Identity Crises

One of the wrongly named plants that had been exercising me recently is a bush in the oldest of the European sections that is labelled Duchesse Decazes. There are actually three plants in this section, 5A, with that name and two are currently in flower. One appears to be correct and looks like this.
Duchess-Decazes

The other one is very different and clearly wrong, in that it doesn’t match any of the descriptions or pictures that I’ve been able to find of ‘Duchess Decazes’. They’re a tricky lot, these old bicolors. They have nearly all given rise to small families of sports, so my first thought was whether it was a mutation, but it’s a solid, clear red and that seemed unlikely.
IMG_7479-5A-019-Duchess-Decazes
Yesterday I was in an American section and came across ‘Firebird’ in flower. It seemed unlikely that a fairly modern American variety would have become confused with an old European but the similarity was there and they were flowering at the same time. I cut a shoot of ‘Firebird’ and took it along to compare minutely with the putative ‘Duchesse Decazes’. In this picture the flower on the right is from ‘Firebird’ and the two on the left from the supposed ‘Duchesse Decazes’.   Not ‘Duchesse Decazes’ any more. I could find no significant differences in either flowers or foliage so I believe that’s another error resolved.
Fire-Falls

In the same section is a plant labelled ‘Bonomiana’ which, when the whole section was being hard pruned in spring 2019 I asked to be spared as it had not flowered since its last hair cut and I hadn’t had an opportunity to verify it’s identity. Yesterday I spotted a few blooms opening. It appears to be identical to two plants elsewhere that are labelled ‘Tricolor Sieboldii’, a name that is a synonym for ‘Tricolor’ and which makes no sense whatever. It also appears to be identical to one in the English section 2A which is labelled ‘Alba Plena’. Unhelpfully there is another Camellia in 2A labelled ‘Alba Plena’ but it is clearly not the same.

There are quite a number of formal double white varieties around so I’m not optimistic about pinning this one down but it does have a few notable characteristics. The flowers are quite small, 7-8 cm across at most. They shatter very readily, more than once I tried to manipulate a flower into a better position for taking its picture only to have it disintegrate in a shower of petals. The growth habit is dense and very upright, the more so on young or heavily pruned plants. As far as the Mt Edgcumbe collection goes, it is the first formal double white to be flowering.

I was pleased to find flowers out on a couple of recent additions to the collection. ‘Dream Girl’ completes the trio of Girls raised by Howard Asper from sasanqua x reticulata crosses. It will be interesting to compare the performance of the three varieties in similar conditions.
Dream-Girl

The other one is a seedling I raised some years ago from open pollinated seed collected from C. reticulata ‘Mary Williams’. Most of the progeny were singles like the parent but a few produced semi-double flowers. The bloom has only just opened and will get bigger; the colour is a fairly fierce pink. When I first saw a flower on it I fancied there was the influence of something other than C. reticulata in it, presumably that pollen had been carried in from elsewhere, there being nothing in the immediate vicinity flowering at the same time. ‘Serendipity’ seemed an appropriate working name. I’ll give it a year or two to really get established before making a decision on whether to register it.
Serendipity-2

 

Presentation Area.

Presentation-area-2
The Presentation Area was the first part of the collection to be planted and is the last part to receive my attention. It was planted, or at least started, on 7th April 1976, so it will soon be 44 years old. I don’t have a definitive list of what was planted initially but the impression I get is that almost all of the plants there now are originals.

I didn’t have a plan of the area so have drawn a new one which I will put in the page for the section in due course. It is in the formal gardens, backing onto the recently created apiary. It is not a big area, being roughly 30m long by 5m wide, and contains 67 plants. That works out at an average of 1.5m spacing, which must have seemed quite adequate at the time but looks very crowded now.

It later transpired that they had homed in on almost the only outcrop of limestone in the county of Cornwall on which to locate the planting, perhaps accounting for the modest growth the plants have made. It is perhaps surprising that they have done as well as they have and have survived so long.

The planting was done as part of the International Camellia Society’s conference program in 1976 and in his write-up of this part of it in the ICS bulletin of November 1976, Robin Miller has this to say:

“We attended the ceremonial plantings, a pleasantly international affair with spades wielded by Milton Brown from the U.S.A., Monsieur Andre Baumann from France, Lady Mount Edgcumbe, William Kemp for the Middle Georgia Camellia Society, Les Jury from
New Zealand, the Chairman of Cornwall County Council and the Joint Park
Committee, the deputy Lord Mayor of Plymouth and, most appropriately of all, by
David Trehane himself, planting one of a group of Camellia ‘E. G. Waterhouse'”

In a further piece in the same publication, David Trehane adds:

“Lady Mount Edgcumbe planted ‘Inspiration’ (the planting being her idea!); the
Chairman of the Parks Committee planted’ Anticipation’ (for obvious reasons); the
Deputy Lord Mayor chose ‘Plymouth Beauty’; the Chairman of the Cornwall County
Council a ‘J. C. Williams’; Milton Brown (U .S.A.) a ‘Little Lavender’; Bill Kemp (for
the American and the Middle Georgia Camellia Societies) a row of ‘Brigadoon’; and
Les Jury (New Zealand) a ‘Grand Jury’.”

