Tag Archives: Camellia Early Pearly

Winter whites

Ripples on the ice formed on a farm trough

Ripples on the ice formed on a farm trough

July is our bleakest winter month here. We feel the cold, especially this week with three sharp frosts in a row which is unusual for us, but the daytime temperatures rarely drop below double figures (Celsius). The ice photo is from a water trough on the coldest part of the property. Mark was very taken with the patterns.

Early Pearly - the loveliest of sasanqua camellia flower forms

Early Pearly – the loveliest of sasanqua camellia flower forms

But cold is a relative thing and a winter here in Taranaki remains full of flowers. I was playing around with white camellia blooms because I had been reminded of our love affair with white flowers in this country. The ‘any colour is fine as long as it is white” syndrome, perhaps. I am sure gardeners in parts of the world which spend many weeks or months or under snow might find this national obsession with white flowers puzzling. I suspect it may derive from a sense of social envy – Sissinghurst’s white garden has a lot to answer for here in the antipodes.

As I progressed on my white flower assemblages, often having to pick the flowers because it has been raining or windy, I began to feel positively bridal despite the winter chill.
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The Montanoa bipinnatifida has passed over and the monarch butterflies have moved onto an obscure michelias species that is flowering. The frosts have dealt to the Dahlia imperialis alba this week and Luculia ‘Fragrant Pearl’ is passing over, but there is plenty of white in evidence. Yes, it is a dead harrier hawk above – killed on the road but passed on to a Maori weaver to use the feathers. In the basket starting at the back is one of the gordonias. They have been particularly good this season. Then the small flowers are Camellia transnokoensis  which we rate highly as a small leaved, miniature flowered species which we are using as hedging. We replaced some buxus hedging with this camellia. For, Mark reasoned, how much better to have a hedge that has pretty flowers which make a contribution to the ecosystem by feeding birds and insects. Next is another species, Camellia gauchowensis, Camellia sasanqua Mine No Yuki, Early Pearly and at the front Camellia drupifera. 

Camellia transnokoensis

Camellia transnokoensis

Picked in the rain today

Picked in the rain today

Daphne bholua

Daphne bholua

At the top we have Mark’s new Daphne Perfume Princess – not pure white by any manner of means but the overall display is more white than coloured. Next to it is one of our favourite species, Camellia yuhsienensis, whose flowers are like the michelias of the camellia world. Below is the Himalayan daphne,  Daphne bholua  , which has the sweetest perfume of any daphne we know but suffers from scruffy growth and badly behaved habits of suckering and seeding. Next is Rose Flower Carpet White (does it ever stop blooming?) and then the pretty bloom of Superstar – another white camellia which we rate highly on garden performance and weather hardiness – at least when compared to most larger flowered whites.

 

Galanthus - the winter snowdrops
We may not get a long season from the galanthus and they certainly don’t peek through the snow here, but the simple charm is constant. Galanthus elwesii and Galanthus ‘S Arnott’ are the most reliable performers in our conditions. Although we grow some other varieties, these two are our mainstay.

067Finally today, I headed out into the chill to find the white evergreen azaleas, the very first of the new season’s michelias (deliciously fragrant) and white hellebores. By this time, I found my eyes being drawn to colour and red blooms were demanding my attention. I would find a monochromatic garden soon palled but the colours  will have to wait for another day as I end with the simple perfection of Camellia Superstar below.

Superstar (6)

My favourite white camellias

Left to right: C. microphylla,  sasanqua Silver Dollar, transnokoensis, drupifera, gauchowensis, yuhsienensis

Left to right: C. microphylla, sasanqua Silver Dollar, transnokoensis, drupifera, gauchowensis, yuhsienensis

When you think about it, it is likely that at least two thirds of camellias are pink with the remaining third shared by red and white. In this country, we have a passion for white flowers. Indeed it is seen as a mark of sophistication in some quarters to create a garden with only white flowered plants (Sissinghurst’s famed white garden meets new-age minimalism in the far flung colony), perhaps alleviated by the occasional addition of one extra colour – touches of red maybe, or black for the ultra sophisticates.

