Date: 24 March 2005
Originally published in: Various local newspapers (UK)
Written by: Kim Wilde
Camellias are one of the most undiscovered stars of the spring garden, as their exotic flowers add cheer and colour during inclement weather. They are often overlooked by gardeners as they are thought to be difficult to grow, but given the right conditions, Camellias can thrive in almost any garden.
The Camellia is an evergreen shrub, which has dark green glossy foliage, that shines even when the plant is not in flower. Most Camellias can grow into a large shrub or small tree and it makes a superb container specimen, which is especially good for a semi-shaded position.
Japan is the true home of the Camellia and features in many Japanese traditions, for example it is customary to have a white flowered Camellia at a wedding ceremony, as it is the symbol of longevity. Camellias were first introduced into Britain in the early part of the eighteenth Century and became increasingly popular in the 1930’s, due to the breeding of new varieties by J.C. Williams at Caerhays Castle in Cornwall.
Successful tips for growing Camellias
Camellias need a sheltered spot and thrive best in dappled shade, preferably in a west facing position, so that the early morning sun in frosty conditions does not scorch the flowers. They will only grow in soil that is lime-free or neutral, therefore they will not grow in soils that contain lime. If you are unsure of the lime content of your soil, use an inexpensive ph test kit to check.
Another way is to look at the plants growing in your neighbours’ gardens. If they are successfully growing Camellias, Rhododendrons or Azaleas, this will give you a rough indication that your soil is suitable for growing Camellias.
If you have a high lime content in your soil, you can still grow Camellias in your garden in containers, using lime-free Ericaceous compost. However, always choose a container that is at least 46cm in both diameter and depth and ensure there is adequate drainage by using crocks placed inside the base of the pot.
One advantage of growing Camellias in containers is that they can be moved into a prominent position when flowering begins, such as onto your patio or close to a window. Make sure your Camellias are watered regularly, especially if they are planted in containers as a dry spell in summer can cause the new flowering buds to drop off in winter.
Camellias should be fed with a fertiliser, such as Miracle Gro Ericaceous Liquid Plant Food during the spring and autumn. This will prevent yellowing of the foliage and it is also a good idea to mulch around the base of the plant.
Very little pruning is required as Camellias are fairly slow growing, but if you need to tidy up any old or leggy plants, this is best done after the plant has finished flowering and before new growth begins. Also, don’t forget to deadhead Camellias regularly as the flowers start to fade.
There are many good varieties to choose from, but I would recommend the following popular varieties: Camellia williamsii ‘Donation’ has large pink flowers, which flowers over a long period. Camellia japonica ‘Jury’s Yellow’ has yellow and white flowers and Camellia hybrid ‘Kramer’s Beauty’ has vibrant red flowers, guaranteed to cheer up any dull spring day.
Be sure to grow these beautiful exotic looking spring shrubs in your garden and you will find they are not as difficult as they look.