Mount Edgcumbe montage

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.

A matter of taste

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.



4, 5 & 8; a tale of slippery slopes.

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.


‘Ballet Queen Variegated’, ‘Jury’s Yellow’ and ‘Thompsonii’ in area 4A.


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.


That may be ‘Aspasia Macarthur’ middle left, ‘Can Can’ top right. I can’t get near either of them to search for labels. Pass me that chainsaw….


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.


‘Mattie Cole’,  ‘Jennifer Turnbull’ and ‘Hassaku’ from Area 8. None are labelled, the first two are probably correct, the last almost certainly wrong.

Six, a footnote

On closer inspection, it turns out I have photos of more than half of the plants in area 6. Of the eighteen I have illustrations for there are issues around nine, so area six is going to be problematic for a while yet. I have put my notes about these issues under the tab for Area six.


There are a few areas which I have been putting off tackling and area 6 is one. It must be one of the oldest parts of the collection and the large bushes were cut back hard about four years ago. They are only just getting back to flowering freely so there has been very little to photograph since they were pruned.

It is a very steep section and slippery underfoot. An earlier reccie had established that there was a mismatch between the plan I had and what was on the ground, so this week I surveyed it and redrew the map. I have uploaded it under its own tab.

There are a few flowers opening in the section but it’s early days for most of them. One that is blooming is ‘Tricolor Nova’, supposedly the only plant in the collection. It looked familiar and I have concluded that it is the same as one of the two varieties planted together at 1G-057 and labelled ‘La Pace Rubra’.


‘La Pace Rubra’, allegedly, and ‘Tricolor Nova’


Another variety with some blooms open was ‘Madame de Strekaloff’. As is the case with ‘Tricolor Nova’, it is difficult to reconcile the description in the register with the blooms on these plants. The descriptions are from documents dated soon after the introduction of the two varieties in the mid 19th century. Might the plant have changed over time? ‘Madame de Strekaloff’ is of Italian origin, ‘Tricolor Nova’ Belgian. How much difference in flower form might a much more maritime climate make? How accurate were the descriptions in the first place? We are familiar with catalogues exaggerating the merits of plants today; back then there was no Trade Descriptions Act.


Camellia ‘Madame de Strekaloff’

Ultimately, from the conservation point of view, the first task is to secure the variety in cultivation. If it proves impossible to be certain that a name is correct then it is just as impossible to prove that it is not, so unless it is being used for another variety it may as well be let stand. If confusion is going to arise then it should perhaps be given a new name and a full description of the plant be lodged somewhere as a point of reference henceforth.

Mt Edgcumbe roundup

It was a terrible day for taking photographs, when it wasn’t actually raining it was desperately dull. It was however, mild, and that had brought a number of plants into flower since last week.

Peter Betteley left his camellia collection to the park and amongst it are two bushes, planted side by side and both labelled ‘Peter Betteley’. The name has been registered and in the register the parentage is given as ‘Bokuhan’ x ‘Scented Sun’, with credit for the cross going to Lee Stenning, curator of the collection. He tells me that is not in fact so, that they came from Mr Betteley along with the rest of his collection.


Camellia ‘Peter Betteley’ 1P-039


The bush in the picture above had a bloom open on 29/11/16 and now has many open and some dropped to the ground. The other bush has just opened its first blooms so is running about two weeks behind. Back in October I compared the foliage and took pictures. I am tentatively of the opinion that they are different, probably sister seedlings. I shall be keeping a close watch on them both. Whatever the situation, both appear to have a very long flowering season with blooms that stand up well in bad weather but fall rather than withering on the bush.


‘Peter Betteley’, 1P-039 on left, 1P-040 on right.


Peter Betteley, 1P-039 on left, 1P-040 on right.

To my eye, the foliage of 1P-039 is smoother, narrower and has a somewhat downrolled edge. The differences are consistent over the whole bush.

Another small group of plants that test my abilities to tell them apart are the sasanqua x reticulata hybrids. There are three in the collection, Dream Girl, Flower Girl and Show Girl. I checked on Flower Girl, she needs another week. Show Girl is up and running though and will bloom for months. These blooms are 11cm across.


Camellia ‘Show Girl’

Elsewhere, the sasanquas are in the main going over, one notable exception being ‘Bonanza’, which is really outstanding for floriferousness and intensity of colour.


