Seedlings stand test of time
ONE of our most spectacular camellias is growing contentedly in the dappled shade of a weeping rosebud cherry mounted on to a 2m standard.
It is an unnamed seedling of a beautiful C. reticulata “Crimson Robe”.
Every year during August and September, this seedling becomes totally covered with enormous deep pink fl owers. In fact, they are so big and heavy they weigh the slender branches down almost to the ground.
Last week I happened to be walking past this beautiful camellia. It is now entering a semidormant stage for winter and already covered with fat fl ower buds. Then I noticed the huge seed capsules. All were as big as oranges and when I lifted one to take a closer look, it virtually fell into my hand, a clear indication it was fully ripe.
Most camellias produce the round seed capsules and most are packed with viable seeds, ideal for producing excellent plants at virtually no cost. However, when it comes to obtaining strong germination we must act quickly.
Most camellias produce the round seed capsules and most are packed with
viable seeds, ideal for producing excellent plants
at virtually no cost
’The seeds should be extracted while still slightly moist and sown immediately into a pasteurised seedling- raising compost – not potting soil – and are available fairly cheaply at most garden centres. If left to dry out, camellia seeds lock- up and are hard to germinate.
Extra- fresh, moist seeds ensure a high germination rate, especially if seedling trays are given gentle warmth. I put trays on top of our hot- water cylinder, with insulating cardboard wedged beneath to prevent over- heating. Seedlings will pop up in about three weeks and must be under bright, diffused light.
Interestingly, the fl owers of seedling camellias are different from those of the mother plant – but bear a signifi cant resemblance.
Luckily, almost all are surprisingly attractive and the really good news is that seedling plants grow with exceptional vigour.
All seedlings of any plants are variable. Those raised from hybrids can be dramatically different from each other. Even seedlings from species of silver birch, liquidambar or eucalyptus, although showing a close family similarity, still produce discernible differences in leaf shape, vigour and even autumn colouring.
When the fi rst European settlers arrived here, many had no choice but to import seeds of camellias and other exotic favourites rather than plants. We can still fi nd many of these early seedling trees growing in old Tasmanian gardens and parks.
Many years ago, I was astonished to see a row of giant- sized Japanese camellia trees in an old garden near Devonport. I recall discussing them with a lovely lady who remembered germinating imported camellia seeds and planting the seedlings in 1910.
Every August these massive, 20m trees were covered in fl owers, each tree producing differently shades of pink or red in single or double blooms.
Seedlings must always differ from mother plants because of cross- pollination. When people ambitiously sow pips from particularly tasty apples or pears, or stones saved from favourite peaches, apricots and other stonefruit, they are usually disappointed with the results. Generally the fruit is inferior and of little value, although very rarely, fruit of outstanding fl avour, size and colour comes from seedlings.
There have been many accidental successes. The famous “Bramley’s Seedling” apple came from a pip sown by an eightyear- old girl 300 years ago. “Granny Smith” originated from a chance seedling growing in a Sydney suburb in 1868.
Experimentation is part of gardening. Our own garden contains many outstanding plants including camellias, a collection of unusual birch trees, a rare Mexican spruce ( Picea chihuahuana) with gorgeous foliage, a heavybearing pineapple guava ( Acca sellowiana) and countless Japanese water irises, all grown from seed. Another marvellous, fascinating way to obtain extra plants, at virtually no cost.