Identity issues, ‘Setsugekka’ and ‘Kenkyô’ – Part two.

I promise this will be my last word on the subject. I have been back up to the park again today specifically to scrutinise these two varieties minutely. A dog walker passed by, couldn’t contain her curiosity and asked me what I was doing. I bet she wished she’d never asked.

I have homed in on a few new characteristics that may be useful in distinguishing these two varieties and I have looked more closely at leaf size and shape, which I referred to before. In the first of the following two pictures of ‘Setsugekka’ there are several leaves where the widest point of the leaf is markedly closer to the basal end, though it is less noticeable in the second. The leaf tip is acute, the base rounded or almost so. Another thing I noticed was that the leaves stick out sideways from the stem almost at right angles, or more precisely, the petiole leaves the stem at about 45° then bends at the base of the lamina, which then sticks out nearly at right angles.

By contrast, in these next images of ‘Kenkyô’, the leaf base is never rounded and the broadest part of the leaf often goes on longer, narrowing more abruptly to the apex. The leaves are almost forward along the shoot, at 45° or less in most cases. Finally, though the difference is not great, ‘Kenkyô’ is less glossy than ‘Setsugekka’.

Another thing I wanted to look at was the flower buds. Kenkyô has buds that are usually wholly green, becoming green and white as the petals begin to show. The bud scales are green in the centre, paler towards the margins. Only in around one bud in ten did I see any pink pigment on the emerging petals. Silky hairs were sometimes quite evident, other times less so.

The two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ are growing near each other but 3C-027 is at the front of the planting in full sun, 3C-028 is further back and in the shade of a conifer. It also has fewer buds because it is recovering from extensive damage from a falling tree. I have labelled the pictures to distinguish them. In almost every case the bud scales are pigmented reddish-brown and in the majority of cases when the petals start to emerge they have pink pigmentation on them. It is perhaps worth noting that there is no absolute dividing line between bud scales and petals with some intermediates.

I’m unsure how useful a piece of information it is but for Kenkyô and 3C-028 ‘Setsugekka’ (the vigorous one) I picked out ten “typical” leaves and measured them. Those of ‘Kenkyô’ averaged 34.8mm wide, 74.6mm long inc. petiole, with average petiole length 6.2mm. 3C-028 ‘Setsugekka’ came out at 32mm wide by 70.8mm long with an average petiole of 4.4mm. “Typical” is a subjective term; I avoided the smaller leaves produced at the beginning and end of growth spurts as well as any unusually large leaves.

Where then does this get us. You have an unknown plant. On the basis of the flowers it might be possible to narrow the possibilities to a handful of possible varieties. One or two of them could perhaps be quickly dismissed on a single characteristic, for example having leaves that are far too big or too small. It would then be practical to compare the specimen on all of characteristics I have mentioned to hopefully get a definite match. That would tell you that your plant is the same as mine.

What it doesn’t necessarily tell you is whether you now have an accurate identification for your plant because it is far from certain that my plant, on which I have based the description, is correctly identified. The reasons for plants being wrongly named are legion and there is little mileage in trying to apportion blame. It does seem to me though, that we now have the technology to put together detailed descriptions backed up with plenty of photographs and to put that information into the public domain. It then requires interested parties to start a dialogue around the areas of disagreement and see whether they can be resolved.

For starters then, are the two plants in the collection actually ‘Setsugekka’ and ‘Kenkyô’? Are they identified the correct way round? What else might they be? I am open to the possibility of either or both of the names being wrong and would be happy to be convinced of an alternative identity. I wouldn’t be happy to be told that they’re something else with no explanation or evidence to back it up. I’d be interested to hear that what appears to be the same plant as either of them is being grown under a different name, even if the grower is no more certain their name is right than I am.

Identity issues, ‘Setsugekka’ and ‘Kenkyo’

Mt Edgcumbe has two plants of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ and one of ‘Kenkyo’, or does it?