Camellia hiemalis ‘Bonanza’

Each week sees one or two more early japonicas showing their hand. Some have just an odd bloom, others are putting on more of a display, weather permitting.


                 Top row: Daikagura, Nobilissima, Mabel Blackwell, Gloire de Nantes                  Bottom row: Alexander Black, Elizabeth Rose Open, Campsii Alba, Benidaikagura

What’s in a name?

It can be very easy to decide that a plant is labelled incorrectly: the flower is white when it should be red, single when it should be double. It is almost never as simple to decide what it actually is.
There is in Section 1G a low, wide spreading plant that is flowering white in December. It is labelled ‘Chansonette’.


The offending label

The true ‘Chansonette’ has semi-double blooms about 6cm across and cerise in colour. It would be flowering at about the same time and its foliage would be very similar.


Camellia x hiemalis ‘Chansonette’

In the collection records the bush is said to have come from Coghurst Nursery, one of two planted in 2002. The other plant is growing in a different place, struggling somewhat and not in flower.

It is not neccessarily the case that the nursery supplied the wrong plant but it does happen. They may have bought in young plants, grown them on to a saleable size but not seen some or any of the batch in flower.
Looking at their website reveals that they list only three pure white sasanqua type camellias and two of them are clearly different. The third, ‘Kenkyo’, looks to be a very good match.
Looking at pictures I have taken of ‘Kenkyo’ and every other picture of it that I can find, in print and online, I am fairly confident that I have a match.


One of functions of National Collections is as a reference against which unknown material can be matched. To be fit for purpose they have to be accurately labelled. The question is what level of certainty is acceptable?

To jail a man for life the standard is beyond reasonable doubt, to win a civil case it is on the balance of probabilities. Both tests will mean different things to different people. The label on a plant could be very important to one person and of no interest whatever to another. Some gardeners keep  notebooks of everything they plant and keep labels on the plants, others throw the labels away at planting time and are happy not to know the name.

Is it better to have a name on a plant that is probably right than one that is definitely wrong? Is a label that says Camellia sasanqua var. any use to anyone? What is the worst that could happen if it were wrong?
I want it to matter enough to justify making the effort of getting right in the first place, otherwise why bother labelling them at all?

I am told that these sorts of thoughts make me a systemizer; which I don’t think is a compliment. Shakespeare would not have sympathised, “a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”


Autumn at Mt Edgcumbe

It was very cold riding up to Mt Edgcumbe on my motorbike yesterday and with ice about, not much fun. I didn’t know what to expect flowerwise.
I needn’t have worried. Positioned as it is on the west side of Plymouth sound, I doubt whether they ever get frost of any significance.


Blossom was to be found in fair abundance and I put this montage together to post on Twitter. Unfortunately I didn’t have space for the names, so here they are.

Row 1. Winter’s Interlude, Snow Flurry, Mine-no-yuki, Sparkling Burgundy.
Row 2. Setsugekka, Winter’s Toughie, Plantation Pink, Fukuzutsumi.
Row 3. Gay Sue, Paradise Hilda, Hugh Evans, Navajo.
Row 4. Dazzler, Rainbow, Paradise Blush, Bonanza.

Very often all the autumn flowering camellias are referred to as “sasanquas” but Camellia sasanqua is in fact one of three or four species that may be involved. Of the varieties shown here, Mine-no-yuki, Plantation Pink, Fukuzutsumi, Gay Sue, Paradise Hilda, Hugh Evans, Navajo, Rainbow and Paradise Blush are given in the Camellia Register as forms of C.sasanqua.
Sparkling Burgundy, Dazzler and Bonanza are listed as forms of C.hiemalis, a species regarded by some as a sasanqua hybrid.
Winter’s Interlude, Winter’s Toughie and Snow Flurry are all from Dr William Ackerman’s program to breed winter hardy camellias for the colder areas of the USA. C.sasanqua, C.sinensis, C.oleifera and C.hiemalis all feature here.

It seems likely that hybridity, in the wild or in cultivation, is involved in many or most garden camellias. They are often raised from seed produced with no knowledge of the pollen parent and sometimes found as seedlings where neither parent can be identified.


