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.

Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email ma­[email protected]­nat­by­

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