That love affair with white extends to camellias, especially where hedges are concerned. I would guess there are many more white camellia hedges than pink or red ones. While I don’t put the whites on a pedestal above their coloured cousins, there is a charm in pristine, white flowers – though not if they then turn to sludge brown and stay on the bush.

I mentioned Camellia gauchowensis last week. After many weeks, it is still looking splendid and has plenty of flower buds yet to open. We think this is a sasanqua – the Japanese camellias which start flowering in autumn. Many sasanquas have a sort of mossy, earthy scent which is peculiar to this family and C. gauchowensis certainly has it. Some optimists on overseas websites refer to its wonderful fragrance but it is just that typical wet moss sasanqua smell.

The sasanquas bring us the greatest range of good performing pure whites. Pretty much everybody knows Setsugekka with its medium to large semi double flowers and golden stamens. In fact it is not dissimilar to C. gauchowensis, or Weeping Maiden for that matter. There is a whole string of them that are similar, varying more in habit of growth than in flower. C. gauchowensis is probably my favourite only because that is the one I have planted in a prominent spot where I see it frequently.

Early Pearly, one of the loveliest white sasanquas of them all

Early Pearly, one of the loveliest white sasanquas of them all

For beauty of white bloom in the sasanquas, it is hard to go past Early Pearly. It has what is described as a formal flower (a full set of petals with no visible stamens, held in tidy, overlaying circles). If I were to go for a white sasanqua hedge, I would probably pick Early Pearly but it is a matter of taste (and availability). It is the only white sasanqua I know with that flower form.

Away from the sasanquas, there are a fairly large number of species with small, white, single or semi double flowers. Tsaii is well known, though not my favourite. I think as it gets ever larger, it can be a little sparse in the foliage department. I have commented before about our choice of C. microphylla as both hedging and specimen plant. It has all but finished flowering for the season. We are also fans of C. transnokoensis (colloquially abbreviated to ‘transnok’) which has good dark foliage and masses of tiny white single flowers. In fact we are so keen on it that we have just planted two lengths of hedging and it is starting to open its flowers now. We are impressed by the somewhat obscure C. drupifera with its compact habit, dark foliage and plenty of mid-sized pure white flowers.

These single and semi double types have two big advantages. Many feed the birds in winter because the pollen and nectar are readily available in the visible stamens. They also fall and disintegrate quickly, so there is no sludge of spent blooms below. Most have blooms which are pretty short lived but to compensate for that, they set masses of flower buds so there are fresh flowers opening as the spent ones fall.

Whites are far more problematic in the japonica and hybrid camellias. These types tend to have flowers with much more substance – stiffer, more solid. This is where the show blooms come from and there is a wider range of flower form and blooms are often much larger. They also hang on to the bush for longer and the problem with white and pale blooms is that they show all weather damage and then hang about for longer in a brown and white state on the bush.

This one is Superstar. We can't pick it from Lily Pons

This one is Superstar. We can’t pick it from Lily Pons

The only ones I can honestly recommend in these larger flowered, mid season blooming types are Lily Pons or its twin sister, Superstar. We have never been able to pick the difference between the two. They are more semi doubles with fluted petals and golden stamens, showing better weather tolerance and more graceful ageing than other large whites of this type. We have never found a top performing, formal white japonica which doesn’t show every blemish.

In the end, it will come down to availability these days. The range of camellias offered for sale in this country has contracted dramatically. You may have to settle for what you can find, but take heart. There is a fairly high degree of flexibility possible because many actually look similar. In the end, choose on overall performance as a garden plant, not on the beauty of a single bloom.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Early flowering camellias

First published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

White ‘Early Pearly’ is one of the most beautiful of the sasanquas, while red ‘Takanini’ is a japonica which flowers from early to late in the season.

White ‘Early Pearly’ is one of the most beautiful of the sasanquas, while red ‘Takanini’ is a japonica which flowers from early to late in the season.