There were more than the 16 in the first picture. This set comprises Winter’s Rose, Narumigata, Baronesa de Soutelinho, Winter’s Charm, Paradise Glow, oleifera, Maiden’s Blush and Lavender Queen.
The sasanquas don’t usually produce a flower display to stop you in your tracks but at a time of year when there is very little else flowering at all, they are very worthy of a place in the garden. I took this picture of Navajo because it was really turning it on.


Not for the first time, I spoke to someone passing while I was snapping away, who remarked on how early the camellias were flowering, unaware that this subset of the genus are meant to be flowering now. There were a handful of blooms on varieties that are meant to be spring flowerers, though in one case I would say it sits on the fence.


These four, clockwise, are Campsii Alba, Peter Betteley, Nobilissima and Gloire de Nantes. All are japonicas, usually spring flowering, although Nobilissima is always very early.

Peter Betteley is interesting. Mr Betteley was a camellia enthusiast whose camellia collection was donated to Mt Edgcumbe after he died. There are two plants, side by side, labelled ‘Peter Betteley’. In both Mt Edgcumbe’s records and in the Camellia Register their parentage is given as Bokuhan x Scented Sun. In the Register Lee Stenning of Mt Edgcumbe is credited with raising it “from plants in the Betteley collection”. Lee denies having done so. It seems entirely plausible that Bokuhan was one parent and there are two plants of it that are part of the Betteley collection but Scented Sun as the other seems to me less convincing. In the meantime, the two plants labelled Peter Betteley are in fact different from each other, sister seedlings I imagine, and one of the differences between them is that one flowers earlier than the other. In fact it flowers so early that an autumn flowering pollen parent might be suspected.


The last of the varieties flowering yesterday was Shiro-wabisuke. There seems to be confusion around the name. One botanist elevated the cultivar to species status, making it Camellia wabisuke. However there is another variety which used to known by this name, prized by masters of the tea ceremony, which was renamed Sasameyuki. The descriptions make them sound very similar.
As well as flowering very early, this variety, whatever its correct identity, is lightly but pleasantly scented with a proper perfume, as distinct from the slightly oily smell that passes for scent in many of the “sasanquas”.

It all comes around again

My regular Mt Edgcumbe Tuesday last week was spent lifting plants from my allotment. I was able to see them in their new quarters today and very good they look too, if I say so myself.

A fortnight ago I saw one camellia with a bud a day or two from opening. Today there were flowers dotted about all corners of the collection. The autumn flowerers tend to get collectively called sasanquas, though a couple of other species can be involved, on their own or as hybrids. The flowers are often singles, relatively small at 5-8cm or so across. Many are scented but not in a sweet perfume sort of way, more spicy, even oily, though I have a poor sense of smell so am not a good guide.

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The majority of camellias are spring flowering, notably the big japonica and x williamsii groups. It was a bit of a surprise then to find Camellia japonica ‘Daikagura’ with three open blooms. The weather has been kind so I was able to capture a good shot of a near perfect, heavily virus variegated bloom.


Camellia japonica ‘Daikagura’


My purpose in taking these pictures is to verify that the plants are what their labels say they are. Happily I believe that all those I photographed today are correct; if you disagree I would love to hear from you.

A good day

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I have had quite a number of camellias growing on the second of my two allotments for the last two seasons. Today was moving day for some of them. More accurately, tomorrow is moving day, today was digging day. Tomorrow they are on their way to join the National Collection at Mt Edgcumbe.

This first tranch, of 39 plants, includes 21 varieties that are not in the collection and 10 for which a duplicate was needed.

The new varieties are as follows:

Mary Alice Cox (USA)
Bambino (USA)
Mrs Charles Cobb (USA)
Adeyaka (USA)
Something Beautiful (USA)
Black Magic (USA)
Dream Girl (USA)
Stacy Susan (USA)
Elizabeth Weaver (USA)
Trinket (USA)
Nuccio’s Pink Lace (USA)
Christmas Daffodil (USA)

Nonie Haydon (NZ)
Snippet (NZ)
Bett’s Supreme (NZ)
Mystique (NZ)
Takanini (NZ)
Tamzin Coull (NZ)

Jamie (AUS)

Unnamed Midnight Serenade seedling (UK)

Sasanqua Rubra

More will be following them when places to plant them have been prepared and in some cases when they have grown a little bigger.