January Garden Plant of the Month: Camellia
Camellia japonica: flowers in the snow
It’s like something out of a fairytale: when everything is still bare, the evergreen shrub Camellia japonica (also known as Japanese camellia) is already flowering abundantly. Neither cold nor snow will stop this winter bloomer. In the first four months of the year the plant sparkles with large rose-like flowers with a diameter of up to 12 cm. The combination with the large, shiny dark green leaves make it an appealing sight for everyone who wants greenery and colour on their patio, in the garden or on the balcony.
There are over 2000 different cultivars of the elegant Camelia japonica, ranging from single flowered to semi-double, and double flowered varieties. The most common colours are red, white and pink, but there is also lilac, salmon and bi-coloured plants.
• The plant has featured on Chinese porcelain and paintings since the 11th century.
• The oldest Camellias in Europe can be found in the Portuguese town of Campo Bello and some are 470 years old.
• The unique flowering time makes it one of the most frequently painted garden plants, because the garden offers little alternative inspiration in the winter and early spring.
• In China the Camellia is a symbol of luck for the Chinese New Year (which falls on Friday 16 February in 2018).
As the name suggests, Camellia japonica originates from Japan, and is also native to Taiwan and Korea, where the plant prefers to grow on wooded slopes at heights of between 300 and 1100 metres. This winter bloomer is related to the tea plant Camellia sinensis and was brought to Europe in the 18th century by traders.
What to look for when buying
• Camellia is a woody plant and comes with a plant passport that shows that the grower has complied with the European Union’s phytosanitary requirements. The passport can be found on the plant’s label.
• When buying, check the number of buds that can flower and their state of ripeness. Dry or dropped buds are a sign that the Camellia will not flower optimally.
• The plant must be free of pests and diseases. Brown discolouration can occur if there’s too much moisture on the petals and botrytis (grey mould) develops.
Care tips for consumers
– Camellia japonica prefers acidic, slightly damp, easy-draining soil.
– The plant prefers a sheltered spot in partial shade.
– Although Camellia is hardy, it’s best to cover the plant in the event of a harsh or lengthy frost in order to prevent frost damage.
– Don’t allow the plant to dry out, particularly if the plant is in a pot or tub.
– Some fertiliser in March and June helps the plant to produce fresh buds.
– Camellia does not need to be pruned.
– Camellia japonica combines well with other acid soil lovers such as conifers, Rhododendron, Erica, Skimmia and Gaultheria.