New Camellias tend to slip quietly onto the market, appearing first in specialist nurseries before making it into mainstream garden centres, presumably after the wholesale sector has adopted them and produced them in large numbers.
Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights’ Jasmine has been available for a year or two but this year’s September Chelsea Flower Show saw it given a higher profile than I recall being given to any previous new Camellia variety in the UK.
The International Camellia Society had a stand in the Grand Pavilion at Chelsea and gave it pride of place. With almost no other Camellias flowering so early, it was given due prominence and attracted plenty of attention from show visitors. It was also entered into the RHS Plant of the Year contest and though it didn’t make the last three, secured some TV coverage and was seen by a wide audience.
This is a new variety of Camellia with an interesting story behind it. A new species of Camellia was identified in the mid 1980’s and named C. changii, a name subsequently changed to Camellia azalea but still disputed it seems. It was summer flowering but it soon transpired that it was not going to be easy to grow, so a breeding programme was launched to try to produce a variety that would be summer flowering in UK growing conditions. ‘1001 Summer Nights Jasmine’ is a hybrid between C. azalea and C. ‘Dr Clifford Parks’, the latter a cross between C. reticulata ‘Crimson Robe’ (‘Dataohong’) and C. japonica ‘Kramer’s Supreme’.
It is being offered for sale in the UK by various suppliers, here is the link to Thompson and Morgan’s sales information on it.
Even from the pictures in their publicity material there is a suggestion of variability, in that the flowers seem to range from being single with six or seven petals to semi-double with at least twice as many petals. The stamens of camellias readily become petaloid, usually in response to temperature, so this may well be within the natural variation for the variety and only time will tell what the flower form will usually be.
Thompson & Morgan’s Product Development Manager told me that he grew the variety in his garden for a couple of seasons before it was released and that it flowered from July until October.
I came away from Chelsea with two plants of it, one destined for the National Collection at Mount Edgcumbe, the other for me to keep under observation in my own garden. Both have flowers with six or seven petals, 8-10cm wide and of a bright shade of pink. It is evident that they have been flowering for some time and there are still a lot of unopened buds, most showing colour.
It is quite exciting to have a novelty come along like this that genuinely brings something new to the range of Camellias currently available. No doubt breeding will continue and this, the first of its kind, will get superseded by better varieties in the future. A new single pink Camellia would have almost no appeal without something as unique as a completely different flowering season. Even so, provided it proves reliably hardy and a regular flowerer, this is a welcome addition to the Camellia family, an evergreen shrub of a reasonable size with showy flowers over a long season.
There are, I’m told, more cultivars in the pipeline. These will all have C. azalea in the parentage but I don’t know what has been used as the other parent. A large number of successful crosses have been made in China using a wide range of both seed and pollen parents but given the sub-tropical conditions in which C. azalea occurs in the wild, it will be very necessary to trial new varieties in local conditions elsewhere in the world to assess their suitability. The International Camellia Journal had articles describing some of the new hybrids back in 2011 and 2012. Presumably the intervening years have been devoted to trialling and building up good stocks. The pictures suggested that they have started with one of the less showy forms; perhaps it stood out for some other reason, perhaps they’re hoping that the customers for ‘1001 Summer Nights’ will want to come back for another variety in a year or two’s time.