-6ft specimen of ‘Lammertsii’ to replace it. I hoped that since it was at the bottom of a steep slope that it would receive moisture more reliably than in some other places and it looks now as if that was right. It seems to have survived its move quite well and is making new growth. Another new variety for the collection, this is the first cross made between C. japonica and C. cuspidata, originated by Dr Lammerts, California, in 1957.
Some years ago I raised a lot of seedlings from seed collected from the collection’s plant of C. reticulate ‘Mary Williams’. I selected three that seemed to have potential and planted one in my own garden. The other two were in pots and needed to go somewhere so I gave them back to the park. One, named but unregistered, as ‘Serendipity’, is in Area 2C with other English varieties and is settling in well but seems to have attracted a large ants nest into its root ball.
The other, which in a moment combining rare wit and immodesty, I named ‘Yojimbo’, is down in the main reticulate section, Area 7. It has flowered in the past but didn’t this year, however it is seems to have settled in very well and has made good growth.
Another plant that is surviving against the odds is C. reticulate ‘Curtain Call’ in Area 10. It was seriously damaged by careless strimming three or four years ago, completely ring barking it. When I first noticed it, I didn’t think it would survive for long and I resigned myself to losing the plant. It had other ideas and not only survived but started to spread callus tissue out from above and below the wound in an attempt to repair the damage. This winter I thought it might help to bridge the wound with a graft, which I did. It failed though and the callus has not quite joined up. The plant is still just alive, the callus grows more slowly each year but the gap is now very narrow. Will it make it in time?
Another survivor against the odds is a bush of C. japonica ‘Bokuhan’ in Area 3C, the Japanese section that suffered catastrophic damage when a mature Nothofagus dombeyi fell into it two years ago. The tree lay where it fell, on top of several plants, until it was decided that rather than cut it into small enough pieces to carry out, they would get a big machine and drag it out. One of the plants that had been damaged when the tree fell, but not destroyed, was C. japonica ‘Bokuhan’. It didn’t fare so well with the tree removal crew and ended up as a decapitated stump a foot tall. I found the label and couldn’t even find the plant the first time I looked. The park rangers evidently thought it had gone too as they planted a Magnolia about three feet away. The camellia is shooting and will most likely make a full recovery in time.
Some of the other plants damaged by the falling tree will need to be pruned back severely too. A couple are flat to the ground but shooting from the base so I will cut away the horizontal parts in due course. The capacity of Camellias to recover is truly extraordinary, though I would prefer not to have it tested quite so often.
That would be a good point to finish but I cannot resist putting in a picture of a Camellia that was still flowering yesterday, the 6th July. I have grown this in full sun and it flowers freely in usual camellia season, so in the right climate it may well be a good performer. In shade here it is singularly reluctant to open its buds, many of which remain tightly closed until they drop. It has exceptionally glossy foliage and might almost be worth growing for that alone. It’s Camellia japonica ‘Forrest Green’.