January Garden Plant of the Month: Camellia

There are over 2000 different cultivars of the elegant Camelia japonica, ranging from single flowered to semi-double, and double flowered varieties. The most common colours are red, white and pink, but there is also lilac, salmon and bi-coloured plants.

Camellia trivia
  • The plant has featured on Chinese porcelain and paintings since the 11th century.
  • The oldest Camellias in Europe can be found in the Portuguese town of Campo Bello and some are 470 years old.
  • The unique flowering time makes it one of the most frequently painted garden plants, because the garden offers little alternative inspiration in the winter and early spring.
  • In China the Camellia is a symbol of luck for the Chinese New Year (which falls on Friday 16 February in 2018).
As the name suggests, Camellia japonica originates from Japan, and is also native to Taiwan and Korea, where the plant prefers to grow on wooded slopes at heights of between 300 and 1100 metres. This winter bloomer is related to the tea plant Camellia sinensis and was brought to Europe in the 18th century by traders.

Care tips for consumers
  • Camellia japonica prefers acidic, slightly damp, easy-draining soil.
  • The plant prefers a sheltered spot in partial shade.
  • Although Camellia is hardy, it’s best to cover the plant in the event of a harsh or lengthy frost in order to prevent frost damage.
  • Don’t allow the plant to dry out, particularly if the plant is in a pot or tub.
  • Some fertiliser in March and June helps the plant to produce fresh buds.
  • Camellia does not need to be pruned.
  • Camellia japonica combines well with other acid soil lovers such as conifers, Rhododendron, Erica, Skimmia and Gaultheria.
Sales and display tips for Camellia
Stress the uniqueness of the early flowering by displaying the plant in a wintry setting, and mix various colours together to create a greater impact. It’s easy to create an Eastern-inspired display in the run-up to the Chinese New Year (16 February) with the use of Chinese lanterns, or an old Camellia print to make a statement during the early spring ranges in terms of colour. Briefly explain the symbolism, add a bowl of fortune cookies and Camellia instantly becomes a ‘I’ll have one of those’ plant.

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