Camellias are, indeed, very versatile additions to any garden, for just as cold weather arrives, the great majority of flowering plants become dormant, but not the camellias; from early fall to the middle of winter, depending upon the species, these evergreen shrubs come to life by setting spectacular blooms so much so that it is not easy for a gardener to stop at growing just one in the garden. Speaking of which, although we have several well-established camellias in our garden, I still cannot restrain myself from acquiring more including the end-of-the-season clearance bargains at garden centers, provided the plants are in good condition and properly identified. However, since camellias come in lots of cultivars and varieties, it’s for the best to purchase plants at the blooming stage to be able to see the true color and shape of the flowers or consult an expert at the garden center about their features.
Regardless of the type, camellias are not plants of open fields, rather need to be grown in dappled shade at sheltered locations where they can be protected from cold, dry winter winds. At the time of planting, the top of the root ball needs to be at the level of the soil or slightly higher but not any deeper; an acidic fertilizer or a natural amendment is on the menu for these handsome, evergreen shrubs. Since they are slow-growing, hence remain manageable over the course of time, bearing lovely blooms when the time is right. In fact, by growing the different ones available, the show can go on from fall to early winter.
In our modest garden, the show begins just as summer ends when Camellia sinensis, the small-leaf tea camellia, named aptly as it is the source of the tea we consume, is covered with delicate, cream-colored flowers with bright yellow centers; barely finished, when the two fall camellias, C. sasanqua, take center stage flaunting their bold flowers, one in deep pink and the other pinkish-white; while equally lovely - the tea and the fall camellias - the difference in the size of the flowers in noticeably distinct.
Though still at the bud stage, the all-too-familiar japonica camellias are now waiting for their turn to perform: somewhat like the finale of a show, the buds will open into gorgeous blooms early on next year giving a reason to celebrate winter. Furthermore, the elegant shrubs provide glossy foliage and ample artistic flowers to keep in vases or add to flower arrangements, especially the Ikebana type, for which I am so thankful since I am always exploring the garden to bring some fresh material inside. Camellia leaves and flowers seem to be the perfect solution.
Although fairly carefree, some diseases such as sooty mold does bother our beloved camellias; if that happens, one can either refer to a good gardening book or call the Chesterfield Extension Office where one of the master gardeners will be more than happy to offer advice, right over the phone.