Cho­sen by plant hunter Lark Han­ham

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - GARDENING -

Un­doubt­edly one of the most pop­u­lar win­ter and spring shrubs, the bo­da­cious blos­soms of a camel­lia are a sight to be­hold. From Oc­to­ber to May, these ar­rest­ing, fully hardy spec­i­mens sparkle through our bleak­est months. Camel­lias thrive in dap­pled shade and bring op­u­lence, glam­our and at­trac­tive scent to wood­land or north-fac­ing gar­dens. They re­quire acidic well-drained soil, but if you don’t have these con­di­tions, plant­ing in con­tain­ers is an op­tion. Their lus­trous ev­er­green form will pro­vide year-round struc­ture and in­ter­est, flow­er­ing or not. I have short­listed three va­ri­eties of Camel­lia japon­ica with proven track records, all Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety Award of Gar­den Merit (AGM) win­ners.

‘Margaret Davis’ of­fers some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. Here, volup­tuous clus­tered blos­soms ap­pear above ro­bust ev­er­green leaves in an in­tensely ruf­fled pi­co­tee for­ma­tion. Not only are they in­for­mal and at­trac­tive, they of­fer an al­lur­ing spring scent with vivid coloura­tion: a re­fresh­ing creamy white with rasp­berry red mar­gins. Max height and spread 13ft (4m).

This beau­ti­ful va­ri­ety dis­plays neatly pinned semi-dou­ble flow­ers with a strik­ing white cen­tre and a slowly grad­u­at­ing pink blush to its outer petals. The per­fectly ar­ranged petals pro­vide an el­e­gant for­mal­ity above ser­rated glossy ev­er­green leaves. It’s a good idea to plant ‘Nuc­cio’s Pearl’ next to a wall so that the ear­li­est buds are shel­tered. Flow­ers Fe­bru­ary to April. Height and spread 8ft x 6ft (2.4m x 1.8m).

Suited to the smaller gar­den or a pot, ‘Tom Knud­sen’ makes a state­ment and is revered for its com­pact habit. The strik­ing blos­soms ar­rive as early as Novem­ber and con­tinue into Fe­bru­ary. Its tim­ing makes this a great va­ri­ety for adding splashes of colour when they are most needed. The pe­ony-type flow­ers are a de15x6= ep, rich red and add a lux­u­ri­ous ex­trav­a­gance to any site. Height and spread 5ft x 8ft (1.5-2.4m).

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