Seeing Camellia plants in full bloom in a Cornish garden is truly unforgettable. It is one of the great spectacles of British gardens! But there is no reason why we couldn’t have a piece of that spectacle in our own gardens.
The blooms of Camellias are soft and sumptuous looking and can be damaged by cold winds or through thawing too quickly after frost. But the plant itself is quite hardy.
Avoiding frosted flowers
So let’s address the flower issue. These are really early flowering shrubs with some varieties even blooming in November. However the vast majority are in flower from January through until late April, just when we can get some nasty sharp frosts!
The answer is to think carefully about where you are going to place your Camellias plants and above all avoid frost pockets. You should also avoid planting them where the sun shines on them first thing in the morning. This is because those soft blooms will actually tolerate frost but if only they have a chance to thaw out slowly.
If your patch is halfway up a mountain or in a particularly cold area, then consider planting a Camellia against a north, south or west facing wall but never ever an east facing one!
Growing Camellia Plants in Containers
Of course, Camellia plants are superb in containers. Start them off in a 10 – 15 litre pot and gradually move to a large pot as they get older. As with all slower growing plants, it is never a good idea to put a small plant into a huge pot. If you do put a small plant in a big pot, the soil will go sour before the plant can fill it with roots. Most Camellias will ultimately need a half barrel size pot of 35-40 litres and oak half barrels [with drainage holes] filled with lime free compost is ideal.
The alternative is to plant other plants with it in a large container to utilise the root space and the fertiliser in the compost. I would recommend planting a Pieris Forest Flame, a small leaved Rhododendron or evergreen azalea, some Calluna to provide summer colour and of course some spring flowering dwarf bulbs.
Camellia garden plants are lumped in with so called ‘lime hating plants’ such as Rhododendrons, Pieris and Azaleas. But they are the most tolerant of a little lime in the soil of all of these plants. Just like the others, they too have a shallow root system that can be regularly given a low pH mulch of pine bark or something similar. Unlike the others, Camellias do have quite a high feed requirement. This is especially when actively growing and when forming the next year’s flower buds in June and July. Fortunately there are specific liquid feeds available such as Maxicrop with Sequestrene but good old tomato food will do!
Camellia plants are again looking great this year and those that I have seen and the ones in our nursery are covered in flower buds! When choosing a plant, look for plenty of flower buds by all means, but look also for a bushy well branched compact plant that has dark green glossy leaves.
Oh and don’t forget Camellia plants make wonderful gifts too!
There is more good background reading on Camellias on the Royal Horticultural Society’s website here.
There’s more useful tips and an explanation of types of Camellias here.