In section 3C are two plants which are labelled C. sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’. According to the collection records both came from Stonehurst Nursery and were planted in 2003. In early March 2018 a large tree fell on top of one of them, reducing it in size by around 75%. I tidied it up and it has made an impressive recovery, with strong new upright growth of 6-8 feet in the four seasons since. Last year it produced the first flowers since the mishap and it is flowering again this year.

Prior to 2018 I never had cause to consider whether the two plants were identical. They flowered at the same time and looked very similar, they’d come from the same source, they had the same label; I took them to be the same. Looking back at old pictures they look the same.

However, to look at them now it is hard to believe they are the same variety. The plant that was trashed by the falling tree is growing very strongly and has healthy lustrous dark green foliage. The other plant looks to be in poor condition. It is making very little new growth and its foliage is comparatively yellowish and spotted. Like many seriously stressed plants it is flowering as if this might be the last year it gets a chance to but the flowers are a little smaller than they should be.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyô’ is at the other end of the collection, in section 1G. It has a label on it saying Camellia hiemalis ‘Chansonette’. ‘Chansonette’ is described in the Register as having formal double flowers in strong brilliant pink so the name is clearly wrong. The records show that it came from Coghurst Nursery in 2002 and a few years back I checked their website to see whether they were listing anything that looked like it. Back then ‘Kenkyô’ was in their catalogue. ‘Setsugekka’ seemed like a contender too, based on pictures and descriptions but similar though they are, it isn’t the same as the two plants in section 3C. Eventually I found a plant labelled ‘Kenkyô’ at Trewithen Garden and was able to compare it closely, reaching the conclusion that they were the same.

It has been suggested to me that the two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ might in fact be ‘Kenkyô’, meaning that the 1G plant might in turn be ‘Setsugekka’. It doesn’t help the cause that the blooms on both varieties are somewhat variable, especially on the one I’ve been taking to be ‘Kenkyô’, so a single picture of a bloom in a book could probably match either plant and photos of foliage, which might help corroborate a tentative identification, are seldom provided.

I have been looking for characteristics on the two varieties that might support the floral evidence and the first problem is that the two plants of ‘Setsugekka’ are so different. It seems to me that I must first find characteristics that are common to both plants in spite of their differences and to then compare those characteristics with ‘Kenkyô’.

‘Setsugekka’ (3C-027) x 2, ‘Setsugekka’ (3C-028) x 2, ‘Kenkyô’ (1G-014) x 2. Top side. (5mm grid on background)
‘Setsugekka’ (3C-027) x 2, ‘Setsugekka’ (3C-028) x 2, ‘Kenkyô’ (1G-014) x 2. Underside. (5mm grid on background)

I reckon the leaves of ‘Kenkyô’ are larger and don’t taper to the apex as quickly. The widest point of the ‘Setsugekka’ leaves is often nearer the base than the apex while in ‘Kenkyô’ it rarely is and may be nearer the apex. The extreme margins (0.5-1mm) of most of the leaves of ‘Setsugekka’ are turned down slightly whereas the leaves of ‘Kenkyo’ are usually flat to the edge. Some of the leaves of ‘Setsugekka’ have bases which are rounded, as in the third leaf above, while ‘Kenkyô’ bases usually have a narrower angle.

On another occasion I took pictures of the flower buds of ‘Kenkyô’, thinking they looked like they might be distinctive. I didn’t at the time follow up with pictures of the buds of ‘Setsugekka’ so that’s one for next time I’m up the park.

The two bushes of ‘Setsugekka’ are upright, ‘Kenkyô’ is wide spreading, and ‘Setsugekka’ was into flower a week or two earlier than ‘Kenkyô’. I’m not sure I’d trust either characteristic to be the killer blow.

I’m trying to think as if I was keying out the two varieties using a botanical key. Single to semi-double flowers, opening flat, of a certain size, autumn flowering, just the occasional touch of pink. That gets you down to maybe three to five varieties, but homing in on just one takes a few more details. A person very familiar with all the contenders would perhaps recognize which was which at a glance, without necessarily being conscious of exactly why they knew. That’s not me. I want someone to say that you can always recognize ‘Kenkyô’, or ‘Setsugekka’ or whatever by some specific, unique character or combination of characters. Here are some more pictures.

