Camellias are one of the most popular evergreen early flowering garden shrubs, providing a short-lived but often intense splash of colour. As woodland plants, they grow best in light shade, although with watering and care some types will also thrive in sunnier spots.Buy Camellia Here!
The camellia is a close relative of the plant that fills our cherished tea bags. It is named after a Czech Jesuit priest and pharmacist called George Kamel, who was born in 1661. His dispensing cabinet included some derivatives of camellia collected from the Far East.
Camellias were cultivated in the gardens of China and Japan for centuries before they were brought to Europe. They were first recorded in England in 1739, when two red-flowered Camellia japonica bloomed in Lord Petre's hothouse at Thorndon Hall in Essex. The conditions killed the plants, but not before cuttings were successfully raised in a more suitable outdoor situation. Some of the first named varieties from the far east soon followed, including Camellia japonica 'Alba Plena' and 'Variegata', which were recorded on the import inventory of an East India Company ship in 1792.
The fate of Lord Petre’s original plants did not stop the Victorians building camellia houses, and Joseph Paxton’s 1840 camellia house at Chatsworth survives, with what are believed to be some of the original shrubs, which still bloom each year.
One shortcoming of Camellia japonica is that the flowers brown and stay on the plant as they die, giving a rather unhealthy and unattractive appearance. Deadheading a 5m tall floriferous camellia is a difficult task! In the 1920s, John Charles Williams crossed an unnamed Camellia japonica variety with Camellia saluenensis, and produced a hardy hybrid with small leaves subsequently called Camellia x williamsii. This was a major breakthrough, because it loses its flowers naturally as they go over. The introduction of many C. x williamsii cultivars has reinvigorated the reputation and popularity of camellias in British gardens.
This article looks at purchasing and establishing a camellia in the garden, and provides tips for on-going care.