Tag Archives: Camellia Fairy Blush

Mark’s story

* as told to The NZ Rhododendron, the annual journal of NZRA Council and Pukeiti Trust Boad. December 2017. Photos are mine. 

Mark could perhaps be described as having chlorophyll running in his veins. He was the afterthought child in his family, quite a bit younger than his brothers. He remembers tagging along with his parents and visitors, listening in as they discussed plants around the Tikorangi garden in North Taranaki. “It was quite a lonely and isolated life in the country and I really wanted the social contact, even if it was with older people. It was only later that I realised what I learned in those early years.”

Mark was determined to head off to university, the first in his farming family to do so. It was not an easy path but he graduated with Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences, majoring in Psychology. He enrolled in a post-graduate diploma in guidance and counselling but withdrew half way through the year. “I was the youngest on the course and all the others were teachers with regrets. One would have liked to be a potter, another dreamed of running a country pub. I didn’t want to get to my late 40s and look back with regret. By that stage, Abbie and I had already been married a couple of years and I went home and told her I wanted to withdraw from the course and follow some dreams.”

From there, he taught himself to draw from a book by John Ruskin, taught himself to turn wood to a high quality and then set out to learn how to propagate and, from there, to build a nursery.

“When I started here, there was no nursery. Dad was a just a farmer and a gardener who liked to breed plants. He had taught himself the rudiments of propagation. I started to build the nursery from one wheelbarrow up and I set out to learn how to propagate and to grow plants commercially. It was a case of learning through trial and error. It has always surprised me how successful the nursery was.” Mark credits the access to his father’s plant hybrids for giving him new material to mark out his nursery as different to the rest. “Dad had pretty much stopped hybridising by then. It was only ever a hobby for him. I started more systematically to see how far I could push plant breeding. And as the plant breeding grew in range and scale, I had the nursery to cope with growing on the material.” He started with saturation coverage of a large plant of Camellia pitardii in a Urenui garden.

From an early stage, Felix made it clear that the garden he and his wife Mimosa had built would pass to Mark and his family. Mark and Abbie are demonstrably aware of what it means to be on a family property that is already on its fourth generation.

Arisaema seedlings are for the garden at Tikorangi, not commercial release

Mark is clear in his mind about the hybridising he does which has commercial potential and that which is solely to try and get better plants for their own garden. He is currently working with galanthus, aiming for later flowering cultivars which perform as well in Tikorangi conditions as Galanthus nivalus ‘S. Arnott’. He is continuing the efforts of his late father with cyclamineus narcissi, looking for sterile selections that bloom from every bulb, as Felix Jury’s ‘Twilight’ does. In the hellebores, improving garden performance and getting cultivars which hold their blooms above the foliage are the aims, as well as looking for sterility if possible. In the arisaemas, he wanted to extend the colour range and the season and to get some hybrid vigour into A. sikokianum types. He is often to be found out and about with his magnifying glass and paintbrush.

The garden is always the star in Mark’s mind. “This is a poor man’s garden,” he says. “It was never made with a big budget and if we had to buy in all the plants we want, we could never afford to keep it going, let alone expand as we are. To get masses of snowdrops to the point where they naturalise themselves to or to get a new 40 metre of border of auratum lilies, we have to raise our own from seed. And when raising from seed, I often like to start with controlled crosses to see if I can get better outcomes, rather than just using open pollinated material.”

The garden is a treasure trove of plant material, some of which may or may not go into commercial production at some stage in the future but which currently has no market. “We have some thrip-resistant rhododendrons with full trusses if that plant genus comes back into fashion. At the moment, the market is so small that there is no commercial advantage in releasing them.” The same is true of coloured and variegated cordylines and a range of camellias.

Magnolia Felix Jury

The creation of new cultivars with international potential has been a major focus. In the deciduous magnolias, Mark has named and released four out of many hundreds that he has raised. But he says he has the next three possibles under trial. Of those released, the magnolia that he named for his father is his greatest pride. “It is what Felix was trying to get to – good colour in a large cup and saucer bloom, so I called it ‘Felix Jury’. This one is doing really well internationally which is particularly pleasing. It has already been given an award of garden merit from the RHS.”