‘Kenkyô’ 1G-014

‘Setsugekka’ 3C-027

Are they ‘Kenkyô’ and ‘Setsugekka’? Do I have them the right way round. And, crucially, how do you know?

Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights’ Jasmine

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.

Camellia ‘1001 Summer Nights’ Jasmine on the Plant of the Year display at Chelsea Flower Show 2021

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.

The same plant back home in Cornwall after a long trip by bus, train and car.

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.

Supply of plants

I would like to make it clear that I do not grow or supply plants or propagation material. I am simply a Camellia enthusiast writing about Camellias. I may be able to advise about availability in the UK but I do not know what is available elsewhere.

Aftermath of the Beast


The RHS Early Camellia Competition takes place at Rosemoor this coming weekend so I was interested to see whether there was anything at Mt Edgcumbe to suggest that anyone might have blooms to exhibit. I didn’t find any that were really show quality but at least there were a few putting on a bit of a show. I even managed a bit of sunshine for most of the pictures.

Provided we don’t get a repetition of last week’s horrors, they will bounce back quickly and in a week or two be looking really good.

Here is one that won’t be looking good in a week’s time. ‘Jitsugetsusei’ was a big bush in the singles section and sadly it has broken off at ground level. A classic Higo variety, it had masses of flowers on it, most ruined by the frost. There are some shoots coming up from where the main trunk broke which appear to be the variety, not a rootstock, so with luck it will be back in years to come. A young plant of it was planted in Area 3B in 2016, so it is at least secure in the collection.




Further down I encountered devastation on a much greater scale. At the top of the Amphitheatre, last Thursdays wind had brought down a number of trees, one a very tall Nothofagus dombeyi which crashed through the Japanese section 3C. It won’t be possible to see the full extent of the damage until the tree has been cleared but I would expect four or five plants to have suffered serious damage.

In the first picture you at first see nothing but look closely and the root of the fallen tree is in the centre of the picture with the top of it just reaching the conifer on the left. In the middle picture the towering evergreen tree in the centre is the second of the pair of Nothofagus dombeyi, planted no more than ten feet apart and leaning as much and in the same direction as the one that fell.

The last picture is what is left of Camellia ‘The Mikado’. As ghastly as it looks, it will eventually recover. My greatest concern is for ‘Takayama’, which is directly under the trunk out of picture to the right. It is the only one in the collection and is a beautiful variety.

In a few months time I shall look at the title I have given this piece and wonder what it’s about. The beast from the east found its way in to some usually fairly sheltered places and wreaked havoc.

Some of my volunteer days are uplifting, some are heartbreaking; today was one of the latter.

Sasanqua season – 3


Camellia taliensis

Yesterday, wanting a change from Mt Edgcumbe, I paid a visit to Trewithen. The garden is closed now for the season, reopening March 1st 2018, but head gardener Gary kindly let me loose with my camera. Part of the reason that the winter flowering camellias are not so well known is that many of the gardens where they are grown are shut during their flowering season, which kicks off in October and goes on until February, when the spring varieties take over.

I have never been to Trewithen at this time of year so I didn’t know what to expect, though I had a hunch it would be good and I wasn’t disappointed. I found a good range of varieties flowering freely. ‘Paradise Helen’ is a variety I haven’t seen in ten years or more; ‘Kenkyo’ I was very pleased to see as it may well enable me to resolve one of Mt Edgcumbe’s mystery plants and taliensis, well what can I possibly say about a fifteen foot plant covered in scented blooms on a dull day in the middle of November.

There were a few plants that I was unable to find a label for, I will check with Gary and label them in due course.

Trewithen is set fair to be a garden to watch. While I was there I was shown around the hugely ambitious and exciting new area they are developing. Even at this early stage the framework of ponds and wooded areas is looking like a fantastic canvas on which to create a new garden area.


