Among the most versatile of plants, camellias not only produce beautiful flowers, but also provide a reliable leafy shrub year round. They can be grown as a feature shrub or small tree, topiary, an evergreen hedge or screen, a weeping standard or a groundcover, and even do well in containers. They provide flowers over many months, depending on the species and variety, and can bloom from late summer to early spring. Among the many species, including the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), the most commonly grown are japonica camellia (C. japonica) and sasanqua camellia (C. sasanqua), or, in cooler gardens, the large-flowered C. reticulata, known simply as reticulatas.
Camellias are floriferous, with flowers that may be single, double or something in between, in colours ranging from red and purple through every tone of pink, to white and cream (almost yellow). Some are also multi-toned or veined. Many have large bosses of golden stamens, which are ideal for a bird-friendly garden.
To keep camellias thriving, water when it’s dry (especially when buds are forming), keep the area underneath well mulched with compost and well-rotted manure, and feed in spring with a specially formulated camellia fertiliser. Plants can be clipped to shape (prune after flowering).