I have mixed emotions around this time of the year. Summer is losing its grip and soon winter will be here; the passing of time is something completely beyond my control and I must accept.
Autumn, or fall if you prefer, brings its great bounty; fruits are being gathered in from squashes, apples and pears in my gardens. The shrubs and trees turn bright colours, and fine asters and the autumnal tints of grasses decorate the borders.
If the asters are stalwarts of the late garden then the autumn Camellias are surely royalty?
The popularity of the spring flowering Camellias cannot be denied. They herald the arrival of spring with their exquisite blooms, from singles to flamboyant doubles, from small to large, and all shades from white through to dark red.
Such is the iconic status of the spring Camellias that the later flowering ones seem almost odd, as though they’re flowering out of season.
The Key Late Species
Most of the late Camellias you will encounter are derived from, or hybrids with, two key species. Camellia sasanqua is the best known, a species native to Japan, while the less well known Camellia hiemalis comes from Southeast China.
Breeders have crossed these species, and their garden varieties, to raise some truly exceptional garden plants.
There are other late Camellias, like Camellia granthamiana (above) from Hong Kong, that are marginal in cultivation. In time they might become more widely available, but some are a little more fussy about where they grow and are less likely to make reliable garden plants.
While there are some gently perfumed spring Camellias, yet none can compare with the perfumes of the late flowering varieties.
Some, like the classic old Camellia ‘Narumigata’ and the very similar variety called ‘Rainbow’, are powerfully perfumed; sometimes the strength of the perfume can be a little overpowering, especially in a confined space, but out in the open garden the scent is intoxicating.
Others, like the exquisite little flowers of C. ‘Winter’s Snowman’, are more subtle; you must put your nose to the flower to enjoy its scent.
Traditionally it’s said that late Camellias need lots of sun to grow. They certainly do well in full sun, once established, but it they will also grow and flower well in light shade.
Like all Camellias, good watering is key to success when the plant is young; a bucket of water twice a week (three times a week in the hottest areas) will help a young Camellia become established. There is also the need for an acidic to neutral soil, one where Rhododendrons will also thrive, but beyond that the late Camellias are very straightforward to grow.
Camellias can be grown in pots with reasonable success, providing they’re pruned carefully and proper care is taken to feed and water them. A late Camellia laden with perfumed blooms would be a treat in a pot by the front door.
However it’s important to note that while Camellias are generally pretty cold hardy in the ground, the roots of Camellias are rather susceptible to hard frost; if in any doubt it would be prudent to wrap the pots well with layers of burlap to insulate them. In the colder regions, areas where winters are frosty right through until spring, I would only recommend growing Camellias of any type in the ground.