Sasanqua season – 2

Sunday took me to the other side of Devon, to the garden of a camellia enthusiast with a particular liking for scented blooms. Outside of the National Collection it was certainly the biggest range of autumn/winter flowering camellias I have seen in one place.

Some were varieties I was familiar with, some varieties I knew of but hadn’t seen and some completely new to me. The “sasanquas”, as they are often collectively known, get overlooked by gardeners because they flower in winter and people don’t go garden visiting much in winter. Often the gardens where they are growing are closed. People don’t go to garden centres so much in the run-up to Christmas either.

This is unfortunate because they start to flower just as the very latest herbaceous perennials, asters, nerines and the like, finish. They typically produce a few flowers at a time over six to eight weeks though some will put on a more ostentatious but shorter lived display.

Let me add a little more about a few of the varieties I thought stood out.

‘Christmas Rose’ was the first variety I saw and was remarkable for the size and number of blooms on a still small plant as well as for the vivid pink colouring. The register has it as (C. x williamsii x c. hiemalis) and says it was raised in America.

‘Yume’ originated in Japan from the cross C. yuhsienensis x C. hiemalis ‘Shishigashira’. The petals are a mix of pink and white with very gradual shading between the two colours. The inner petals are generally closer to solid pink. It has a pleasant fragrance.

‘Souvenir de Claude Brivet’ was raised by Pépinières Thoby in France as a seedling of C. oleifera ‘Jaune’ x C. sasanqua ‘Crimson King’. The flowers are medium sized and may be solid pink or pink and white striped, with varying amounts of pink. I have not seen a totally white flower.

‘Narcissiflora’ is not a variety listed in the Camellia Register. The plant is being sold in garden centres, the stock originating from Holland. There are several varieties in cultivation with large single white blooms and it remains to be seen whether this new addition distinguishes itself in some way.

I should perhaps mention C. sasanqua ‘Hugh Evans’ and C. sasanqua ‘Gay Sue’. They were there too and I didn’t photograph them because I already have numerous pictures of both. Both are excellent varieties.


First of the season.

I almost missed it, but today, in my greenhouse, I spotted my first camellia flower of the 2017/18 season. Camellia sinensis ‘Benibana-cha’, flowering on a scruffy little plant about a foot tall that has been in the same 2 litre pot for several years. It has plenty of buds to come but sadly its new growth is paltry and I was unable to take any cuttings this year, again. I should put flags next to the plants that need a lot more TLC than they’re getting, they’d be harder to overlook.

The bloom has a strong aroma. I hesitate to say scent, or fragrance, to my nose it is the smell of an aromatic oil, the emphasis on oil rather than aromatic. Not unpleasant, but like new tarmac, you wouldn’t rate your chances of selling a perfume based on it.


Looking back, I see that I posted a tweet about it being my first camellia on 28 Sept last year.

Tricoloured trials.


There is a plant in Area 1G labelled ‘Dainty’. All the above blooms were photographed on the same occasion. They are not the full extent of its repertoire.

The name ‘Dainty’ has been used for at least three different varieties and this one should correctly be ‘Dainty’ (California). It was selected as a sport of ‘Tricolor’ in California in the 1940’s. It is described in the Camellia Register as “blush white striped red with fringed and ruffled petals” and I assume this is how it was described when registered. The implication is that a flower or flowers appeared on a plant of ‘Tricolor’ with the characteristics of ‘Dainty’. Propagation material was taken from this part of the plant and new plants raised. The flowers borne by these plants were consistently of ‘Dainty’ with little or no tendency to revert to ‘Tricolor’ or any other form.

