Just when it seems winter may never end, spring arrives in my garden in the shape of Camellia japonica. Also known as common camellia or Japanese camellia, this is one of the best known species of the genus Camellia and is sometimes called the Rose of winter,
Camellias are large, attractive, broad-leaved, evergreen shrubs. Their foliage is indispensable for giving form and structure, but it is the extraordinary beauty and profusion of blooms for which they are most highly prized. With thousands of cultivars in shades of pink, red, white and yellow, flowering can begin as early as November and frequently carries on until April. Mine begin to bloom in March and continue to provide clouds of pink and green for several weeks.
Camellias are ericaceous woodland plants that require a neutral to acidic soil. They grow best in a sheltered position in light shade. Avoid planting in south or east facing positions, where the flowers may be spoilt by early morning sun following frosty nights. If your soil isn’t acidic plant in containers using ericaceous compost and feeding in spring and early summer with acidic fertilisers.
Depending upon the variety, camellias will reach a size and spread at maturity from 2m to 10m, so ensure they have plenty of room to fulfil their potential.
Camellias are fussy about watering. Tap water can be used occasionally with no ill effects, but they prefer more acidic rain water. Newly planted, younger and container-grown plants will need regular watering especially in dry conditions. Established camellias will look after themselves.
Any pruning required is best done in spring, immediately after flowering. Where an overgrown camellia needs to be reduced or renovated, hard pruning is usually safe and reliable. I hard prune my camellias every five years. This results in one year of foliage only, before the usual profuse flowering resumes in subsequent years.
Whilst Camellias can be propagated from seed, seedlings do not usually come true to parent type. Semi-ripe or hardwood cuttings, layering and grafting are much more successful methods.
Perfect for the mixed border, woodland gardens or in containers, camellias are truly invaluable shrubs and more than warrant their place in any garden.