There’s not a lot to love about February, in my opinion, but the appearance of camellias in the gardens and parks of London are a definite highlight. My own potted plant has yet to flower – the buds are still tightly furled, like sage green-coloured knots – but I spotted the first fully-fledged blooms on a large Camellia japonica shrub in Hyde Park last weekend, the deep pink-red semi-double flowers popping up like pomegranate seeds, out of the glossy green leaves.
For a fullscale C. japonica blitz, I’ll be heading to the Camellia Show at Chiswick House between 11th February and Sunday 13th March. The collection of plants grown there is believed to be the oldest kept under glass in the Western world and a number of them are descended from the plants that were ordered by William Lindsay, the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s Head Gardener, to populate the 300-foot-long glasshouse that Samuel Ware designed for the Duke in 1813. The show is free to the public for the second year running, and you can buy a Chiswick House heritage variety of camellia while you’re there.
With around 250 varieties of camellia in existence, including the formal double, C. x williamsii ‘E G Waterhouse’ (above), and with colours ranging from white and cream, through the pink spectrum into deep red, the evergreen camellia needs to grow in acid or lime-free soil and will flourish in borders; it will also make fine hedging or screening.
If your garden soil won’t support a camellia in the ground, there are compact varieties such as the peony-form ‘Debbie’ and the large double ‘Lavinia Maggi’, that grow well in pots of ericaceous soil, which you can buy at garden centres.
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