Just when the bitter westerly winds start to blow, the camellias are in full bloom in South East Queensland. Most of the year they are an attractive shrub or small tree and it’s easy to overlook them, that is until they flower, then they are real show stoppers.
Native to China and Japan, camellias are hardy and relatively easy to grow. There is a misconception that they can be temperamental and prefer colder climates like those in Melbourne and Sydney. Camellias actually do very well in South East Queensland and there is a Camellia for every position in every garden.
There are three main species of camellias and they all have slightly different qualities but the same outstanding flowers from autumn and through winter.
Japonica: This is the largest and most popular group of camellias with over 2,000 different cultivars. They have large oval shaped leaves that are very glossy with a dull underside. The japonicas grow to neat compact shrubs that can be pruned and easily shaped. They prefer shaded positions as the winter flowers can burn easily.
Sasanqua: Native to Japan, sasanqua’s grow into small trees with smaller leaves that are still very glossy and have a serrated edge. They start to flower earlier in the year around May and continue for several months. While they have more flowers then the japonica, they are smaller and after a few days they scatter and fall. This can make for an impressive show when they carpet the ground beneath with a mass of bright petals. Sasanqua make and excellent hedging plant and respond very well to pruning.
Reticulata: Unlike the other two, reticulate has a duller leaf with a distinctive centre vein. They often have an open leggy habit but they make up for it in flowers, boasting some of the biggest and most flamboyant of all camellias.
WHICH ONE DO YOU PICK?
It’s difficult to decide with 1000’s choose from. While the leaves are the same it really comes down to the flowers to help you decide. Flowers can be singles, semi double, irregular semi double, informal double or formal double and then there are the colours! Anything from pure white to deep red and any combination of everything in-between. So to make it a little easier, here are my top 5 cameillias for Brisbane gardens.
1: Camellia Sasanqua Hiryu: Beautiful single or double pink flowers with glossy green leaves. Grows to a small tree of about 6m and makes an excellent hedge.
2: Camellia Japonica Volcano: Gorgeous informal double bright red flowers. Does well in part shade in a warm position and is drought tolerant once established. Has a strong upright growth and will do well in a container.
3: Camellia Sasanqua Star Above Star: Flowering from April through to September this camellia makes an excellent hedge or as a standalone feature tree. It has delicate semi double flowers that blend from white to lavender and are a lot tougher then they look.
4: Camellia Japonica Margarete Hertrich: The formal double pure white flowers really shine against the dark green glossy flowers. It has a beautiful heritage feel and the compact medium shrub would fit in anywhere.
5: Camellia Sinensis: This one is different from the other three main varieties but could well be the most popular camellia in the entire world. While this sinensis doesn’t have big showy flowers like the other varieties, its new growth when dried and steeped in hot water makes for the perfect start to the day for millions of people. Sinensis does very well the subtropical climate of SE Queensland, preferring part shade and good water in the summer heat.
HOW TO KEEP THEM LOOKING GOOD
Most camellias will finished flowering around spring and then they put on a lot of new growth, so this is the ideal time to fertiliser them. This goes for all camellias both in the ground and in pots. If yours are in pots then little and often is a better way to go. Fertilisers like Dynamic Lifter or specially formulated camellia food is ideal. For those in pots you can also use a liquid fertiliser like blood and bone with some seaweed solution mixed in. This will keep the roots healthy. Camellias have shallow roots so you need to protect them well with a good layer of mulch.