There is always something magical about the first flowers and camellias are no exception. They seem fresh and new, heralding the progression of seasons. While the main camellia season is from late winter to mid spring, the earlier varieties bring colour to the late autumn and early winter garden. Early flowers also escape the curse of camellia petal blight which affects mid and later season varieties.

Early camellias fall into three groups: the sasanquas, early flowering species and a few japonica types and hybrid camellias which have an exceptionally long flowering season, continuing from early to late.

We particularly enjoy the charming sasanqua ‘Crimson King’, seen here as a mature shrub with a graceful, arching form.

We particularly enjoy the charming sasanqua ‘Crimson King’, seen here as a mature shrub with a graceful, arching form.


Camellia sasanqua ‘Bonanza’ is a bright spot of colour on a grey day

Camellia sasanqua ‘Bonanza’ is a bright spot of colour on a grey day

The sasanqua camellias originate in Japan and are renowned for being sun tolerant, having smaller leaves and being suitable for clipping to hedges. While some are slow to get going as garden plants, over time they can make graceful, airy, large shrubs. They mass flower and most are scented, in a mossy, slightly sweet sort of way. Their blooms are softer and lack the defined form and substance of most later flowering camellia types. This is an advantage when the flowers fall and break up quickly, rather than leaving a sludge of brown at the base of the plant. While white sasanquas have been particularly popular for some years, they also come in a whole range of pinks to red tones and bi-colours. We prefer the coloured ones for a splash of winter cheer in the garden when there is not a lot else in flower.

‘Fairy Blush’ is a scented hybrid with a very long flowering season.

‘Fairy Blush’ is a scented hybrid with a very long flowering season.

There are a range of early flowering species but these are unlikely to be found for sale these days. The most useful of them for us, are dainty little C. brevistyla and C. microphylla which offer potential as replacements for buxus hedging and are a great deal prettier than box when in flower.

There are some japonica and hybrid camellias which have remarkably long flowering seasons. In the reds, ‘Takanini’ flowers early, middle and late and should be readily available. Later season blooms develop an unusual purple hue. ‘Roma Red’ is a new release and not as widely available, with its formal flowers in mid red. ‘Mimosa Jury’ is a perfect formal in pretty pink and shows good weather hardiness. ‘Fairy Blush’ is a scented, small flowered pale pink and white miniature bloom with an exceptionally long season. These varieties open their first flowers with the sasanquas but continue long after they have finished and will still have flowers when the late season varieties are on show.

For perfection in a bloom, it is hard to go past the formal shape of Camellia ‘Mimosa Jury’ which has the added benefit of showing good weather tolerance without marking badly.

For perfection in a bloom, it is hard to go past the formal shape of Camellia ‘Mimosa Jury’ which has the added benefit of showing good weather tolerance without marking badly.

GROWING CAMELLIAS IN CONTAINERS

Camellia ‘Itty Bit’ is a dwarf variety that has been kept in a pot here for 20 years

Camellia ‘Itty Bit’ is a dwarf variety that has been kept in a pot here for 20 years

All camellias can be grown for a year or two in a pot but you are fighting nature if you want to keep a larger growing variety long term. Plants need repotting every two years to keep them healthy and lush. Unless you are root pruning and shaping the plant regularly, larger growing varieties will soon get too big to handle.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that small flowers mean the plant is small growing and vice versa. You are better to start with varieties with words like “compact”, “dense growth”, “dwarf”, or “slow growing” in their description. Where heights are given, pick those of 100cm or under (and remember that heights are almost always understated on plant labels).

We have had Camellia minutiflora in a succession of containers for about twelve years. We have a miniature “Itty Bit” which has been featured in a container for at least twenty years. On the other hand, it is clear that “Spring Festival” is going to be too large after only three years.

Rules of thumb are not to drown a small plant in an over large pot, to ensure that the pot has plenty of drainage holes at the base and to use a good quality potting mix with slow release fertiliser. Feed by top dressing after the first year and repot with fresh mix after two years.

WHITE SASANQUA CAMELLIAS

There is a range of sasanqua camellias in white. ‘Silver Dollar’ has a long flowering season and is an excellent option for a more compact hedge.

