Although the quintessential Queen of Blooms, Camellia japonica, is grown all over the world, it will always speak to me of the South. Having lived for many years in an historic neighborhood in Macon, Georgia, which was covered in camellias, azaleas, dogwoods and hydrangeas, I will always associate the camellia with the laid back elegance and style of the deep South. Leaving that garden paradise in 2008 to return to the hot, dry Central Valley of California required a major adjustment in expectations to successfully grow many of the acid and moisture loving plants I had come to rely on not only for a graceful landscape but also for a ready source of cut flowers. In my zone 9 garden camellias fare best with morning sun and afternoon shade. The scorching afternoon summer sun punishes the foliage so badly that by the time it cools off and the plants start to come into bloom in late fall and early winter they still show the effects of the summer stress. We have fairly alkaline soil and are in an area with a lot of petal blight, a fungal disease which causes buds and flowers to prematurely brown and drop. Many camellia lovers have persevered here in spite of the challenges and there are some lovely large plants around town which have flourished with just the right exposure, protection and care.
My garden has very few spots offering the coveted morning sun/afternoon shade combination so we just had to make do. I have a number of large camellias in pots on my north facing covered patio—-a location made in heaven for them. Too many more and I won’t be able to get out the door. Over our first few years here I planted a variety of camellias against the fence on the west side of our house. This is the “service” side of our property but it is a joy to see the blooms from the windows in our bedrooms and bath rooms. Just about the middle April we suspend panels of shade cloth from the fascia to the top of the fence behind the plants to give them relief from the summer sun. The shade cloth panels usually come down around Halloween. Although intended for the plants, the panels provide the extra service to us of protecting those rooms from the western sun and make it possible to actually have the shutters open on summer afternoons!
As they will be done blooming soon I took a few shots of some of my favorite varieties of this magnificent flower to share with you—Enjoy!
Clockwise starting from upper left: ‘Grand Prix’ (6″ across!!), ‘Sue Kendall’, ‘Jordan’s Pride’, ‘Nuccio’s Bella Rossa’, ‘Nuccio’s Gem’