Camellias flower from about May through to August/September.
Camellias flower from about May through to August/September. iStock

Camellias can last hundreds of years in right conditions

One of the undisputed stars of the winter garden is the majestic camellia japonica.

In this part of the world, camellia japonicas flower from about May through to August/September. Different varieties flower at different times, too, so by planting a selection, you can extend the flowering time in your garden. Camellia sasanquas tend to start earlier, so adding a few of those into the mix will give even more flowers.

There is a lot of variety in the flowers. They can be anywhere between 5-15cm, and may be singles, doubles, or a range of other flower forms.

There are reds, white, pinks and bi-coloured flowers, allowing the enthusiast the opportunity to collect many different varieties.

The flowers can be cut and used indoors, where they will last a few days. They look lovely floating in a pretty bowl.

The large glossy green leaves are beautiful year-round and the foliage is useful as a filler in floral arrangements.

Japonicas will grow in full shade to full sun, but in our part of the world it's best to give them some protection from the hot afternoon sun in summer. They are well-suited to growing under deciduous trees, which provide shade in summer but allow sunlight in winter. You can plant them en masse, in a forest-like setting beneath taller trees, as a single specimen, or in a mixed garden bed. Because they are relatively slow growing, they make a superb potted plant.

In Asia, camellia japonica are often planted with azaleas, which begin to flower at the end of the camellia season. Here, where azaleas don't seem to be as popular as they are in most other places, we are more inclined to plant camellias with plectranthus mona lavender, New Guinea impatiens, sunpatiens, gardenias, or hydrangeas. Magnolias are another classic companion, enjoying similar conditions and working well aesthetically, too.

They can grow 1-6m, depending on the variety, and of course can be pruned at will. I've noticed that the Japanese way of growing camellias is a bit different from ours. We tend to prune lightly after flowering, in order to produce a thick, bushy plant. In Japan, the plants I saw were almost always carefully shaped, rather like large bonsai. This judicious pruning allowed the shapes of the individual branches to become a feature, which then served to highlight the flowers.

Camellia japonicas prefer a slightly acid, compost rich soil in a semi-shaded position, with their shallow surface roots well mulched. They like a slightly acid soil, so don't use lime and don't plant them near concrete paths. Choose a position where the overnight dew will be able to dry before the sun strikes the flowers to avoid the unsightly scorching of the blooms, especially with pale coloured varieties.

In ideal conditions, camellias will live for hundreds of years, so think before you plant - they will be there a while.

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