A range of michelia seedling blooms

Fairy Magnolia White, with bonus kereru

The michelias are a source of frequent disappointment to Mark. “We have raised so many of them now and have a good range of new colours. But it is so difficult to get everything in one plant – clean colour, good size of bloom and plenty of them over an extended period, compact, bushy growth, easy to propagate and scented. Keeping the scent is the most elusive attribute of all.” Mark has named three so far, marketed under the ‘Fairy Magnolia’ brand, but there is a long way to go yet and he keeps persevering, often with several hundred new seedlings a year.

Camellia Fairy Blush, Rhododendron Floral Sun and Magnolia Honey Tulip

Amongst the camellias, Mark names his selection of ‘Fairy Blush’ as his personal favourite. He and Abbie have chosen to use it extensively for clipped hedging in their garden because of its long flowering season and its good habit of growth. ‘Floral Sun’ remains his pick amongst the rhododendrons.

Daphne Perfume Princess

Ironically, it is a daphne, a one-off plant from a speculative breeding effort, that may prove to be the most lucrative cultivar internationally. ‘Perfume Princess’ basically looks like an odora although it often flowers down the stem like bholua. It is the size of the flower, the vigour of the plant and the length of the flowering season that sets this plant apart from other daphnes. “It is just a brilliant plant to grow and a terrific nursery plant to produce,” Mark says. “That is not true of most daphnes which can be very difficult to produce in containers.” Both the local and international markets for a daphne eclipse the market for magnolias, even if the plant itself is less spectacular.

“We stopped doing mailorder in 2003, stopped wholesale in 2008 and phased out retail after that. The phone calls and emails in search of plants haven’t stopped in the time since but we were really glad to shut all that down. Abbie always described nursery work as being like factory work but in better surroundings. There was no fun in it but it enabled us to get to where we are today.” Mark is quietly proud of the fact that royalties on plant sales, particularly overseas, are what enabled them to retire from the nursery trade and pursue their interests in the garden.

The garden is still expanding. They closed to the public 3 years ago and have been enjoying the freedom to experiment.  “We’ll open again at some stage, maybe 2019. For the annual garden festival, at least. Though we are unlikely to ever open again for extended periods during the year.”

Mark and the Magnolia Felix Jury tree at Wisley on the left. Mark with a collection of blooms from different seedlings at home in Tikorangi

Advertisements

The Jury Camellia Legacy

First published in the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2014 Journal of Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias

Camellia Water Lily (Felix Jury)

Camellia Water Lily (Felix Jury)

Long before the Jury name became associated with magnolias, there were the Jury camellias. There are rather a large number of these because there were actually two Jury brothers breeding them at the same time and a market which was very keen on new releases. These days we find that most of the Jury camellias are attributed to Felix when in fact the lion’s share was bred by his older brother, Les Jury. In his later years through to the 1980s, Les Jury had the greater reputation, partly because he entered an arrangement with the powerhouse nursery, Duncan and Davies, to distribute his material internationally. They took over the material from his breeding programme and continued to name and release cultivars well after his death.

By the time Mark Jury (Felix’s youngest son) showed an interest in 1980, Les Jury was elderly. He had little contact with Felix but was particularly encouraging to Mark, giving advice and making suggestions.

This made three Jurys on the quest for new camellias at the time of their heyday in New Zealand. In camellia terms, these were heady times. Only roses ranked higher in popularity, measured by sales volume. It was a rare garden in this country that lacked several camellia plants. This meant there was a substantial local market. In addition to that, there was considerable interest from overseas, particularly the USA, and both Les and Felix picked up awards. Camellia societies were very strong and both men were active at local and national level.

At the time when Les and Felix started breeding camellias, the range was dominated by large old varieties of Camellia japonica which grow so easily throughout New Zealand. Alas many of these don’t like the bright sun and the foliage can turn yellow. Worse is their failure to shed spent blooms so they are often covered in a mass of pink, red or white flowers interspersed with sludgy brown. Examples of these early japonicas can still be found, particularly on abandoned rural house sites where nothing survives but the house chimney and huge old specimen camellias.