There’s a grainy black and white photograph showing a number of white haired gentlemen in smart attire, wielding shiny stainless steel spades to plant what look to be good sized camellias in full flower. 1976 suddenly seems a very long time ago. I remember it well enough for the hot summer and drought, a portent of things to come, though we didn’t realise that at the time.

Some of the plants have engraved labels, some have pencil written tie-on labels, some have no labels. My first task is to verify the accuracy of the labelled plants and to try to identify the rest. This will entail frequent visits through the flowering season, taking photographs and checking the identity against the name. As an overall picture emerges I shall put a set of pictures on the section page.

There are two reasons I have put off tackling this section; firstly, it is a long way away from the main collection and secondly, if I’m honest, the varieties in it are not very interesting. Most are early x williamsii varieties, nice enough but in hindsight, way too many similar varieties were named. ‘Donation’ (1941) and ‘Anticipation’ (1962) would have represented a foretaste of how much more potential the meeting of japonica and saluenensis had.
Presentation-area

 

Notes from the park -31/12/2019

Last day of the year and I thought I’d take advantage of a dry forecast to go and see what was happening. There was plenty to see.

Star of the show, as she is every year around this time, is ‘Show Girl’ in the species section. It is one of three in the collection and reliably the best.
Show-Girl-16
Show-Girl-17

It was a very gloomy day with a little drizzle and she just blazed out in defiance. To the left of her in the wide picture you can just make out the small, vivid pink blooms of ‘Kanjiro’. In spite of that looking as good as I’ve seen it, you can barely see it. It just underlines how good ‘Show Girl’ is. The blooms are nearly six inches across.
Show-Girl-18

In my last blog on November 18th, I was telling the tale of acquiring and planting Camellia ‘Yoimachi’. It’s only a short distance away from ‘Show Girl’. I’m pleased to say it seems to have settled in exceptionally well and is flowering as if nothing had happened. The vivid pink behind it is ‘Shishigashira’.
Yoimachi-5Yoimachi-4

As mentioned above, the variety ‘Kanjiro’, of which there are two in this area, is flowering well, as is the single plant of ‘Hiryû’. The name ‘Hiryû’ was invalidly used for ‘Kanjiro’ in Australia, an error that shouldn’t have spilled over to the UK, but maybe has. I compared the two varieties today and could see no difference between them, in flower or foliage. The two plants of ‘Kanjiro’ are a bit more upright but that could be because they are in a less shaded spot. Assuming they are the same, I now need to work out which name is correct. ‘Hiryû’ is given as x vernalis, ‘Kanjiro’ as hiemalis, which would suggest there should be an obvious difference between them.
Kanjiro-2

However, x vernalis is a hybrid between sasanqua and japonica and has given rise to a rather diverse group of cultivars. Hiemalis is given species status by some botanists but is almost certainly another sasanqua x japonica hybrid group, and just for good measure, Camellia sasanqua, the species, has small white flowers and it is likely that most of the designated cultivars of it that are in cultivation are again hybrids.

One variety flowering down in Japanese section 3C is definitely attributable to x vernalis, in that I am convinced that in spite of it being labelled C. pitardii, it is in fact C. x vernalis ‘Ginryû’. See my blog from February 2018.
Ginryu

Then there were the rest. Here’s a montage, by no means exhaustive.

Row 1: ‘Lily Pons’, ‘St Ewe’, ‘Cornish Snow’, ‘Inspiration’, ‘Winton’.
Row 2: ‘Chatsworth Belle’, ‘Kewpie Doll’, ‘Paradise Glow’, ‘Mabel Blackwell, ‘Peter Betteley’.
Row 3: ‘Winter’s Snowman’, ‘John Pickthorne’, ‘Little Bit Red’, ‘Scented Red’, grijsii.
Row 4: ‘Peter Betteley’, ‘Nobilissima’, ‘Flower Girl’, ‘Bonanza’, ‘Winter’s Toughie’.
Row 5: ‘Elizabeth Dowd’, ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Gay Sue’, ‘Little Lavender’, Tinker Toy’.

