New season, new puzzles.

There is at Mount Edgcumbe a plant labelled Camellia pitardii, a name which I am as certain as I can be is wrong. That’s the easy bit; the challenge now is to identify it correctly.

It seems to me to bear a very close resemblance to another plant in the collection that is labelled Camellia x vernalis ‘Dawn’. According to the register, ‘Dawn’ is a synonym for ‘Ginryû’, a variety dating from 1789. As far as I can ascertain, from a limited number of pictures and descriptions, this is correctly named. The most obvious differences between the two plants are that “pitardii” is much freer flowering, with slightly larger and fuller flowers and that ‘Dawn’/’Ginryû’ is infected with virus, showing up as yellow mottling on its leaves.

‘Dawn’/’Ginryu’ is in a poor location, deeply shaded and dry, “pitardii” is in an open area with plenty of moisture.

The question in my mind is whether they are the same variety, with and without virus infection.

Puzzle number two is not one to which I expect or require an answer. Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’ has to reckoned one of the world’s most successful Camellias. Camellia x williamsii ‘Fiona Colville’ is virtually unknown. It arose as a mutation on ‘Donation’ at Penheale Manor in Cornwall around 1960 and seems completely stable. Except for the deeper colour of its flowers it appears identical to ‘Donation’.

I would have thought that if the two plants were offered side by side the take up of each would be roughly equal. Of course, as soon as people know that one is ‘Donation’, they’ll go for it because of it’s reputation, except for the handful of people who want something that everyone else doesn’t have.

Puzzle number three concerns another pair of plants. The first is labelled Camellia japonica ‘California’, the second Camellia japonica ‘Firefalls’. Neither name is correct and the two plants appear to be the same variety. The collection records give no source for ‘California’ and for ‘Firefalls’ record it as having been a cutting from a plant in another section that is no longer there.

There is a marked similarity too with another pair in the collection, ‘Mrs Bertha Harms’ and ‘Spring Sonnet’, both wrongly identified and beside each other in the Betteley Collection at Area 1P. My first task is to decide whether they are all the same. That would be very puzzling. The next is to try and match them with something known.

A walk in the park

It being Tuesday, my day was spent at Mount Edgcumbe. There are still a few sections of Camellia plantings that I have not properly documented. One such is the first group of Camellias that was planted to get the collection off the ground. This was back in 1976, when 50 plants, donated by the International Camellia Society, were planted in the Formal Garden.

Well away from the rest of the collection as they are, it is an area I haven’t looked at in a while. Four were flowering.

Clockwise, according to their labels, they are ‘Winton’, ‘J C Williams’, ‘Beatrice Michael’ and ‘Cornish Snow’. Except that ‘J C Williams’ is wrong and ‘Cornish Snow’ didn’t have a label. There is work to do here.

I moved on to an area nearby called Gordon’s Glen. This is a steeply sloping and rocky area which was planted with camellias two years ago. Anticipating that there might be casualties and not expecting much blooming for a while, I have put off setting up a page for them on here. Almost all are duplicates of plants elsewhere in the collection. Most have buds; watch this space.

My next task was to put permanent labels onto the twenty three plants I had donated to the collection a month ago. Satisfyingly, eleven are new varieties and ten are duplicates of varieties represented by a single plant.

Not in collection:
C. japonica ‘Kujaku-tsubaki’
C. japonica ‘Gosho Zakura’
C. japonica ‘Haru-no-utena’
C. japonica ‘Candy Apple’
C. japonica ‘Mermaid’
C. sasanqua ‘Paradise Belinda’
C. x williamsii ‘Rendezvous’
C. hybrid ‘Superscent’
C. x williamsii ‘Mimosa Jury’
C. hybrid ‘Free Spirit’
C. japonica ‘Jules Verne’

One in collection:
C. japonica ‘Tama-no-ura’
C. japonica ‘Nuccio’s Gem’
C. hybrid ‘Apple Blossom’
C. japonica ‘Spring Sonnet’
C. x williamsii ‘Burwell’s Primus’
C. hybrid ‘Brian’
C. japonica ‘John Tooby’
C. x williamsii ‘Plymouth Beauty’
C. x williamsii ‘Monica Dance’

They will get added to their respective sections in due course.

