Camellia diary – the first entry April 7, 2010

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Crimson King - the first of the season's sasanquas to flower

Crimson King - the first of the season's sasanquas to flower

Our interest is in camellias as good garden plants, not blooms for the show bench or scientific analysis. We remain focused on the garden. The first camellias started to come into flower here about three weeks ago, at a time when we were still reluctant to admit that summer is over for another year. The fact that we can flower camellias from March to November is perhaps one reason why they have been so popular in New Zealand.

At this stage, it is only a few species and the very earliest sasanquas with flowers. Microphylla and brevistyla were the first and while their flowers are soft and easily damaged, there are so many still to open that the simplicity and brevity does not pall. Mark had to get out the hand lens to pick the difference in the flowers of these species but microphylla seems to grow a little larger as a bush. We are raising a batch of microphylla seedlings for use as a hedge in the future, though we wonder whether what we have are natural hybrids between the two – the parent plants are in close proximity.

Punicieflora is also in flower with its tiny little daisy-like pink flowers. These are understated but charming in their own way. The foliage is a bit of a pale olive green in full sun but the upright to arching growth and small leaves mean it is a good subject for clipping as a feature plant. I am gradually shaping ours to resemble a two metre high tiered cake stand.

Sinensis, the tea camellia, is also in flower but these are of little merit despite the form we have being pink. We have tried brewing our own tea and blind taste tests from the tasting panel of two felt it came creditably close to our favoured Earl Grey.

The earliest species to flower for us this season

The earliest species to flower for us this season

Amongst the sasanquas, Crimson King is the most advanced. Mahogany red perhaps a generous descriptor of the shade of red (in the Camellia Nomenclature), it being closer to pink-red but it is an open, graceful shrub that we keep pruned to 2.5 metres. Elfin Rose has her first flowers showing colour.

In the nursery with protected conditions, flowering is usually advanced by a good couple of weeks and lo and behold, we have the first flowers on Mark’s camellia Fairy Blush. This was the first camellia he named, an open pollinated lutchuensis seedling and because it wasn’t a controlled cross, Mark was rather off-hand about it. Now we feel that it is the one that got away from us and we should have protected it with a plant patent. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We simply did not see that it was going to be such a commercial success but a pretty little scented camellia which flowers in abundance for a good six months is a recipe for good sales. All the same, it can be a little galling when an Australian nurseryman visits and tells you just how well he has done out of Fairy Blush.

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