Now that we are well and truly into autumn, it is the sasanquas which are the dominant flowering shrub in the garden. What they sometimes lack in flower substance and form, they more than make up in mass display. And in a country where camellias are used extensively as garden plants and shelter, we have been hit hard by the advent of the dreaded camellia petal blight from mid season onwards. The sasanquas flower early enough to miss the onset of that scourge.
My personal picks are Elfin Rose and Crimson King which just keep on flowering but there are a host of others which are very charming in their own right – Bettie Patricia, Gay Border, Mine No Yuki, Yoimachi (a sasanqua hybrid), Bonanza and Silver Dollar to name but a few.
Many of our plants are decades old, three to four metres high and just as wide. Of all the different groups of camellias, sasanquas particularly lend themselves to clipping and shaping, turning into either layered forms or light canopies often growing from multiple trunks. There is a grace to be found in their natural growth habit and form which is not always present in the more sturdy japonicas.
In the species, we couldn’t help but notice that brevistyla was brief indeed in flower. While individual blooms continue to open, the mass flowering can only have lasted ten days. The closely related microphylla, however, has continued to put on a really good show for nigh on a month now. I was writing a piece on the earliest flowering camellias for a national gardening magazine and friend and president of the NZ Camellia Society, Tony Barnes, mentioned C.granthamiana as one of the earliest to open.
We have it somewhere in the garden but we appear to have mislaid it – which is to say that Mark can’t remember where he planted it and neither of us have come across it yet. We have what we think is C.gauchowensis in flower. It is another pristine white single bloom as many of the species are , on a narrow, columnar bush. Unfortunately it does get easily weather-marked. Few of the species are inherently spectacular when compared to the modern cultivars on offer but they have a quiet charm which we enjoy.