On my way around I snapped away at anything I hadn’t done too many times before and came up with these. Click the images to see larger size with names.

Finally, to revisit a variety I have mentioned before. 1P-039 and 1P-040 are both labelled ‘Peter Betteley’ but it is clear that though similar, they are sister seedlings. 1P-040 has just opened its first bloom; two weeks ago 1P-039 already had several open, adding another small difference to a growing list. The plants are side by side in identical conditions. These are all of 1P-039, this week and last.

Sasanqua season – 4


Or to put it another way, notes from my day at Mount Edgcumbe yesterday.

There were a lot of things blooming in the park yesterday. The sasanquas are in some cases going over, for example ‘Hugh Evans’, ‘Tanya’ and ‘Plantation Pink’. Some, for example ‘Narumigata’, ‘Bonanza’ and ‘Gay Sue’ are still in full flow, a few are just beginning, like ‘Kanjiro’. The sasanqua x reticulata hybrids ‘Flower Girl’ and ‘Show Girl’ are only just starting.





Of the rest, there are some that usually flower early, ‘Nobilissima’, ‘November Pink’, ‘Daikagura’ and ‘Gloire de Nantes’, and these are well into their stride. One of the ‘Peter Betteley’ seedlings and ‘Elizabeth Rose Open’ belong in this group. Then there are odd blooms dotted around pretty much at random, one on ‘Inspiration’, one on ‘Cheryll Lynn’, a few on ‘Alexander Black’.

‘Show Girl’ never fails to astonish me. The flowers are huge, that’s it at the top of the page, and produced in the depths of winter. They nevertheless show some measure of resistance to damage and are produced over a very long season. Their pale clear pink is not in the least strident and for all their size the overall effect, to my eye at least, is of refined showiness.

I think I may have solved the problem of the plant at 1G-014, which is labelled ‘Chansonette’ but produces large white single blooms. As noted in an earlier blog, I suspected it might be ‘Kenkyo’, based on some pictures I have of that variety from several years ago and supported by it being a variety that the nursery that supplied it listed. What I needed though was a growing and flowering plant of ‘Kenkyo’. To my very great satisfaction I found one at Trewithen on Monday. On flower form the only other variety it seemed likely to be was ‘Setsugekka’. Comparing all the photographs I have now amassed, it seemed to me that the stamen filaments of ‘Setsugekka’ are slender and cylindrical, compared to 1G-014 and ‘Kenkyo’ (Trewithen), where the filaments are stouter and thickest in the middle, tapering to both ends.
The difference in flower colour in the pictures is not significant as it is due to lighting conditions.
Comparing foliage, the leaves are all quite similar but those of ‘Setsugekka’ are held at roughly 90 degrees to the shoot, whereas on the other two, the leaves are angled well forward on the shoot. The petioles of ‘Setsugekka’ are also stouter and paler in colour. The difference in leaf angle is consistent across the bush, making it a more convincing diagnostic feature than the pictures might imply.

I am satisfied that 1G-014 is in fact ‘Kenkyo’, though I shall never be 100% confident. I shall recommend relabeling it as such.

Sasanqua season


I put this montage together to post on Twitter but couldn’t do names. Here they are:

Row 1
Winter’s Toughie
Hugh Evans
Plantation Pink

Row 2
Baronesa de Soutelinho
November Pink
Paradise Glow

Row 3
Gloire de Nantes
Winter’s Dream
Lavender Queen
Gay Sue
Show Girl
Snow Flurry

Row 4
Paradise Hilda
Shiro wabisuke
Sparkling Burgundy
Maiden’s Blush

Row 5
Winter’s Rose
Winter’s Interlude

It seemed to be the large single white flowers that were causing me grief today. At 1G-014 is a spreading bush which is labelled ‘Chansonette’. It should therefore have small, bright pink double flowers. This is what it looks like.

Flower wise, it looks very like the two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ in 3C. This is what they look like.

Both ‘Setsugekka’ are upright, fairly open plants. 1G-014 is low and wide spreading. My inclination is to regard that as unimportant.

In December 2016 I photographed the foliage of 1G-014 and ‘Setsugekka’ 3C-027  side by side.  ‘Setsugekka is on the left. It looks wet, which it may be, but it is glossier, the petioles

are stouter and lighter coloured and the leaves are mostly at right angles to the shoot, compared to the more forward pointing leaves of 1G-014. These are small differences only discernible in a side by side comparison, but are enough to convince me that the two plants are different. I need to repeat the shot to show the undersides of the leaves and with a measure for size.