 

A new addition.

Yoimachi-1
A few days ago I found myself reading a 1982 article by Dr Clifford Parks about hybrids of Camellia sasanqua. I was looking up the background to C. ‘Snow Flurry’, an Ackerman cross with C. oleifera, one he was to repeat many times.

Perhaps the most interesting cross that Parks mentioned was one he made himself with Camellia fraterna, the other parent being C. sasanqua ‘Narumigata’. He had named it ‘Yoi Machi’ and described it as “a fine textured shrub with very delicate flowers”. It seems to have become ‘Yoimachi’ in the Camellia register.

Yoimachi-3
It reminded me that I knew where there was one growing, and effectively abandoned. I am very pleased to say that it is abandoned no more, having today been dug up and transported to Mt Edgcumbe where it has been planted in the species section, Area 10.
The pictures above are of it in its previous quarters in February 2017.

Yoimachi-2

A good proportion of the plants in Area 10 are forms of Camellia sasanqua or the closely related C. hiemalis. There are around 20 mostly large bushes flowering there right now and looking ethereally beautiful in the low light of autumn.

sasanquas-4

Top row: ‘Paradise Hilda’, ‘Plantation Pink’, ‘Sparkling Burgundy’.
Middle Row: sport of ‘Hugh Evans’, Paradise Glow’, ‘Rainbow’.
Bottom Row: ‘Hugh Evans’, ‘Navajo’, ‘Dazzler’.

Propagation by cuttings.

Introduction.
Almost all the camellia cuttings I have ever taken have been done between late July and late August. In my nursery days the big groups of plants we propagated were camellias, fuchsias and conifers. The Camellias were taken in summer and were rooted by mid winter when they were weaned off and replaced by conifers. The conifers were moved on in early spring to be replaced by Fuchsias. As it happens, the camellias could have been taken in autumn/winter with similar results but the conifers wouldn’t have succeeded in summer.

At a guess, most people reading this won’t have a mist system and I think it may be easier to take camellia cuttings in autumn/winter without one. Apart from the timing, everything else remains the same.

There are several methods available for propagating camellias but the overwhelming majority of those on sale in the UK will have been raised from cuttings. Cuttings provide a reasonably inexpensive and quick way to produce a saleable plant for the nursery or garden centre. Furthermore, the plants will usually be true to type and resemble their parents in all characteristics.

In principle, we take advantage of the plant’s ability to regrow missing parts, in this case a root system, by taking a shoot and providing it with an environment that is conducive to it surviving in good condition long enough for new roots to develop. The principle is very simple; in practice it is more complicated as there are many variables involved and getting each of them right will increase your success rate in terms of percentage take and quality of end result.

Cutting material.
Cuttings are taken from shoots of the current season that have finished growing and firmed up. The bark will probably have turned from green to brown. This may be available from late June to the end of August, depending on the season and the variety. Different varieties of camellias start into growth at different times from March into May. Typically they will make new shoots all over the plant of around 75-100mm in length. Poorly growing plants may only produce shoots of 25mm or less; strong growers may reach 150mm or more. Since we are aiming for cuttings around 75mm long, it is often the case that the shoot can be cut at the base of the current season’s growth. Where the shoots are longer than this, the cutting may be taken below a leaf, at a node. It is still the terminal 75mm or so that is used. Where growth has been very poor, very short cuttings may succeed, again taken at the base of the current season’s growth. Making a longer cutting by using some of the previous year’s growth is unlikely to succeed.

Cuttings can be taken later in the year, up until November. The same material is used but flower buds will likely have formed and should be removed. The shoot will have hardened up and will as a result take a little longer to root. If further growth has been made after August it is unlikely to be suitable for cuttings, being too soft, too long and with long internodes. I did a batch of 90 cuttings in late February 2019 and had 62 (69%) rooted and potted up by autumn. Most of the rest are still alive and may still root.

Care must be taken that at no stage does the material dry out. Ideally collect cuttings early in the day, placing them into plastic bags which have been wetted in advance. Keep them in shade. Write a label at the time of collection and be sure it remains with the batch of cuttings at all times.

Cutting-1
Camellia shoot from which cutting to be prepared.
a) Point at which cutting removed from bush.
b) Cut made here to produce cutting approx 75cm long.
c) Alternative cut position if shoot were longer.
d) This leaf removed.
e) This leaf probably kept under mist, otherwise removed.
f) Flower buds at early stage of development.
e) Vegetative buds.

Preparing cuttings.
Lower leaves are removed, leaving two or three leaves for most varieties, up to five for small leaved forms. Leaves are best left intact so as not to encourage disease. A clean cut is made with a sharp knife either just below a leaf or at the base of the shoot.
It is widespread practice to wound the cutting by cutting the bark off one side of the cutting for about 1-1.5 cm at the base.

