Sasanqua season 2018 – 4

I made it back to Mt Edgcumbe on Tuesday after a three week absence to find that the sasanqua season there is all but over. On the other hand, there was a fair smattering of other things flowering and I ended up taking quite a lot of photos.

The sasanqua x reticulata hybrids are moving toward peak flowering. Usually ‘Show Girl’, especially the specimen in the species section, steals the show both on display and flower size. This year it is as good as ever but ‘Flower Girl’ is the best I’ve seen it and almost the equal of ‘Show Girl’.

‘Show Girl’ should be much more widely grown, it produces an astonishing display at a time of year when little else is around and seems able to withstand most of what the weather throws at it.

The Ackerman hybrids have done relatively well this year and have also stood out for the length of their flowering season. ‘Winter’s Toughie’ is good every year but makes a rather large and untidy bush. Light regular pruning would probably help. ‘Winter’s Rose’ and ‘Snow Flurry’ have both been excellent this year, helped by more light from the loss of tree cover. ‘Winter’s Rose’ is semi-weeping, wider than high, ‘Snow Flurry’ vigorous and upright. Both have given about six weeks of display. ‘Winter’s Charm’, growing nearby, has produced a few blooms, similar to ‘Winter’s Rose’ but on a more vigorous, upright bush, but is more shaded than the other two.

Another Ackerman hybrid, ‘Winter’s Joy’, seems reluctant to open out fully, which is unfortunate as it could be most attractive. I’ve not seen it behave like this in previous years.

C. hiemalis ‘Showa Supreme’ is represented by two plants in the collection in Section 1N, one of the shadiest areas. I don’t think this suits them and they never flower freely though this year is the best I’ve seen. This was a Nuccio raised seedling of ‘Showa-no-sakae’ with larger blooms. It’s wide spreading and dense, a good plant would be a fine thing; I must try to propagate it so it can be planted in a better location.

C. x williamsii ‘November Pink’ is usually true to its name, sometimes starting as early as late October. Not this year, just two or three blooms so far. Equally predictable are C. japonica ‘Gloire de Nantes’, C. japonica ‘Nobilissima’ and C. japonica ‘Daikagura’; all of them are flowering freely.

I was a bit more surprised to see C. japonica ‘Momijigari’, C. japonica ‘Bokuhan’ and C. japonica ‘Spring Promise’ with lots of blooms open. I don’t recall more than the occasional early bloom from previous years.

C. ‘Bokuhan’ is clearly one parent of both the plants labelled ‘Peter Betteley’. In an earlier blog I explained why I had concluded that, as similar as they undoubtedly are, they are not the same and seem to be sister seedlings. This year the flowers are as distinct from each other as I’ve ever seen them, though you still need to look carefully.

And then there were the rest. Mostly just one or two early blooms on varieties not especially noted for flowering early; unsurprising, given the summer we had.

Not a bad haul for 11th December. I think it’s going to be a good spring season but if the weather stays mild it may be an early one. Most plants seem to have set a heavy crop of buds and I’ve seen very little sign of them dropping. I have my fingers crossed.

 

Sasanqua season 2018 – 3

In my last post I waxed lyrical about how well two of the five bushes of Camellia sasanqua ‘Hugh Evans’ had performed this year, with larger and fuller blooms than usual. What I failed to mention was that the other three had produced entirely average displays, with normal numbers of normal sized blooms.

Some plants had benefitted from the unusually hot summer but others hadn’t. Looking at the plants I would say that the two that had done unusually well were in more open locations, meaning that they received more light, including direct sunlight and were probably less in competition with nearby trees for water.

I have seen unusually big flowers on C. sasanqua ‘Narumigata’ at Moyclare in Liskeard but the Mount Edgcumbe plants have normal sized blooms. In general I would say that there have been more flowers than normal and in a minority of cases the blooms are bigger than usual. Some plants have fewer buds than normal.

Tentative conclusion: Higher temperatures meant lots of buds produced but also increased risk of drought. Where moisture was available plants produced larger than normal blooms but in most cases dryness offset the beneficial effect of temperature as far as bloom size was concerned. Where dryness became an issue early there was a negative impact on bud production, or perhaps some varieties are more sensitive than others.

I have often taken photos of flowers with a tape measure in front but you would need to do this over a period of years as well as keeping accurate weather records to reach solid conclusions. I don’t trust my recollections from a year ago and with good reason. I was convinced that the blooms on ‘Show Girl’ this year were comfortably the biggest ever but in fact they are the same as last year. About 14cm diameter. I have pictures.


