Tag Archives: Camellia transnokoensis

Garden lore: July 20, 2015 Petal blight, white camellia hedges and winter pruning

“One has a lot, an endless lot, to learn when one sets out to be a gardener.”

Vita Sackville-West, A Joy of Gardening (1958)


Petal blight

Petal blight

After writing about Winter Whites last week, referencing the ubiquitous white camellia hedges, of course I noticed this hedge on my way to town. My eye was drawn to the composition of brown and white flowers. It is a japonica camellia, though which one I am not sure. Closer examination revealed a bad case of petal blight, even this early in the season. There are two main giveaway signs. The first is the brown flowers hanging on to the bush. Most modern camellias are what is called self-grooming. They are bred to drop their spent blooms but those affected by petal blight hang on. The blighters. The second sign is shown by turning over a brown bloom and removing the calyx that holds the petals together. There is the tell-tale white ring of death – fungal spores. There is no remedy. You either live with it or you remove the plants.

I have never been a fan of japonica camellias for hedging. The foliage can go a bit yellow in full sun and both leaves and blooms are too big. Smaller leafed camellias, seen in the sasanquas, some of the species and the hybrids look much better. Miniature single flowers usually fall cleanly and disintegrate quickly, avoiding the sludgy brown effect below.

Camellia transnokoensis

Camellia transnokoensis

While our C. transnokoensis hedge needs to thicken up yet, we are charmed by its floral display. The sasanqua ‘Silver Dollar’ is also an excellent hedging choice. While the small flowers are nothing special viewed close-up, it is one of the first sasanquas to bloom for us and one of the last so it has exceptionally long season allied to compact growth and small leaves which are a good, dark green.

Camellia sasanqua Silver Dollar - an excellent hedging option

Camellia sasanqua Silver Dollar – an excellent hedging option 

While some claim that sasanquas can get petal blight, we haven’t seen it on our plants. And although the single flowered species and hybrids are not necessarily resistant, most set large numbers of flowers but each bloom only lasts a few days so they fall before blight takes hold.

On another topic, winter is pruning time. I did the wisterias on Friday. This is one plant family I recommend removing totally if you are not willing to prune them. They have dangerous proclivities. Most of the roses are done and I have started on the hydrangeas. Those in colder climates may be better to wait another month before tackling the last two because pruning encourages new growth which is vulnerable to frosts. The pruning guides I did several years ago as part of my Outdoor Classroom series give step by step instructions if you are not sure where to start – wisteria, hydrangeas, roses.

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.
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.