Camellia Jury's Yellow (Les Jury)

Camellia Jury’s Yellow (Les Jury)

Nowadays, we wouldn’t even consider naming a camellia unless it was self grooming (the term used to describe dropping spent blooms) but it was a breakthrough fifty years ago. It was the extensive use of C. saluenensis that brought this characteristic to the fore. In addition to that, Les Jury liked large, showy flowers in abundance and was keen to extend the colour range. With the passage of time, he is probably best known for ‘Jury’s Yellow’. It isn’t a true yellow camellia but it came before the yellow species were even known to the west. Mark remembers him talking about his theory that he could get the stamens to bleed colour into surrounding petaloids and that is what he achieved in ‘Jury’s Yellow’ – a white camellia with pale yellow petaloids in the centre. Had Camellia ‘Sir Victor Davies’ been a better growing shrub (and given a more appealing name but it was labelled thus by Duncan and Davies management after Les’s death), he might have been similarly remembered for one of the early purple breakthroughs. I am particularly fond of his ‘Antique Charm’ which moves pink along the colour spectrum towards apricot. I should comment that Les gave this cultivar to Mark under the name of ‘Antique Rose’ but the Camellia Nomenclature only records ‘Antique Charm’. Alas there is nobody left to clarify whether they are one and the same.

Camellia Dream Boat (Felix Jury)

Camellia Dream Boat (Felix Jury)

Felix Jury also looked for self grooming characteristics and large flowers and he had a love affair with the formal shape. His most enduring cultivars fall into that category – ‘Water Lily’ was an early selection and is still around but it was ‘Dream Boat’ that seemed to capture the imagination of the gardening public. The incurved petals of the latter give it a distinctive appearance. We rate his ‘Mimosa Jury’ as probably the most beautiful flower he named. It is a very pretty shell pink and shows good weather hardiness in our conditions. Added to that, it has a particularly long flowering season. Felix clearly liked it because it is named for his wife (although equally, it may have been she who laid claim to naming rights).

‘Rose Bouquet’ is another that has stood the test of time. It has an abundance of large blooms which are rose form and rose coloured. It has been described as the closest thing in appearance to an herbaceous peony that can be grown in our climate.

Camellia Itty Bit (Felix Jury)

Camellia Itty Bit (Felix Jury)

Arguably, ‘Itty Bit’ was the most significant breakthrough from Felix Jury. Most of the japonicas and the hybrids that Les and Felix named grew to be substantial plants. After a few decades, some of the original plants are sitting around the four, five or even six metre mark in our conditions. As town gardens shrank in size, the demand grew for smaller growing plants. ‘Itty Bit’ was a breakthrough – miniature flowered and miniature growing. It has never reached more than a metre to a metre and a half, though there are sister seedlings here that are substantially taller. This is less desirable in colder climates because this type of plant is just too slow to grow, but in this country, camellias that flowered profusely but stayed small and developed a natural bonsai form opened up new possibilities for use as garden plants.

The plant world is as driven by fashion as any other sector. By the time Mark started breeding camellias, he was reading the signs that the market wanted an abundance of small flowers on smaller growing plants. The love affair with the japonica was waning and New Zealand gardeners were working out that many of miniature flowered varieties then available grew into huge plants. The first project Mark undertook was saturation coverage of an established C. pitardii in a nearby garden but he was also after scent. He was reasonably dismissive of his first selection – Camellia ‘Fairy Blush’. While he rated it as a pretty little flower with good scent, it was open pollinated, not a controlled cross. The seed came from C. lutchuensis and appears to be a cross with C. pitardii.

Camellia Fairy Blush (Mark Jury)

Camellia Fairy Blush (Mark Jury)

Even today, twenty years after we released it, we still regard ‘Fairy Blush’ as the one that got away from us. If we knew then what we know now, we would have applied for plant breeder’s rights. It is particularly galling when Australian nurserymen tell us how well they do out if it. The realisation that it shows no ill effects from petal blight is an added virtue. Being small leafed with red new growth, satisfyingly fragrant, and with an extraordinarily long flowering season of several months, ‘Fairy Blush’ has many positive attributes. We find it makes a particularly good hedge, clipped to about 120cm.

