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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,”
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
This 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.
The only picture I have of it in flower dates from 2007, a sorry specimen. Hey ho.
I posted this montage on Twitter but didn’t have space for the names. Last Tuesday at Mt Edgcumbe the camellias were really getting into their stride. I spent the day taking photos and these are some of the highlights, names below.
Row 1, Masayoshi (probably), Dainty (California), grijsii, General Lamoriciere, Sundae.
Row 2, Felice Harris, Seagull, Trionfo di Lodi, White Nun, Jennifer Turnbull.
Row 3, Lily Pons, High Hat, San Dimas, Tear Drops, saluenensis.
Row 4, Betty Foy Sanders, Coed, Otome Shibori, Desire, Sweetheart.
Row5, Firedance, Sunny Side, Miss Universe, Interval, Momijigari.
I just nipped out and took photos of three of my camellias. I was struck by how diverse they were and how likely it is that a lot of people would hold strong opinions about where each of them sat on the refined/vulgar spectrum.
I can honestly say that while they appeal to me in different ways, I like them equally.
The first is a seedling reticulata, which I call ‘Yojimbo’, though I doubt I shall ever register it. The flowers are 13cm across, flamboyantly ruffled and of a strident pink colour.
The second is also pink, not so very different in tone, but totally lacking the stridency. The blooms are small and single, 5cm across at most, with a very pleasant sweet perfume. The leaves are small, dark and glossy. It is a lutchuensis x japonica cross called ‘Koto-no-kaori’.
The last one is a species, yuhsienensis. The flowers are pure white with narrow twisted petals and a fine fragrance.
Now I can see that each would work to best effect in a different setting. They each have their own individual personalities and could look terrible in the wrong setting. But in the right setting, each of them would look stunning. Yet I know there will be people out there who hate at least one of them, which I’m afraid I don’t understand.
Years ago, having driven down a lane carpeted with primroses to get to the nursery, a customer declared that she couldn’t abide yellow. I pointed out that she’d not see a better display of primroses anywhere and that surely she liked them. She thought for a moment, shook her head and reaffirmed that she did indeed hate yellow. I decided many years ago to stick with plants; I can’t fathom a lot of people.
I took the precaution of doing my voluntary day at Mt Edgcumbe yesterday, having seen the forecast for today. It’s raining and foggy, it was a good call. Yesterday it was blowing a hoolie but at least it was dry and sunny.
When I checked through the collection last summer, there were three sections that I walked away from at the time, intending to re-visit them this spring when they were flowering. I have taken some tentative nibbles at said bullet.
Area 4A. The Australia & New Zealand sections that were 4 and 4A, I have rolled into one as 4A, containing 46 plants at present. Two of these are all but dead. 20 have no label. The area has been badly affected by falling trees and two bushes are growing out of a tangle of uncleared branches.
The records show 17 other varieties as having been in the area, many of which are not shown on the plans. The area is steep and hard to access, but the path runs along the top so there are good views into the top of large bushes.
Area 5A was one of the earliest parts of the collection, though how much of it is from the original planting and how much planted since is hard to tell and the records are incomplete. Many of the older plants were hard pruned about 4 years ago and are only just getting back to flowering freely. They are almost up to their original size and much bushier too.
The section is on a very steep slope under a tree canopy mainly of beech. It is deeply shaded in summer and very difficult to access, especially when the ground is wet. With 61 plants it is quite a large section and there are 18 unlabelled plants plus a suspicion that the odd fallen label may have been put back on the wrong bush.
Section 8, the singles collection, is in an area known as the quarry. Unsurprisingly, it is ridiculously steep. Of the 34 plants in it, 22 are unlabelled. As with all of the unlabelled plants, I don’t want to re-label them until I am fairly certain of their identity, so even if the plan makes it clear what a particular plant should be, I want to see it in flower and be confident of the name before giving it a new label.