Captivating camellias

PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 April 2014


The experts at Monkton Elm look at the popularity of camellias and how to look after them

Jobs for April

Apply general fertiliser such as Vitax Q4 around your shrubs and hardy perennials

Its your last chance to plant summer flowering bulbs and tubers such as Dahlias and lilies.

Now is the time to apply a lawn weed, feed and moss killer

Earth up early potatoes and plant main crop potatoes now.

The camellia first arrived in Britain in the mid 1700s from the Far East, where camellia sinensis was grown extensively for tea production, and by the end of that century, with the expansion of the tea trade, new exciting varieties were being imported. These imports, along with the raising of new plants from seed, made the camellia the height of fashion by the 1840s – the ‘must have’ plant of the rich and famous.

After a decline in popularity, it was not until the early 1900s that the camellia’s fortunes reversed, as naturalistic planting became en vogue and it was useful as a woodland plant. Since then, extensive breeding has seen thousands of cultivars and hybrids selected. Camellia japonica is the most prominent species, with more than 2,000 named cultivars.

Camellia Silver AnniversaryCamellia Silver Anniversary

Flowers can be single, semi, double, anemone form, paeony form and formal double.

With careful selection it is possible to have camellias flowering in your garden for many months, starting in the autumn with sun-loving camellia sasanqua.

Recent introductions include a themed range, such as ‘ruby wedding’ and ‘silver anniversary’, which, of course, make perfect gifts for that special occasion, but at Monkton Elm, we still find long established cultivars such as camellia x williamsii ‘donation’ with semi-double, light rose-pink flowers on a large bush, and camellia williamsii ‘Debbie’, (paeony form double, rose-pink flowers) extremely popular.

Our personal favourite is ‘brushfield’s yellow’, the soft creamy double flowers standing out well against dark green, shiny foliage.

Camellias generally need to be grown in lime free soil, so if your soil is not acid, use ericaceous compost in a large pot, and use an acid fertiliser regularly. Watering is key to bud formation; these are formed in the previous summer and autumn so it is vital to keep your camellias well watered and the soil moist at this time. Although most like a woodland situation, they cope well with any position and are completely hardy.

One of the most often asked questions we receive at Monkton Elm is about sooty mould on camellias; an unsightly black covering all over the leaves. This is caused by the excretions of the scale insect, which sucks sap from the plant. These excretions then attract the mould. Spray with a proprietary insecticide to control the pest and the mould will then gradually wash off.

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