Camellia Volunteer (Mark Jury)

Camellia Volunteer (Mark Jury)

Ironically, the second most successful selection of Mark’s was another chance seedling. ‘Volunteer’, as he is wont to say, volunteered itself. It was amongst the root stock to be grafted when it first bloomed and it was clear that it was something different. The solid flower is a pretty white and pink bicolour at the start of the season, deepening to a white and red combination as the season progresses with late flowers having the same anemone form but in red with no white. It is clearly a japonica and was named for the United Nations International Year of Volunteering in 2001.

Of his controlled crosses, ‘Jury’s Pearl’ is probably the one that has pleased Mark the most. The cream to palest pink flower has an opalescent glow which lights up dark areas of the garden and the peony form means it is a pleasingly full flower.

Camellia Jury's Pearl (Mark Jury)

Camellia Jury’s Pearl (Mark Jury)

Mark was in full flight hybridising camellias and had named and released eight different cultivars (now ten with two recent additions) when the news came that petal blight had reached New Zealand. We both remember the day, about twenty years ago, when senior members of the local branch of the Camellia Society arrived unannounced to break the news. Mark understood instantly what it meant. He stopped working with camellias and turned his attention to michelias (now magnolias) instead.

It took a year or two for Ciborinia camelliae to arrive here at Tikorangi. We collectively held our breaths and hoped that it would only affect late season blooms but it has settled in to making its appearance at the end of May or the very beginning of June which is the start of the season for all but the sasanquas. The effect has been devastating and cut the floral display substantially. Controls are not practical. Petal blight is a fungal spore which appears to travel unimpeded at least 5km in the air. The camellia is such a ubiquitous plant in this country that even if we could clear our own property, we would get reinfected from the neighbours. It was apparent we had to learn to live with it. Alas the worst affected types are the large flowered, show blooms so valued by both Les and Felix Jury. To keep a good display on these types of camellias, we have to groom the plants. The sought after characteristic of self grooming doesn’t apply with petal blight. The flowers stay solid, turn mushy brown and hang on unless removed by hand. This type of grooming is not a problem if you only have one or two plants but we have hundreds. Camellias here are used as utility hedging plants (both clipped and casual), wind breaks, small trees, back of the border fillers, topiary, clipped feature plants both large and small – they are wonderfully versatile in our conditions and we have too many to groom.

Only now, after two decades of petal blight, is Mark turning his attention back to camellias. We have not found any evidence of camellia petal blight on any of our sasanquas. Red blooms carry the disfigurement better. But above all else, the stars are the miniature flowered types which set a mass of flower buds over a very long period but where each bloom is short lived. It is not that they are immune, though some show a level of resistance. It is just that the individual blooms fall before they are taken out by the blight so the floral display remain clean.

Camellia Roma Red (Mark Jury)

Camellia Roma Red (Mark Jury)

In fact ‘Fairy Blush’ probably remains the very best camellia performer we have in the garden. It may forever be the one that got away from us but it is also the marker by which we will measure the next generation of camellia hybrids bred for the post Ciborinia camelliae era. I recall the customer who asked: “You know how Fairy Blush flowers from April to September? Do you have one that flowers from October to March?”. “What? A camellia?” I replied. “Yes,” she said. Such a question ranks alongside those customers who, looking at a plant in flower, ask: “Does it come in any other colours?”

Camellia Pearly Cascade (Mark Jury)

Camellia Pearly Cascade (Mark Jury)

Les Jury cultivars

As there are at least 71 registered cultivars attributed to Les (not including variegated sports), it seems excessive to list them all. Not all are significant and even fewer are still commercially available. Full details are available in the Camellia Nomenclature. A short list of his more popular cultivars would include ‘Anticipation’, ‘Avalanche’, ‘Ballet Queen’, ‘Debbie’, ‘Elegant Beauty’, ‘Jubilation’, ‘Jury’s Yellow’ and ‘Les Jury’.

