## Plant of the season — Camellia Japonica The camellia is the queen of cool, unrivalled for glamour, yet she is down to earth, easy to manage and long lived. We adore her frills, her pleats and her petals. Here are some of our favourites, and why we wouldn’t be without them in the garden.   It is thought that the oldest living camellia in Australia dates back to 1831. It was part of a consignment of plants which arrived in a case on the ship Sovereign for Elizabeth Macarthur of Camden Park. One of this collection, ‘Anemoniflora’, is still growing happily in the gardens, and her son William is said to have produced the first Australian camellia cultivar, the stunning white ‘Aspasia Macarthur’. However, recent investigations reveal an even earlier camellia shipment from London. Few plants have been hybridised and developed to the extent of camellias. Expert growers say there are more than 30,000 cultivars in existence, and everyone has their own favourite. Camellia japonica grows into a classic small tree that prefers dappled light, including that found under gums. They grow from subtropical Brisbane to the frosty hills of Tasmania and flower from April to October, depending on the variety. Your local nursery can help select cultivars that will thrive in your area. If you live in a warm temperate climate avoid the late-season bloomers as very warm weather in September and October will scorch the petals. Vain by looks but versatile by nature, camellias may be hedged, lollipopped, trained into a decorative espalier, bonsaied, potted or even planted in a hanging basket. You can also move them to another part of the garden if they are in the wrong spot. This is best done in winter. First remove all the buds and flowers, then transplant into the new position, taking as big a root ball as possible, and water with seaweed solution to help the camellia settle in. Spraying with Droughtshield before lifting can also help leaves retain moisture.

Growing tips

Flower types 

Camellia flowers can be divided into six bloom types:

  1. Single — one row of petals with no more than eight petals curve back to show off a pillar of visible stamens eg. Tama-No-Ura. 
  2. Semi-double — two rows of petals overlap showing a boss of visible stamens eg. Lovelight.
  3. Formal double — a perfect spiral created with several layers of overlapping petals with a central cone of furled petals arranged symmetrically never showing stamens eg. Desire.
  4. Anenome — one or more layers of outer petals ring a central mass of frilled petals with some stamens eg. Dona Herzilia de Freitas Magalhaes.
  5. Peony or Informal double — raised petals hide a mass of twisted petals and stamens. eg. Margaret Davis.
  6. Rose — several layers of overlapping petals open to show off the central stamens eg. Guilio Nuccio.
     

Our Favourites

‘Lovelight’ flowers mid-season with pure crepe petals and gold-tipped stamens.
‘Nonie Hayden’ has a peony form that flowers mid to late season — a fast grower.
‘Silver Chalice has exceptional silver white peony form flowers in mid season.
‘Guilio Nuccio’, a much celebrated Californian cultivar, flowers early to mid season.
‘Royal Velvet’ is sun hardy, upright and compact, ruby red flower, mid season.
‘Betty Ridley is a sun hardy formal double flowering early to late.
‘Dixie Knight’ flowers mid season and is good in pots.
‘LT Dees’ has enormous formal double petals and flowers mid to late season.
‘Nuccio’s Gem’ is a very popular, perfect white-spiralled flower, early to mid season.
‘Desire’ by name and by nature, a popular formal double, flowering early to mid season.
‘Waltz Time’ is a medium grower with mid to late season flowers.
‘Buttons and Bows’ with fluted petals that flower early to mid season.
‘Debutante’ peony form, mother to Desire, flowers early to mid season.
‘Tiptoe’ bred at Camellia Grove, is sun hardy with semi double flowers in mid season.
 

Where to buy

Camellia Grove Nursery
8 Cattai Ridge Road, Glenorie, NSW, 2157
(02) 9652 1200; www.camelliagrove.com.au
 

Collectors Plant Fair in April

www.collectorsplantfair.com
 

Where to see?

See wonderful garden camellias in full bloom at historic home Eryldene, home of the late Professor Waterhouse who pioneered the introduction of camellias and worked to raise their profile. Open throughout winter — for details go to www.eryldene.org.au
 

Surprise of the month

Autumn crocus, Zephyranthes candida, is a tough little bulb that flowers in profusion after rain — hence its sometime alias, the storm lily. It has shiny evergreen foliage and the flowers are white and open, like fragile crocuses. Grows up to 20cm tall. Bulbs multiply rapidly to form a clump. Zephyranthes will grow in most regions in sun or semi-shade. Protect it from the hot sun in warm climates. It is not fussy about soil, even coping with poorly drained clay soils. It’s a little gem for containers (where a watering can may imitate rain, giving plenty of flowers) and it makes a delightful border in both formal and informal designs. Leaf tips can brown off in hot dry weather. Some like it in place of mondo grass. 

Autumn Jobs

In April it’s time to —

Pick now

Eggplant tends to ripen in late autumn. Don’t let them get too old or they will develop bitter flavours in the seeds. 
Pick figs when fully ripe and nearly splitting as they don’t ripen off the tree. Eat them dolloped with double cream, roasted with prosciutto, bubbled into jam or swirled through ice cream.
Chilli season is starting. Feed plants to increase the yield and consider your preserving options: dry them; cook them into chilli jam; infuse them in olive oil. 
Coriander and parsley grow like weeds through the cooler weather. Whizz them up into a green salsa verde with lime juice, rocket and sorrel and spoon over fish or through pasta.  ☐

In the Veggie Patch - Plant now