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Camellias are one of the most versatile plants in our gardens, and they make a fantastic contribution to winter colour. Author of the article: Brian Minter Jury’s Yellow is an elegant looking Camellia, with peony-like blooms. Photo by Minter Country Garden /PNG One of our most valuable evergreen flowering shrubs is now in bloom and, depending on the particular species, will continue to provide a sequence of colour over the next seven months. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Native to China, Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, Camellias are a must-have plant in West Coast gardens where winter temperatures don’t dip much below -10 to -15C. There are over three thousand named varieties of Camellias, with many more to come. Recent work by Chinese botanists has tripled the number of known species from under 100 in 1960 to over 300 today. We enjoy Camellias not only for their ornamental beauty but also for their commercial importance. The Chinese native, Camellia sinensis, is cultivated around the world for tea production, and C. oleifera is grown for the valuable oil pressed from its seeds and used by both the cooking and cosmetic industries. We’ve learned from their native habitats that Camellias generally prefer a milder climate and love a location slightly sheltered from the warmest sun and from strong, drying winds. There are exceptions, of course, such as the more sun-tolerant varieties and ones, like the Winter’s Star series, that are hardier than zone 6. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. All Camellias need to be planted in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter, like peat, sawdust or finely ground fir or hemlock bark mulch. It is critical that they be planted so their trunk is at ground level and never below the soil line. They love cooler roots and appreciate a slight covering of mulch. Once established, they will tolerate some drought, but as a rule, they prefer to be moist. A classic problem in late winter is bud drop, which occurs most frequently if a Camellia is planted under the eaves of a building and does not receive any natural rainfall or other moisture. As with most plant species that are grown in many different countries, there is usually a dispute about nomenclature. Camellia sasanquas, the earliest blooming varieties — sometimes called the ‘cold camellias’ because of their origins in eastern China — are classified as members of the Camellia hiemalis family, but other botanists believe they are more likely a hybrid between a Camellia japonica and a Camellia sasanqua from Japan. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. In any case, late fall and winter flowering Camellias are a delight to have in any garden. Sasanquas tend to have smaller, shiny leaves and are much more pendulous than other varieties, making them ideal for espaliering or trellising. Their flowers, mostly semi-double or double, are smaller too, but they more than make up for their size by producing a huge number of blooms, even on a smaller plant. I love their sequential flowering habit, which begins in October and often continues well into late winter. Hummingbirds are also huge fans of all winter blooming Camellias, and they often frequent these plants to enjoy their nectar. If we happen to get a cold spell, the open blossoms will freeze off, but once the cold is over, their buds will continue to open. The only negative is their propensity to act like Miss Piggy and spill flower petals everywhere. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. With its bright red blooms and golden center, ‘Yuletide’ will brighten up your holiday season. Photo by Minter Country Garden /PNG Some of the more popular sasanqua varieties are the bright pink C. Chansonette, the rosy, red C. Showa-No-Sakae and, my personal favourite, the amazing looking C. Yuletide, a single red flower with bright yellow stamens. In our region, Yuletide does always seem to bloom at Christmas. The most well-known Camellias are the japonicas. A lot of folks think they bloom only in spring, but they actually have three distinct blooming times. The early varieties bloom from October to January; the midseason varieties blossom from January through March; and the late varieties flower from March well into May. Camellias have a number of different flower forms from a single to a semi-double to a fully formed double. Many varieties have a peony-like bloom; others look more like an anemone; and, of course, there’s the ever-popular rose form. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Some Camellias boast a beautiful fragrance, adding to the sensory element of your garden. Photo by Minter Country Garden /PNG Some of the most popular japonica varieties are Kramer’s Supreme, a rich red peony form, Jordan’s Pride, a semi-double pink, Twilight, a fully double pink and Swan Lake, a large, classic looking double white. In the Eastern Valley, with its cold outflow winds, I have found C. Kumasaka, a bright pink rose form, to be one of the hardiest once it is established. Yellow is a unique colour for a camellia, and C. x williamsii Jury’s Yellow is a beautiful creamy yellow peony form with a dark yellow centre. It earned one of the highest awards from the Royal Horticultural Society. There is a tremendous amount of breeding taking place today, both for flower size and hardiness. There’s no doubt that we will see some new colours, like purples, in the near future and more varieties that have a nice perfume. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Camellias make great container plants, and with their rich green, shiny foliage, they are excellent year-round specimens, even when not in flower. Now is a great time to visit garden stores to see the late fall varieties actually in bloom. Remember, Camellias require an open, porous, well-drained, acidic soil, and if we get a cold spell, they will need a little protection and possibly some extra watering. I have found, however, that they develop increased hardiness as they grow and mature. Camellias are one of the most versatile plants in our gardens, and they make a fantastic contribution to winter colour. Vancouver Sun Headline News Sign up to receive daily headline news from the Vancouver Sun, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. By clicking on the sign up button you consent to receive the above newsletter from Postmedia Network Inc. 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