Cutting-2
Prepared cutting with wound at base. One or two more leaves could be removed.

The use of hormone rooting treatment is likely to produce a better root system on the cutting but won’t make something root that doesn’t have the capacity to do so. Professional growers usually use IBA, Indol butyric acid, whereas growers relying on retail products will find most products contain NAA, napthylacetic acid. Powder, liquid, gel and tablet formulations may be found. Cuttings should not be dipped into the main container: as much as needed should be tipped into a smaller container and any surplus discarded. Dry products will last for several years if kept dry, uncontaminated, air tight and cool.

Cutting-4
Cell tray with 20 cuttings in Sylvagrow compost.

Once treated, the cuttings are stuck into trays of compost. Cell trays have the advantage of less root disturbance when potting the rooted cuttings up but the volume of compost available to each cutting is very small and drying out can be a problem, especially at the edge of benches or with bigger or leafier cuttings. I have found coir compost to produce good results under a mist system, it generally remaining moist from the mist without becoming waterlogged. Currently I am using Melcourt Sylvagrow compost and getting good results. Many substrates are used, with each grower having found something that works for them. Thus various mixtures of peat, bark chips, perlite and various other ingredients will all work provide that they provide support for the cutting and have a suitable balance between water retention and good aeration.

Cuttings should be stuck only deep enough to hold them vertical. Most root growth is from the basal 10mm of the cutting and strongly downwards. If the cuttings are stuck too deep or the rooting medium is too shallow, the rooting zone may be very limited.

Cutting-3
Rooted cuttings showing root growth downward only from cutting base.

Rooting environment.
In a commercial setting the trays of cuttings are likely to be put onto a mist bench with bottom heat. An electronic “leaf” is placed amongst the cuttings; when it dries out a signal is sent to a controller which operates a valve and produces a burst of fine mist over the cuttings. The “leaf” is wetted, making a circuit between electrodes on its surface and the controller then stops the mist burst. Depending on conditions, the mist burst may be from every few minutes to every few hours.

Setting up a mist bench is quite costly and its relative complexity means there is quite a lot to go wrong. For small numbers of cuttings it is probably inappropriate and one very good grower of my acquaintance managed very well without. (or bottom heat either)
An atmosphere of 100% humidity can be provided around the cuttings by covering them with polythene. This could be a plastic bag secured with a rubber band over a pot containing a few cuttings, right up to low polythene tunnels 1-2m wide and many metres long. Polythene films are available specifically for propagation and may be clear or milky. Clear plastic hoods that fit a standard seed tray are readily available.

Shade from direct sunlight is essential. An unrooted cutting will not be doing a lot of photosynthesizing, so quite low light levels will suffice and in summer at least 50% shading will be in order.

Bottom heat is usually reckoned to speed root production and the combination of cool tops (from the cooling effect of evaporation) and warm bottoms, is supposed to be the winning recipe provided by a mist bench. I would caution against temperatures over 21°C as I am fairly certain that too high a temperature can lead to a lot of callus production which the new roots cannot then break through. It also increases the risk of the compost drying out, another thing I suspect encourages excess callusing.

Aftercare.
Camellia cuttings root very slowly so it is likely to be winter before they are rooted and early spring before they need potting up. A dilute liquid feed at 6-8 week intervals will prevent the cuttings getting starved over the rooting period. The rooted cuttings will then be potted into 9cm pots in a suitable compost and grown on for a season. I would leave cuttings in their cell trays until late winter even if they are rooted much earlier, not wanting to disturb and possibly damage the root system until it is poised to make new growth.

When roots are poking through the bottom of the propagation container they are ready for potting up. Sometimes a mass of callus is produced but no roots and it may be worth cutting much of this away, re-treating with hormone and sticking them back in the rooting medium.

Cutting-5
Cutting taken 31/7/2019, potted spring 2019. Photo 2/11/2019. A beautiful variety you won’t find in any UK nursery to my knowledge.

It is worth bearing in mind that camellia roots are much less hardy than the tops. Steps must be taken to prevent pots freezing as this is likely to be fatal.

There is a huge range of ease of rooting with camellias. At one extreme are the reticulatas, which if they root at all are likely to have poor, weak root systems. The reticulata hybrids can be almost as difficult and often produce very strong, thick shoots which are far from ideal propagation material. At the other extreme are modern varieties like Debbie, where 100% success is achievable. Very old clones are likely to be harder to root than younger ones. If a variety was raised 200 years ago, its physiological age is 200 years, even if you are propagating from a plant of it that is only 10 years old.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to worry more about keeping the cuttings in good condition and less about trying to make it produce roots. Success cannot be guaranteed. If it is achieved, satisfaction can be.