Back in 2016 I wrote another blog about this plant. Then I thought it might have been ‘Kenkyo’, a variety not in the collection. That was partly based on it being very similar in flower to the few pictures of Kenkyo that I have, partly on the fact that ‘Kenkyo’ was listed by the nursery who supplied it. If anyone with Kenkyo could provide me with a picture of the shoot to compare with the one above, I would be very grateful.

The next problem relates to 10-034 which is labelled ‘Narumigata’. There are in fact two different varieties planted together. One may be ‘Narumigata’, the other has a flower very like ‘Rainbow’ but a quite different leaf from the four plants of ‘Rainbow’ in this same section. The first picture is the flower on the plant that probably is ‘Narumigata’.

On the right are shoots from the plant that is clearly not ‘Narumigata’ and from the adjacent plant of ‘Rainbow’ 10-047. The unidentified plant has longer, narrower leaves with twisted acuminate tips. Here are two of its flowers.
As far as I am aware, this doesn’t match any other plant in the collection. Any thoughts on its identity would be welcome.


The season is under way.

It was late in the day before I finished my planned jobs and set off to see what I could find in flower. C. sasanqua ‘Hugh Evans’ is flowering in areas 1G and 10. ‘Tanya’ is out in 1G but the flowers are small and few in number. It’s a variety with small leaves and a bushy habit that would make a great hedge but when it comes to flowering is a disappointment.


Also in 10 were two ‘Plantation Pink’s just getting started and what purport to be ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Narumigata’. The ‘Narumigata’ is almost certainly something else but I don’t know what. Down in the amphitheatre ‘Setsugekka’ had opened three blooms in Japanese section 3C and ‘Snow Flurry’, in 1L, was covered in white flowers.


In this picture of the left hand half of 1L, ‘Snow Flurry’ is to the right of and behind the hornbeam towards the right side of shot. Just to the left of the Hornbeam is the broken trunk of a massive beech that came down on the camellias a couple of months ago. The tree has been removed and what was left of the camellias tidied up as best it could be. Most are already shooting but how the new growth will fare in winter remains to be seen. A couple of plants have nothing left above ground and a dozen or more suffered serious damage.

Some weeks after the beech came down, another tree further up the bank fell down, presumably because it was no longer sheltered by the beech. Fortunately it did no further damage. A stream runs across the picture and is buried in Persicaria campanulatus which is becoming a very serious weed in this area. On the positive side, it is providing quite a lot of flower for 10th October. I don’t know whether it is a good source of nectar and pollen for bees.

My three main tasks for the day were to clear away piles of fallen branches in area 4A, collect seeds and do some labelling.

Area 4A has suffered badly from trees falling or shedding branches onto it. Quite a lot had not been cleared away so I went in with a bow saw, cut it up and moved it out of the way of the camellias. 4A is very steep and I would like to open up an access path along the bottom in addition to the main ride along the top. It’s a work in progress.

Collecting seed was a task I started on a fortnight ago with one early variety. Last week I added another seven and today a further eight. Usually the pods begin to split, indicating their readiness; in one case the pods were dropping, though not splitting. My intention is to clean them up and put them into the RHS Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group seed exchange. Camellia seed must not dry out, as soon as I have extracted them from their pods I will put them into plastic bags and send them away.


Fruits of C. japonica ‘Merry Christmas’.


The seeds from the fruits above.


A large fruit, beginning to split open and looking like it will yield several seeds.


The contents of the fruit above, just two seeds.





One of the first things I did last year when I started working on the collection was to assign each individual plant a number. I am now putting those numbers onto the back of the plant’s labels, using a Brother label printer. Thus, for example, where before the two plants of ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ could only be narrowed down to area 1G, it is now easy to see which one we are referring to. Necessary, in this instance, because while one is correctly named, the other is not and remains unidentified.
With something like 1600 plants in the collection it is going to take some time but my hope is to complete the task by autumn of next year.


What happens when nothing’s happening.