Which makes me uncertain about the comments on ‘Hugh Evans’. Perhaps the two good plants have always been significantly better and I’ve just not noticed. If that were the case then some factor(s) other than weather would be indicated, perhaps some have a virus, or are in poorer soil. With plants, there are always so many factors in play that firm conclusions are almost impossible to make and the people who pretend otherwise may not be the experts they would have you believe they are.

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Camellia ‘Winter’s Rose’

A couple of plants in Section 1L have been outstanding this year too, ‘Snow Flurry’ and ‘Winter’s Rose’. Both are from Dr William Ackerman’s program of breeding cold hardy varieties aimed at extending the area where Camellias could be successfully grown in the USA. Both were planted in 2000 and this is the first year they have performed at all well. By far the biggest change in their fortunes was the loss of the mature beech tree under whose dense shade they were languishing. Add one hot summer and a level of maturity and you have two plants you’d recommend to anyone.

It goes to show how easy it can be to write something off as poor when all it needs is the right combination of location and time to prove itself very good indeed.

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Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’

Lastly, I took these pictures a couple of weeks ago of a sport on Camellia ‘Hugh Evans’ at Mount Edgcumbe. Sports on Camellia sasanqua are comparatively rare and I took a couple of cuttings from this shoot earlier in the summer but left a section of the mutated bit on the bush in case they failed. I was pleased to see the flower as it confirms there is still some on the parent bush. It’s most likely chimaeral so I’d like to grow it for a few years to be sure it’s stable before I launch it onto the world and make my fortune.

 

Sasanqua season 2018 – 2

I’d missed a week when I visited Mt. Edgcumbe on Tuesday and things had moved on a bit, lots more was in flower. First up was ‘Hugh Evans’ (1G-046) and it was immediately obvious that this is going to be a good year for at least some plants. The blooms on this bush are bigger than usual and the petals wider, to the point of overlapping, which they don’t usually do.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Hugh Evans’

There are several plants of ‘Hugh Evans’ in the collection and the next one is in the species section. (10-022) Both the individual blooms and the overall display are by far the best I’ve seen on this variety.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Hugh Evans’

In the same section, at 10-047, is a large spreading bush of ‘Rainbow’. This is flowering much as it always does and I have no complaints with that. The wasps were enjoying the nectar supply too.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Rainbow’

Further down, in Area 1N, are two bushes of ‘Lavender Queen’ (1N-036 & 1N-037). These are sporting a few more blooms than usual but they are the same small misshapen things it produces every year. When you see such a feeble display you wonder if there is something wrong with the plant as it seems hard to believe the variety would have remained in cultivation otherwise.

Lavender-Queen

Camellia sasanqua ‘Lavender Queen’

Down in the lower Amphitheatre the Japanese section 3C has a few early bloomers, not all of them sasanquas. ‘Setsugekka’ is in full bloom but I covered that in my earlier blog. C. ‘Shiro-wabisuke’ is just beginning to open its beautifully perfumed flowers and C. japonica ‘Benidaikagura’ had a bloom open. It is usually the first of the japonicas to flower. Well back from the path and somewhat hidden from view is C. sasanqua ‘Mine-no-yuki’ (3C-022). This has pure white double flowers up to 6 or 7 cm across and had a few blooms open. Further along in 1L is ‘Snow Flurry’ (1L-040), which I mentioned in my earlier blog but could not ignore as it was looking superb.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Mine-no-yuki’ & Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’ (hybrid)

Next to ‘Snow Flurry’ is ‘Winter’s Rose’ (1L-055), a pretty semi-double light pink which always flowers quite well. Also in Area 1L are two bushes of ‘Maiden’s Blush’, an upright one down the front (1L-027) and an almost prostrate one at the back (1L-028), which is the one pictured.

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Camellia ‘Winter’s Rose’ (hybrid) & Camellia sasanqua ‘Maiden’s Blush’

Back home I have a bush of ‘Tanya’ on my allotment which puts the two plants of it at Mt Edgcumbe in the shade. I cannot believe that different growing conditions are the only explanation and seriously wonder whether the two plants in the collection are virus infected to the serious detriment of the flowers, in terms of size, quality and quantity. Probably the only way I shall ever know is to propagate mine then graft a piece of a Mt Edgcumbe plant onto it to transfer a virus if there is one. It’s around 4ft tall.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Tanya’

The other sasanqua variety I have at home is the one just outside my front window. There is much to be said for having winter flowering plants where they can be enjoyed from indoors and this one fits the bill perfectly.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’

Sasanqua season 2018

Looking back I see that my first post on sasanquas last year was on October 11 as well, so this year is pretty much in step with last, in spite of the Beast from the East and a prolonged drought.