Camellia Mimosa Jury (Felix Jury)

Camellia Mimosa Jury (Felix Jury)

Camellia Rose Bouquet (Felix Jury)

Camellia Rose Bouquet (Felix Jury)

Felix Jury cultivars
Debbie’s Carnation (saluenensis x japonica ‘Debutante’)
Dream Boat (saluenensis x japonica ‘K.Sawada’)
Dresden China (saluenensis x japonica ‘Joshua E. Youtz’)
Itty Bit (saluenensis x Tiny Princess)
Julie Felix (saluenensis x japonica ‘Joshua E Youtz’)
Mimosa Jury (saluenensis x japonica ‘K Sawada’)
Pearly Shells (saluenensis x japonica ‘K Sawada’)
Red China (reticulata ‘Trewithen Pink” x reticulata ‘Cornelian’)
Rose Bouquet (saluenensis x japonica ‘Tiffany’)
Softly (saluenensis x japonica ‘Joshua E Youtz’)
South Seas (saluenensis x japonica ‘C M Wilson’
(Spencer’s Delight an early saluenensis x japonica hybrid never put into commerce, as far as we know)
(Tiny Bit An ‘Itty Bit’ sister seedling never put into commerce although the original remains a fine specimen by our back door)
Waterlily (saluenensis x japonica ‘K Sawada’)

Camellia Fairy Blush (Mark Jury)

Camellia Fairy Blush (Mark Jury)

Mark Jury cultivars
Apple Blossom Sun (pitardii var pitardii open pollinated)
Cream Puff (pitardii x ‘Tiny Princess’)
Fairy Blush (lutchuensis open pollinated)
Gay Buttons (tinsie x ‘Snowdrop’)
Jury’s Pearl (pitardii x ‘Tomorrow’)
Moon Moth (C.pitardii var.pitardii x C.japonica ‘K. Sawada’)
Pearly Cascade (C. pitardii hybrid)
Purple Pompom (‘Fuyajo’ x ‘Zambo’)
Roma Red (tinsie x ‘Dream Boat’)
Topiary Pink (pitardii seedling)
Volunteer (japonica seedling)

A blight upon your camellias

I married in to a camellia family. Long before the Jury name ever became associated with magnolias, it was known both in New Zealand and overseas for camellias. That is because there were two brothers working independently on camellias in the previous generation.

Les Jury (known here as Uncle Les, for obvious reasons) was the better known and some of his cultivars are classics in the camellia world – Anticipation, Debbie and Jury’s Yellow to name just three. Not far behind was Felix Jury who created Water Lily, Dream Boat, Rose Bouquet and many others.

Encouraged by his father and his uncle, my Mark was following suit. They were heady days and camellias ranked second only to roses in volume of plant sales in New Zealand. Both Mark and I remember the Day of Doom. Mark received an unannounced visit from senior members of the local Camellia Society bringing him the bad news that camellia petal blight had been found in Wellington. It took quite a while for the implications to sink in for me but Mark knew instantly what it meant and that was the day he stopped camellia breeding. Only now, more than twenty years down the track, is he starting to return to it as the picture has become clearer.

From these slightly blemished blooms...

From these slightly blemished blooms…

Camellia petal blight is endemic to China and Japan and has long been a problem on the west coast of the USA. More recently, it has struck the UK and Europe though apparently Australia is still free from it. A plant can’t carry it. It is transmitted on the flower or in the soil. Even back when it was first found in this country, standard practice was to ensure that all plants being shipped in or out of New Zealand were stripped of all flower buds and had their roots washed clean. It is quite possible that it entered this country inadvertently in a corsage somebody failed to discard safely or some similar incident. The discovery of infected blooms in Wellington Botanic Gardens and in two locations in the Hutt (if my memory serves me right) was hardly painted apple moth or Queensland fruit fly territory but its impact has certainly been very disappointing.

... to this in two short days

… to this in two short days

It is a fungus – Ciborinia camelliae, to be precise and the spore are dispersed through the air. The problem in this country is that the camellia is so ubiquitous and the distances from host plant to next potential host so short that the disease spread rapidly. For the same reason, you can’t eradicate it because you will just get reinfected. So we have learned to live with it.