There is a range of sasanqua camellias in white. ‘Silver Dollar’ has a long flowering season and is an excellent option for a more compact hedge.

While ‘Setsugekka’ is the best known white sasanqua in this country, it is not the only one. For perfection in a sasanqua bloom, it is hard to go past ‘Early Pearly’ with its formality in that shape that resembles a water lily. It is unusual to see a formal flower in sasanquas. ‘Silver Dollar’ is a smaller, bushier growing white with a mass of pompom flowers over a long season. It makes an ideal lower hedge option, able to be clipped to about a metre high. ‘Mine No Yuki’ is a slow growing variety, though will ultimately get large if it is not clipped (ours is at least 3 metres high and spans 4 metres wide, though that is after about 50 years). ‘Weeping Maiden’ grows rapidly to give a quick result with its arching growth and masses of large, single white blooms with golden stamens.

CAMELLIA PETAL BLIGHT

Camellia petal blight shows in the top flower as a distinctive white ring whereas the lower flower has been spoiled by botrytis.

Camellia petal blight shows in the top flower as a distinctive white ring whereas the lower flower has been spoiled by botrytis.

If you have been thinking that your mid season camellia display is not what it used to be, you will be right. Camellia petal blight has taken firm hold and cut the display to a fraction of what it used to be.

We have always had botrytis in New Zealand. It is the fungus that turns camellia flowers dark brown and mushy, especially in long periods of damp weather. Petal blight is different. It turns the flowers to a paler coloured mush, spreading through each bloom rapidly. A brown mark one day can cover most of the flower the following day. If you turn the affected bloom over and remove the calyx (the small cap holding the petals together at the end of the stem), you will see a white fluffy ring, indicating camellia petal blight. If it is dark and greyish, it is botrytis. Unfortunately, blighted flowers often hang on the bush rather than falling cleanly. Petal blight is a great deal more rampant than botrytis.

There is no cure and it will take many years before we see resistant varieties on the market. It does not usually take hold before late June or July, so the early flowering camellias can get through with their mass display unaffected.

The ugly face of camellia petal blight which affects mid and later season blooms.

The ugly face of camellia petal blight which affects mid and later season blooms.

Camellia species can be grown from seed. There will be some seedling variation in the plants but they are usually close enough on appearance for hedging purposes. These are last year’s red seed pods on C. microphylla.

Camellia species can be grown from seed. There will be some seedling variation in the plants but they are usually close enough on appearance for hedging purposes. These are last year’s red seed pods on C. microphylla.

COMPACT CAMELLIA HEDGING

Camellia species brevistyla and microphylla offer an option as buxus hedging replacement and can be grown from seed. This plant is C. brevistyla.

Camellia species brevistyla and microphylla offer an option as buxus hedging replacement and can be grown from seed. This plant is C. brevistyla.

Simply the best camellias we have found as a potential replacement for buxus hedging are C. brevistyla and C. microphylla. These two species are very hard to tell apart and must be closely related. Their leaves are a little larger than buxus but they clip very tidily and are a good dark green. Both species have pure white single flowers very early in the season. C. brevistyla is a little slower growing and smaller but its flowering is over quickly. We have built up C. microphylla as replacement hedging for our own garden.

These species may be hard to source but if you can find a parent plant, they can be raised easily from seed. Both set seed freely. Ask at your botanic gardens. Both species were sold in the past by Camellia Haven in Papakura.

There is nothing special about the individual blooms on Camellia sasanqua ‘Showgirl’, but at the time when it flowers, there is nothing to rival its showiness.

There is nothing special about the individual blooms on Camellia sasanqua ‘Showgirl’, but at the time when it flowers, there is nothing to rival its showiness.

The dainty flowers on both C. microphylla and C. brevistyla are almost identical but last longer on the former, seen here.

The dainty flowers on both C. microphylla and C. brevistyla are almost identical but last longer on the former, seen here.

C. microphylla has been kept clipped and shaped in containers for at least 12 years.

C. microphylla has been kept clipped and shaped in containers for at least 12 years.