I was at Mt Edgcumbe on Tuesday and having missed a week, was keen to see whether anything was flowering. I found ten plants in bloom, of eight different varieties.

First up was Tanya, in Area 1G. This is in a very exposed position on high ground open to the west and its blooms are small and often misshapen, though I am not sure the two things are connected. I have a plant of this variety in almost equally hostile conditions and its blooms are much better.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Tanya’ (1G-110)

Along Earls Drive most of the Camellias are on the steep bank to your right and not easy to get up to. However, along the left hand edge of the drive is a row of plants including three of C. sasanqua ‘New Dawn’. They are in quite deep shade and reluctant bloomers; I have still only seen blooms on two of them. Like ‘Tanya’, they are small, pink and pretty undistinguished.


Directly opposite them is a bush of Camellia sasanqua ‘Baronesa de Soutelinho’ and this was just opening its first bloom. These are white and about 5cm across.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Baronesa de Soutelinho’ (5-006)

Moving on down to Area 10, the species section, two more varieties were performing. Camellia sasanqua ‘Plantation Pink’ has quite large blooms, 7cm or more across. There are two plants of it here but only the one more in the open was flowering. Right beside it a bush of Camellia hiemalis ‘Dazzler’ had a single bloom out. These are not huge, 6-7cm across, but are a vivid pink colour and semi-double.


Further down the hill Areas M and N form one large block in the shade of a group of massive London Plane trees. The planting is a bit too close and some robust pruning has been carried out this year. This is not ideal territory for sasanqua varieties but the two plants of Camellia sasanqua ‘Papaver’ flower reasonably well most years. The blooms are very pale pink, appearing white from a distance and generally very irregular in shape. They are around 8cm across.


In the bottom of the Amphitheatre the sections along one side are almost south facing and with several trees having fallen in the last couple of years, are becoming quite open. This is much to the liking of the sasanquas, less good for most of the other camellias that are there. In the Japanese section, Area 3C, there are two plants of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’, one of which was badly damaged by a Nothofagus falling on it earlier this year. The other is a large open bush which always flowers well, producing large (10cm) single white blooms that are popular this late in the year with wasps and seemingly earwigs.


Area 1L is a little further along the same bank and also suffered extensive damage from a recent tree fall. Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’ was lucky enough to escape damage and is now getting several hours of sunlight a day instead of none, to its considerable benefit. The blooms are about 6cm across and are produced over a long period on a somewhat rangy bush. Taking pictures of it was made more interesting by the wasps nest at its foot but they seemed to have problems of their own as the nest had been attacked and scattered around by some intrepid beast.


The Photogaphs

Just looking at the two pictures of ‘Snow Flurry’ illustrates a couple of problems with photographing Camellias. The obvious one of being attacked by wasps is part of a wider problem of it often being difficult to get a good footing. The left hand picture was taken in dappled light, which sounds nice, looks nice and is a real pain when taking pictures. It means very high contrast between the sunlit and unlit parts of the picture. It means the bloom is lit as if by a spotlight being held by a drunk. It means the colour temperature doesn’t know whether to be bluish because of the shade or reddish because of the low autumn sunlight.

Light levels in winter are low and in the shade of trees still lower. It is often windy so the subject is often moving. Sometimes the sun is out one second, gone the next, making choosing camera settings tricky. I shoot in RAW but processing the images always takes place hours, sometimes days, after taking the shots. Tweaking images to get the colour as accurate as possible relies on remembering exactly what the colour was. Varieties like ‘Dazzler’, illustrated above, often have blue tones in them, especially after a slight frost. Just pulling a flower forward a bit so that it is in better light can significantly change the colour as seen by the camera. Our brains compensate so we don’t see it.

I adjust the colour on my desktop PC screen. It is much easier to see there than on the camera LCD screen. On my iPad the colours look a little different again. If I print images off, they can be very different from any of the on screen versions.

So take what you see in pictures with a pinch of salt.