October reflection

Planting

I have managed to resume my volunteer days at Mt Edgcumbe on a weekly basis for the past few weeks and have been focussing on planting. The park has a small nursery area where they have been growing on small plants that they obtained a few years ago and last autumn I brought some of the more needy ones home to nurture through this growing season with a view to planting them this autumn. Along with a few obtained elsewhere, it has turned into quite a good year for adding to the collection.

This is what has been planted so far this year, some in the spring, most in the last three weeks.

Adorable
Snowflake
Volcano
Quinto
Dr Clifford Parks
Minato-no-akebono
Amazing Graces
Dolly Dyer
Fire Dance
Dwarf Shishi
Kenkyo
Ariel’s Song
Sweet Jane
Dark of the Moon
Matilija Poppy
Pensacola Red
Sasanqua Alba Plena
Sasanqua Variegata x 2
Souvenir de Claude Brivet x 2
Lammertsii
Gay Baby
Cloud Nine
Sugar Babe
Early Pearly
Paradise Venessa
Odoratissima
granthamiana
yuhsienensis

It seems like a respectable list to me. Sixteen are new taxa for the collection, the others provide a duplicate for varieties with only one plant previously.

The ground in the park is astonishly poor and it really amazes me how well most of the Camellias planted over the years are doing. In almost every hole I’ve hit numerous pieces of rock and in several cases the rock is solid before I’ve gone a spade’s depth. In most places there is a layer of organic material derived from fallen leaves and other vegetation and I can only think that the camellias root into this and the top few inches of soil.

I have a dozen or so still to go, which will hopefully get planted in the next two weeks. Partly because the soil is so thin, drying out in summer is a serious threat and getting water to new plants is no easy matter. Winter, on the other hand, is no threat; the place barely gets frost at all and most areas are too steep for water to collect. Autumn planting will hopefully give the new plants a chance to get their roots down, or out, before the summer stress starts.

Pruning.

One of the new additions to the function of WordPress blogs that I am finding a use for is image compare. Here is a before and after of Camellia ‘Debbie’ from my garden, showing how I pruned it recently. I pruned it hard back about three years ago as it was top heavy and falling over. It responded by making a lot of extension growth with very few flower buds. It has now started to bud up more freely but there is still a lot of growth without flowers that I wanted to remove.

When camellias are growing strongly, they will make two flushes of growth in a year. The first flush is short, 3-6 inches long typically, and it is this flush that should produce flower buds. On a strong growing bush, a young plant perhaps, or one that has been hard pruned, the apical bud on each shoot will rest for a few weeks then grow away again. As you can see from ‘Debbie’, these shoots can be two feet long or more.
The side shoots have in many cases formed flower buds but these are going to be obscured by the growth above them come spring.

By September the flower buds are very obvious, as are the shoots that are not going to have any flowers. It is late enough in the season for pruning not to be followed by more growth, so in I went with my secateurs, cutting back all the later, non flowering growth. Generally I cut just above a lateral that is carrying flower buds and as you can see, it is not obvious that the bush has been pruned. I could have done this at any time during the dormant season But my thinking is that by removing it early it might diminish the vigour of the bush a little, favouring flower rather than growth, in the same way as summer pruning apples favours fruit.

Many Camellias will only produce the first flush and will bud freely on lateral and apical shoots. As a result they will be growing far less quickly. In dry summers secondary growth may be absent from almost all plants.