The other yuletide…

I have written in other posts about the great love of camellias I developed during the almost dozen years I lived in Georgia. The neighborhood in which I lived started developing in the 1920s as a sort of suburban alternative to downtown living. Although only a mile or so from downtown it was on the other side of the river–literally–and removed from the business hustle and bustle.  Homes on large wooded lots (some up to 5 acres but most in the 3/4 to 1-1/2 acre range) were built through the next several decades resulting in a residential area with many unique homes of varying architectural styles and surrounding grounds both formally and informally landscaped. In the 40s and 50s the Shirley Hills neighborhood was home to many serious horticultural hobbyists and a few homes still have the large glass greenhouses which marked that era. Camellia breeding was very popular during this time and the legacy of that pursuit remains today in hundreds of mature camellias, many 15+ feet in height. It is not uncommon to see very large plants which have a variety of grafts, dating from decades ago, producing a number of different cultivars of different flower color and form. The wide variety of camellias grown results in a very long bloom season starting in October (earliest blooming Camellia sasanqua varieties) through April (latest blooming Camellia japonica varieties) and offering a riot of pink, reds and whites along with striped and mottled blossoms.

An early blooming favorite in Shirley Hills, just as it is in the Central Valley of California, is Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’. As a side note: in Georgia only Camellia japonica are commonly referred to as camellias–pronounced “ca-may-ya”. Camellia sasanqua, which often bloom earlier, have smaller leaves and less showy flowers, are simply called sasanquas. ‘Yuletide’ is an upright shrub with small dark green leaves and medium sized single coral red flowers sporting bright yellow stamens. Its name implies that it will be blooming at Christmas time although mine always came into bloom by late October and typically were finished by mid December.

Last year I added a Camellia sasanqua to a small partially shaded area visible from our back patio. My other 12 in ground camellias grow in a narrow side bed along our western property line.  We attach shade cloth panels from the roof to the fence during the hottest months to prevent them from burning. While they grow very successfully there and bloom profusely in February, March and April they are only visible from windows in our hall bath and master bedroom! In my quest for a smaller scale fall/winter bloomer to fill this shady spot with some color I found the other ‘Yuletide’ and this little darling has just started to come into bloom.

This is Camellia sasanqua ‘MonDel’ which is being grown and sold by Monrovia Nurseries under the name ‘Pink-A-Boo’. ‘Pink-A-Boo’ is a sport of the Yuletide camellia. The term sport refers to a naturally occurring genetic mutation of a plant. ‘Pink-A-Boo’ is indistinguishable to the eye from ‘Yuletide’ with the exception of its clear medium pink flower color. A sport  may produce a plant with  mottled foliage or flowers,  leaf color different from its parent or flowers sized or carried differently. The key is that the new characteristic has not been engineered by man but by nature. Sports are eagerly anticipated  by gardeners–who wouldn’t want to have the only plant of its kind? To be a success commercially a sport must be able to hand down its unique traits to its offspring.

I love the way these blooms open! The half open bowl shape is just as attractive as the fully opened flower and the bloom’s fragrance is equal to if not more lovely than ‘Yuletide’. I try to clip a few blooms every few days to float in a bowl in my kitchen. This tidy camellia would make a lovely hedge or espalier with its glossy dark green leaves all year and the bonus of the blooms in early winter!

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