 

 

Notes from the park 21/10/2019

I popped up the park this morning with a few plants in the car. One was a large Agave which has become too big to keep lugging into the greenhouse for winter. They’re going to plant it in the park; they hardly ever get frost, being right by the sea.

Also on board was a camellia that I raised some years ago from seed of Camellia reticulata ‘Mary Williams’, a plant in the reticulata section that usually produces a good number of seed pods. I sowed quite a number and was amazed to have many of them blooming at less than two years old. I discarded the singles, kept the doubles and then selected three that showed promise. Today I took one back to the park. I call it ‘Serendipity’, though the name has not been registered. The plant is about five feet tall and was in a 20 litre pot, so it should be big enough to survive life in the big wide world. It has large pink semi-double flowers that have something of x williamsii about them, though the leaves are pure reticulata. ‘Mary Williams’ flowers very early so there will not have been any other reticulatas in bloom at the time so the nearest camellias in flower at the same time are some way off.
Serendipity

On the subject of raising Camellias from seed, I noticed today that C. ‘Admiral Spry’ had a good crop of pods on it. This is a bicolored single that is in one of the English sections. It has irregularly pink and white striped flowers with a few all white and all pink blooms as well. Since the genetics that underpins this is not chimaeral, I am wondering whether the bicolored character would come through in its seedlings. I shall certainly be giving it a try. Most of the seed pods are green with some red striping, which struck me as encouraging.Admiral-Spry-2

I had a wide angle lens on the camera, geared up to take a few floral close ups and maybe the odd view. As it turned out, my first photo opportunity was a fox standing on the path a hundred yards or so away. It had its back to me so I tried to creep a bit closer but it almost certainly saw me before I saw it. It’s a rubbish picture but here it is anyway.
fox

 

Sasanqua season 2019 – 2

Is it the right time to go up to the park to see the sasanquas? Well, no, not quite yet. I found eight varieties in flower today but most only just beginning with a handful of blooms. Give it another three or four weeks.

sasanquas-1

Here are the first four, clockwise from top left ‘Hugh Evans’ (1G-046), ‘Tanya’ (1G-110), ‘New Dawn’ (5A-050) and ‘Rainbow’ (10-075). Cropping the pictures makes the flowers all look the same size but ‘Tanya’ and ‘New Dawn’ are small at 3-4cm across, ‘Hugh Evans’ and ‘Rainbow’ about twice that. Poor old ‘Rainbow’ now has a large tree trunk lying alongside it, a beech tree that fell down earlier this year and is unlikely to be removed. The increased light levels will be very much to the liking of ‘Rainbow’ and the other camellias around, most of them sasanqua forms.

Further down in section 10 I found myself revisiting an old conundrum. ‘Narumigata’ (10-034) turned out to be two different camellias planted together. ‘Narumigata’ isn’t in flower yet but the other one, 10-078, is. It is very like ‘Rainbow’ in flower but the leaf is quite different, narrower and more pointed. There’s a plant of ‘Rainbow’ growing beside it and side by side the differences are obvious enough.

sasanquas-2

Top row is ‘Rainbow’ (10-047), bottom row the unknown variety. There are several single white sasanqua varieties that it could be and it would be nice to be able to put a name to it with high confidence.

Section 10 is known as the species section but about half of what is in it is sasanqua varieties. Hugh Evans and Plantation Pink are among the first to open and are starting to look good now.

sasanquas-3

Clockwise from top left, ‘Hugh Evans’ (10-022) consistently has the most and the largest blooms for the variety out of the five plants of it in the park. I put that down to it growing in the most suitable conditions, moist soil and a good bit of sunshine; ‘Plantation Pink’ (10-044) is one of two in this section, both good; ‘Setsugekka’ (3C-027) is in the Japanese section in the lower Amphitheatre and a little further down still in section 1L is ‘Snow Flurry’ (1L-040). This last plant is one of a number of William Ackerman’s hybrids along the back of section L and until a couple of years ago it was in the deep shade of a mature Beech tree. It is no longer, the tree having fallen. The transformation of ‘Snow Flurry’ and its neighbour ‘Winter’s Rose’ (1L-055) could not be more striking. From appearing barely worth growing for lack of bloom they have turned into some of the most floriferous winter flowerers in the park. Here’s a picture of ‘Snow Flurry’ that shows how much bud it has. The Red Admiral was enjoying it too.

Snow-Flurry-9

Snow-Flurry-10

IMG_3086a