Tucked in the corner of a small court yard style garden on one side of our home is a Japanese camellia which has had a tough, bumpy ride: Before it finally found home in the partially shaded spot last spring, it was left in a container way too small for the size of the plant, partially due to procrastination on my part. Summer after transplanting was also not easy because of overcrowding with other vegetation in the surrounding area and therefore no matter how much I watered, didn’t seem enough. Come fall, however, once the neighboring perennials were cut down, the camellia bounced back, developed several potential flower buds, only to be, sadly, hit by the harsh winter we have experienced this year. But to my utmost delight, just the other day, even though we were in the middle of one of those wintry mix storms, there it was, covered with visible specks of ice, a fully open bloom in the prettiest shade of pink; though it broke my heart to see such a delicate beauty shivering in the cold, I am truly amazed at its gumption.
Whereas it is true that this severe, lingering winter has been quite hard on our vegetation, but Japanese camellias, Camellia japonica, generally are prone to the late spring frosts which can injure the flowers at different stages of blooming; regardless, it is easy to fall in love with them for their overall exceptional features, and like they say, cannot stop at growing just one. In fact, while we do have several well-established camellias, I cannot help myself from getting more including the end-of-the-season specials at garden centers, provided the plants are in good condition and properly labeled although its best to purchase at blooming stage so as to be able to see the actual color and shape of the flowers.
Evergreen shrubs or small trees, as the case maybe, Japanese camellias, like most other types of camellias, are slow growing therefore stay manageable over the years requiring pruning only as needed once flowering is over. The leathery leaves are dark green and glossy and give the plants a very distinct look; blooming ones indeed are a treat. Moreover, the blooms and the leaves look spectacular in vases or when added to arrangements, especially the Ikebana type.
Camellias are not plants of open fields, rather need to be grown in dappled shade at sheltered locations where they can be protected from cold, dry winter winds; at the time to planting, the top of the root ball needs to be slightly higher or at the level of the soil but not deeper. An acidic fertilizer or a natural amendment is on the menu of these handsome shrubs.
Although fairly carefree, some diseases such as sooty mold does bother our beloved camellias; in case that happens, one can refer to a good gardening book or call the Chesterfield Extension Office where one of the master gardeners will always be more than glad to help.