Camellias illuminate my garden from winter to spring. I have several varieties of large, bushy Camellia japonica shrubs growing near my carport and they put on a warm welcome as I arrive home on a chilly winter’s day.
As well as looking good in winter, camellias provide a dense green screen all year round. They are also shade tolerant and a good choice to plant in a bed with a southern or eastern aspect. Varieties with dark coloured blooms that are well watered tolerate sunny aspects but all japonica camellias need protection from hot western sun and from frost.
Expect plants to be long lived and to reach around 2 to 3 metres tall and 1 to 2 metres wide. They are the type of plants that form the backbone of a garden. They are also low-allergy plants but their flowers are attractive to nectar-feeding birds that visit the flowers for a winter snack.
Although camellias look as if they’d need lots of special attention, they’re easy to grow with few problems. They grow best in good, deep, moisture-retentive soil but can also be grown in pots (use an acid potting mix and a large tub - Flower Power recommends Supersoil Professional Gardenia, Camellia & Azalea Potting & Planting Mix). They prefer slightly acidic soil and thrive on added mulches of composted manure.
Once they’ve established a strong root system, camellias are also drought tolerant. They do, however, appreciate regular deep drinks of water while their buds are forming in late summer and autumn, and while the flowers are blooming, especially if the weather is dry.
The main pests are scale (which can form on the leaves) and possums that may eat the buds and new growth. For advice on deterring possums, read this article.
Select plants when they are flowering or visit a camellia show to fully appreciate the variations in flower size, colour and shape. Flowers can be single, semi-double or double and may be formal or informal in their shape. Colours include white along with many shades of pink through to deep red or almost purple. Some have prominent golden stamens, others have a mass of petaloids in their centres. Here’s just a taste of the variety that’s available to grow in your garden.
- ‘Bob Hope’ An old favourite with deep-red informal semi-double flowers with golden stamens.
- ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’ Yellow is a sought-after colour for camellia breeders and these rich, deep, creamy yellow double flowers are the closest available. The flower is called anemone form, which means it has a mass of small petals in the centre of the bloom.
- ‘Debutante’ With many soft pink, double informal flowers this is a very popular camellia.
- ‘Desire’ Lives up to its name with white and pink flowers, which make a perfect formal double.
- ‘Lady Loch’ An old informal double variety often seen in heritage gardens. it dates back to the late 19th century. The flowers have pink petals edged with white.
- ‘Nicky Crisp’ A very pretty semi-double flower with rows of pale pink petals.
- ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ This appealing variety has perfect formal white double flowers. It’s a beauty.
- ‘Wildfire’ If you are looking for a good red semi-double camellia with a centre of golden stamens, this one is for you.