Camellia japonica ‘Chandleri Elegans’

Camellias are flowers that, though past the peak of their popularity, remain standard items for the nurseryman, even though they cannot be grown in modern homes with central heating. The reason for this entrenched position is no doubt their beauty as well as the wealth of shape and colour of their blooms. The cultivars raised to date run into the thousands! If we were to leaf through camellia club journals or Japanese gardeners’ journals we would surely be tempted, at least momentarily, to try growing camellias ourselves.

Unless you have a conservatory or greenhouse for growing cool-loving species in winter without heat, or, at the most, only with slight heat, then you must truly give up hope of permanent success, for camellias must have a winter temperature of 3 to 5°C (38 to 41°F). In a warm flat, which furthermore has a dry atmosphere, they rapidly fade and finally die. That is why they tend nowadays to be grown only as temporary decoration and the whole plant discarded after the flowers are spent.

The type species, Camellia japonica, grows wild in the subtropical forests of Korea, northern China and Japan (the islands of Okinawa and Kyushu), where it reaches a height of 15 m (50 ft). The colour variability of its blooms (in the wild one will encounter white, pink as well as red and a mixture of colours) makes it ideal for hybridization. The cul-tivar, most commonly grown in Europe because of the absolute certainty of its flowering, has blossoms about 10 cm (4 in) across. It was raised by Chandler in 1824. There is no point in listing the names of the countless forms; interested readers who are able to provide the necessary conditions for overwintering camellias can select the one they like best by consulting the special journals on the subject.

Camellias need an acid soil with a pH of between 4.5 and 5.5, which can be provided by mixing dark pine leaf mould with peat and adding some sand. They can be propagated readily by means of cuttings, which should be inserted in February or March in a mixture of peat and sand in a slightly warm, humid propagator. When watering, use only soft water or water that has been slightly acidified.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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