‘Lady de Saumerez’ is also a sport of ‘Tricolor’ with solid light red flowers. A fimbriated (frilly edged) sport of ‘Lady de Saumerez’ occurred and this was named ‘Fred Sander’. This is described in some detail in the register and there was an accompanying painting with the original description. The description reads “Flowers measure 12-14 cm across with petals slashed and curled at the rim, undulate, of a brilliant scarlet. They resemble large carnations. The edges of the petals are indented and curled,”


‘Lady de Saumerez’ (1G-060) and ‘Fred Sander’ 


In the 1950’s a sport arose on ‘Fred Sander’ with white flowers blotched and streaked with pink. It retains the fimbriated petals, which are also twisted. This was named ‘Cinderella’. The register description is “White with streaks, veining and blotches of rose madder. Medium size, semi-double with irregular, cupped petals, the edges deeply lacinated, fimbriated and wrinkled.” It seems that ‘Cinderella’ is similar to ‘Dainty’, differing in the petals being more distorted and giving the impression of a more fully double flower, but that said, ‘Dainty’ is supposed to have “fringed and ruffled petals” so perhaps that characteristic has been lost in the 1G plant. ‘Raspberry Ice’ and ‘Robert Strauss’ have arisen as sports from ‘Cinderella’. They are supposed to be similar or identical and ‘Raspberry Ice’ is described as having petals that are “large, emarginated and crêped’. Perhaps ‘Robert Strauss’ (1N-064) is not as it should be either.


‘Cinderella’ and ‘Robert Strauss’ (1N-064)


The plant of ‘Dainty’ in Area 1J has only red flowers, with and without fimbriated petals. If ‘Dainty’ derives from ‘Tricolor’ direct, it has not so much reverted back to ‘Fred Sander’ as stepped sideways.


‘Dainty'(?) (1J-019)

‘Cinderella’ in 1L is all red flowered, with fimbriated petals. The flowers are perhaps a bit less opened out with more twisted petals. It has a tendency to take a very long time to open and the exposed petal edges are often damaged by the time it does.


‘Cinderella'(?) (1L-004)

When I worked on a nursery a customer brought back a plant of ‘Fred Sander’ because it was not a sufficiently bright shade of red. He was adamant that we had sold him the wrong plant. I am still not sure whether this is another possible genetic variant or whether the depth of colour is a response to environmental factors. I would certainly not deny that the colour varies.

It  is likely that the nursery trade is responsible for producing significant numbers of plants that are not true to type. Taking large numbers of cuttings increases the number of mutations in chimaeral varieties and also reduces or stops flowering which would allow a check to be made on the stability of the variety. With camellias, it may be that many are sold before they flower or that wrongness is overlooked or ignored. Customers are often unaware that a plant is not true to type and it is not unusual for plants to have no picture label or to carry a generic picture.

I know of a large bush of ‘Lady de Saumerez’ which produces “normal” flowers on some branches, out by March, and fimbriated ‘Fred Sander’ blooms on the other branches, opening at least a month later. The fimbriated petals are trying to burst out of the buds and are very vulnerable to frost or wind damage. The owner does not know what was planted and you could now call it by either name or both, the two forms being about equally prominent. The occasional white blooms appears now and again, to complicate matters still further.



As far as the National Collection plants go, it seems it is not possible to be absolutely certain that a variety is exactly as it was when it was selected and named. The descriptions generally available are not detailed enough and even if they were, who could say that a difference in flower size or colour tone was not due to it growing in Cornwall rather than California where it was raised.

Equally, when a plant appears to have mutated away from what it is supposed to be, is it possible to say with any degree of certainty that it is now something else already described? Can the same end point be reached by different routes?

‘Lady de Saumerez’ seems to be the only variation in this particular tribe that usually stays the same, perhaps suggesting that it is the original form and that all the others derive from it, even though ‘Tricolor’ is the form that was first introduced to the west from Japan.


Camellia japonica ‘Tricolor’ (5B-025)

More wind damage.

caudata-1This was the first thing I saw when I reached the species section yesterday, Camellia caudate, around 3m tall, lying on its side. Though rarely flowering, its superb foliage has made it one of my favourites.


It was growing in an area that is always wet, probably from springs underground. Looking at the base of the stem it is hard to see how it was ever standing in the first place. Sadly it was the only specimen of C.caudata in the collection though I hope I have a young plant to replace it with in a few years time.

caudata-4The only picture I have of it in flower dates from 2007, a sorry specimen. Hey ho.