The flowering season for camellias at Mount Edgcumbe runs from October to May. Last summer I was still trying to sort out a host of nomenclatural issues from the 2015/16 flowering season. This summer there has not been much that I could add to that, so my last four weekly visits have been spent strimming around the camellias. Last summer a group of European students did the job, this year there were none.

Far be it from me to complain, but strimming bracken that is above my head, on slippery steep slopes, whilst being assailed by horseflies and tics, for zero remuneration, is not something I can pretend to enjoy. Satisfaction comes from standing back from a job well done and knowing that it was done with as much care as possible.


Before and after in area 1P



Before and after in area 1J.

I have also taken cuttings of a number of plants in the collection that are only represented by one specimen. One of these was C. caudate, which fell over last year but in spite of being completely prostrate, has survived to yield a batch of cuttings. It seemed likely that that standing it up would break the remaining tenuous link to its root system.

I have also done a small number of grafts, of two of the C. reticulata forms in the collection. I shall post a more detailed blog about that in due course.

The biggest problem with trying to get duplicates of all the plants in the collection is that it is difficult enough to keep on top of what is there now, without adding any more. One solution may be to try and get other people to take on one or more of the back up plants and to keep records of them as if they were part of the main collection.


My small mist system with 40 odd varieties of camellias.


Cleft graft, tied and waxed.

New shoots.

I have now spent fourteen months trying to identify with certainty the many camellias at Mt Edgcumbe which appear to be wrongly named. I have had my successes but they are woefully outnumbered by my failures.

What is lacking is a range of characteristics that, if not set in stone, are at least reasonably consistent in all the plants of a particular variety, irrespective of the climate, season, location, growing conditions and so on.

The size, shape and colour of the blooms is so variable as to be almost useless, certainly without corroborating evidence. Leaves and shoots are no better, with big variations in size, shape and edge serrations even on the same shoot.

Comparing a specimen in hand with a description is rarely very useful except when the differences are substantial and an identity can be ruled out. The flower should be red but is in fact white.

One feature I have found myself using is the nature of the new shoots. For any given variety there are several characteristics that seem to be reasonably consistent over a complete plant and between plants of the same variety, even in substantially different growing conditions. These are:

1)Timing of production of new growth.
2)Colour and pigmentation of upper and lower surface of the leaf, petiole and shoot.
3)Glossiness of upper and lower leaf surface.
4)Shape of the terminal bud on the new growth.

The colour differences are only apparent for the first few weeks after the shoot is produced.


The two shoots in this picture belong to ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ and ‘Tomorrow Park Hill’, growing within feet of each other in section E.

The variety ‘Tomorrow’ has produced the largest number of sports of any camellia but, as far as I know, the variants are all related to flower colour. The Camellia Register makes few references to characters other than the blooms and when it does it is to say that they are the same as ‘Tomorrow’ itself. I compared the foliage of ‘Tomorrow’ with that of ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ and they were indistinguishable. However, compared to ‘Tomorrow Park Hill’ they are quite different. The pigmentation of leaves and shoot is very clear in the shoot of ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ and is completely lacking in ‘Tomorrow Park Hill’

Ergo, it is not ‘Tomorrow Park Hill’. It is the same as the plant in 1G labelled ‘Nuccio’s Gem’, which I know to be wrong because it is pink and ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ is pure white.

In Area 6 is a plant with no label but marked on the map as ‘Fanny Bolis’. It should have formal double blooms that are white with red spots and streaks. It is actually a semi-double red. However, in the register it says that the name ‘Fanny Bolis’ was erroneously being applied to ‘Latifolia Variegated’ from the 1950’s onward. There are two plants in Area 1G labelled ‘Latifolia’ and I compared a shoot of so called ‘Fanny Bolis’ with them both. I got a perfect match with one, 1G-064; the other, 1G-063 is something quite different. I was able to corroborate the identification by comparing 1G-064 with a plant of ‘Latifolia’ in a garden elsewhere.


(not) ‘Fanny Bolis’, ‘Latifolia’ and (not) ‘Latifolia’


One step forward, one step back. 6-010 ‘Fanny Bolis’ is the same as 1G-064 ‘Latifolia’, the collection shrinks by one variety. 1G-064 ‘Latifolia’ is clearly different from 1G-063 ‘Latifolia’, it grows again. Sometimes my head hurts!