Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On cold and camellias

We've just had a - hopefully brief - cold snap.  Down to -7C according to the sensor in Maria's car last Friday morning.  It's the first serious frost of the winter but has hit just when the camellias are coming into their full display.

I've got six in the garden and, successively, they give me colour from November to April.  The season starts with a Camellia sasanqua variety (I've lost the label but I think it's Shishi Gashira).  It's trained against a west facing wall and is now in semi shade so doesn't flower as freely as it should.  Even so, the relatively small, deep pink, semi double flowers are a welcome sight in November and December.  This one usually manages to avoid the flower damage a period of frost can bring.  But others are not so lucky.

Camellia sasanqua variety
Camellia 'Cornish Snow' I've blogged about before but this winter it started flowering in November and has carried on as the days have got colder.  Because we haven't had a sub zero frost until late last week the flowers have remained undamaged and really have brightened the darker months of December and January. 

Camellia 'Cornish Snow'
Which brings me to the ones that have just begun their flowering season.  These are all varieties of Camellia x williamsii, offspring of the many times repeated C.saluenensis / C.japonica cross that has yielded hundreds of free flowering, hardy and very desirable camellias since it was first tried at Caerhays (a famous Cornish garden) in 1923.

'St Ewe' was the first in flower, just after Christmas.  It has perfect single flowers and a long season from January to April with me.  Like all the C. x williamsii hybrids it has the invaluable ability to shed dead and frosted flowers of it's own accord.  The buds are frost resistant.  The flowers are not.  We get short periods of freezing weather so, inevitably, some flowers get frosted.  With the x williamsii varieties these will soon drop to be replaced by the next set of buds.  With other camellias - notably C.japonica - the dead flowers hang on and on - the bush becomes very unsightly.

Camellia 'St Ewe'
Next off the blocks this year was 'Donation', one of the best known of all camellias.  Hardly surprising.  The combination of prolific flowering and attractive blooms is attractive to anyone with the required acid soil.  The neat shrub form - though it can certainly grow large in time - provides additional attraction throughout the year.

Camellia x williamsii 'Donation'
The final one to flower is the heavily doubled 'Anticipation'.  My shrub is about 8ft / 2.5 metres high after 14 years and flowers profusely, brightening the late winter/early spring days.

Camellia x williamsii 'Anticipation'
Superb camellias and well worth the space the occupy in my small garden.

But the season doesn't stop here.  In a month the fat buds of my single Camellia japonica  variety will be open to produce absolutely formal semi double pink flowers.  It was sold to me as a variety it's definitely not.  I think it may be 'Magnoliaeflora' but I can't be certain.  Whatever it is, its small flowers are a definite adornment although a single night's frost can cover the bush with blossoms gone to brown decay.

Camellia japonica - a white semi double, possibly Magnoliaeflora'
Even out of flower camellias look good with their simple, glossy evergreen leaves and neat habits.  But, even with the continued risk of frost and snow, now is their season and now is their true delight to be seen.  I'll be visiting local gardens over the next couple of months and they will be in full flower, a beautiful start to the new year.


  1. I love your selection of Camellias, a group of plants that bring an early spring the winter! Glad to see they weren't affected by the cold snap.

  2. Oh, they have been - but not severely. As I said the buds are hardy, the flowers not. 'Donation' is in full flower now and looks a treat in the front garden.