Last year the first camellia flower didn’t arrive until well into the spring. This meant that they were still flowering prolifically when the garden opened to the public in April which made for a good spectacle. It is a different story this year with our first bloom appearing this week and many fat buds to follow. Although there are autumn and winter flowering camellias, including C. sasanqua and the Ackerman hybrids, this is not one of them. It is just a confused spring flowering plant.
Camellia japonica were first introduced from Japan in 1739 and were initially thought of an exclusively greenhouse plant. In fact their natural habitat is woodland and they thrive in acid to neutral soil in part shade, preferring a sheltered site. To ensure the flowers remain as perfect as this one appears it is best to avoid an east facing site, the quick thaw of the morning sun on frozen buds will damage them. In Japan it is known as Tsubaki or “tree with shinning leaves” and it is these dark green lustrous leaves that make the plant a winner all year round. If you were to be picky the only flaw this species has is that they do not drop their old flowers, in fact many mummified remnants of last years glory remain on this large shrub. At Caerhays Castle in Cornwall during the 1930’s C. japonica was hybridised with C. saluenensis from China producing C. williamsii. This hybrid, and the resultant cultivars, are not only hardy and prolific flowerers but also conveniently jettison old and damaged blooms before they can offend the sensitive eye.