Camellia Season Starts Now

It might surprise you to learn that there are several species of Camellia in season right now, blooming from late fall into winter and by the time these have finished flowering the spring varieties will already be showing some colour that will carry us through to April - which is quite an extended display of colour for any ornamental shrub. So, I thought I’d walk you through this important plant family and leave you with a few tips in regards to the best cultivars and growing practices.

Camellia x williamsii 'Brigadoon'

Winter Camellia (Camellia sasanqua) - Even though they are often listed as Camellia sasanqua, many of these cultivars are of varied lineage that includes C. vernalis and C. hiemalis. These flower from late autumn into winter and many of them are quite fragrant. Most cultivars have a lax branching habit which lends itself to training onto a trellis or featured as a cascading container specimen. The notable exception here is ‘Yuletide’ with a tight, upright form that matures around 5’ tall and bears stunning single red blooms contrasted by golden stamens around Christmas. ‘Apple Blossom’ is another single form with white blooms edged in pink, while ‘Kanjiro’ (rose-pink), ‘White Doves’ (pure white) and ‘Chansonette’ (clear pink) have semi to fully double flowers.

Camellia sasanqua 'Apple Blossom', Camellia sasanqua 'Chansonette', Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro', Camellia sasanqua 'White Doves', Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Tea Camellia (Camellia sinensis) – Some people are under the impression that Tea Camellia isn’t hardy here, but with ‘Tea Breeze’ rated at zone 6 and the rest of the cultivars zone 7, they grow rather well in coastal BC. While the Russian variety ‘Sochi Seedling’ is probably the most common find, both ‘Korean’ (from the mountainous Boseong region of Korea) and ‘Blushing Maiden’ (pale pink flowers) can be found locally and I have grown the former in a container for many years with little winter protection but an insulated sleeve during prolonged below-freezing weather. These bloom from October to December bearing small white or pale pink blossoms that are often hidden in the foliage. The new leaves are harvested to make both green or black (fermented) teas and I’ll leave you with step-by-step instructions for harvesting and producing homemade green tea below.

Camellia sinensis 'Blushing Maiden', Camellia sinensis 'Korean' new growth, Camellia sinensis 'Korean' new growth.

Japanese Camellias (Camellia japonica) – This species is probably the most common Camellia available but with the exception of moderately compact hybrids such as ‘Betty Ridley’ (pink double), most mature at heights of 10-12’ tall, making them useful for screening nosy neighbors or anchoring the corner of the fence line. The flower form ranges from single (‘White Mermaid’) to semi-double (‘Jordan’s Pride’), but oddities such as fringed (‘Fred Sander’) and variegated (‘Otome Variegated’) can also be found. Two-tone flowers (‘Nuccio’s Jewel’, ‘Nuccio’s Pearl’) are popular, as are the large doubles such as ‘Kumasaka’ (pink) and ‘Tom Knudsen’ (red). Japanese Camellias grown outdoors tend to be in full bloom around April but those purchased at the garden center will be in flower much earlier.

Camellia japonica 'Fred Sander', Camellia japonica 'Jordan's Pride', Camellia japonica 'Kumasaka', Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Jewel', Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Pearl', Camellia japonica 'Otome Variegated', Camellia japonica 'Tom Knudsen', Camellia japonica 'White Mermaid', Camellia x 'Betty Ridley'

Hybrid Camellias (Camellia x williamsii) – A rather eclectic group of hybrids, many of which were originally bred by crossing Camellia japonica and C. saluenensis. This diversity is reflected in both the growth habit and flower form with some cultivars such as ‘Brigadoon’, ‘Donation’ and ‘Taylor’s Perfection’ bearing single to semi-double pink blooms with a lax growth habit. Two notable exceptions here are ‘Debbie’ (fuchsia-pink) and ‘Jury’s Yellow’ (pale yellow) which both have substantial peony-form flowers on shrubs with an upright growth habit. The semi-double ‘Freedom Bell’ (coral red) is an AGM winner and a very reliable performer. Depending on the cultivar, you can expect some bud colour as early as November, with flowers lasting until April.

Camellia x williamsii 'Debbie', Camellia x williamsii 'Freedom Bell', Camellia x wil