We have always had botrytis which turns blooms dark brown but petal blight is much more rampant. What may be light brown speck on a bloom one day can show as riddled as the pox the following day and pale mush the day after. And it usually hangs on the plant, which is the worst aspect of all because blighted blooms look awful. A lot of modern breeding has been to get camellias that are self grooming – in other words they fall when finished. But not the blighted blooms.

If you want to check that you have it, flip a bloom over and peel off the calyx which holds the petals together in the centre. If it has a telltale white powdery ring inside the calyx, that is petal blight. If it is greyish black, it is botrytis.

The white ring of death - camellia petal blight

The white ring of death – camellia petal blight

Petal blight does not weaken the plant. It merely cuts the floral display. You won’t get as many blooms, though given camellias’ propensity for massive bud set, they will still out flower most other shrubs. You will probably have to do more of a clean up, maybe shake the bush as you pass and rake up the debris to keep them looking attractive. It is still a lot less than many other plants require.

Reticulata camellias (the ones with the huge blooms the size of lunch plates) tend to drop their blighted blooms because they are so heavy. And many are red which doesn’t show the brown blemishes as badly. But reticulatas are very hard to find for sale these days. Despite what some information on the internet says, we have never found petal blight on our sasanqua camelliaseither, and that is not for want of looking. As far as we are concerned they are clean.

The smaller flowered camellias with masses of shortlived blooms in succession are just as good as ever. We had a rush of blood to the head when Mark thought last week that petal blight was entirely absent from his Camellia Fairy Blush (the first camellia he ever named – a C. lutchuensis hybrid, not a sasanqua). He examined many spent blooms and finally found one with the telltale white ring. So not blight free, but unaffected in its display.

It is the bigger flowered, paler varieties that look the worst along with the ones bred for show blooms – fewer flowers but with perfect form. It has pretty well wrecked the traditions of camellia shows. Whether time and renewed efforts by plant breeders can replace these types with blight resistant options is still unknown.

Camellia Fairy Blush - not immune but the display is unaffected

Camellia Fairy Blush – not immune but the display is unaffected

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

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 13 July, 2012

Spring must be getting close - dwarf Narcissus Twilight is opening

Spring must be getting close – dwarf Narcissus Twilight is opening


Last week was garden bed...

Last week was garden bed…

Latest posts:
1) The Great Garden Make Over (aka renovating the rose garden). Not quick, not even that easy, but hugely satisfying.
2) They were the first narcissi to flower this season – Narcissus bulbocodium citrinus ‘Pandora’. However, others are starting to open, including the little Felix Jury hybrid ‘Twinkle’ above.
3) Grow it Yourself – tamarillos, this week. Yet another subtropical fruit, from South America again this one, that we have taken over in this country as if it were our own – even to the extent of branding it tamarillo!
4) Away from gardening and on to recipe books – 500 Tapas reviewed.

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 13 July 2012

The work in the rose garden has absorbed all my recent energies, and a good deal of Lloyd’s too. If the rain had just held off for another couple of days, it would have been finished but intermittent showers and the developing mud has driven me indoors.

Camellia Fairy Blush

Camellia Fairy Blush

Camellia Fairy Blush is looking particularly pretty in our little hedge. This was the first camellia Mark ever named – a scented, lutchuensis hybrid. Mark is not given to exaggeration or overstating matters so he was always rather deprecating about Fairy Blush. “It’s just a little single,” he would say, “but it does flower well and has reasonable scent.” Yes, it is a little single that flowers for several months on end and is as fragrant as any camellia, on a compact plant which clips very well. These days we regard it as the one that got away from us. We should probably have taken out Plant Variety Rights (a plant patent) on it. It is now a market standard in both Australia and New Zealand and it can be a little galling when nurserymen tell you how very well they have done out of your plant. Such is life. But then we have learned the hard way that even agreements and Plant Variety Rights don’t necessarily give market protection either. We would still plant Fairy Blush in our own garden and recommend it to others, even if it wasn’t our cultivar and that is a fair testimonial.

Our hedge of Camellia Fairy Blush

Our hedge of Camellia Fairy Blush

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.

Camellia diary – the first entry April 7, 2010

Click to see all Camellia diary entries

Click on the Camellia diary logo above to see all diary entries

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.