Use camellias to put the lipstick on a winter garden

A sheltered spot is ideal for this head-turner that can bloom from September until May.
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Daffodils might herald the start of spring in London, but it is the camellia, lavishly dressed in lipstick-red or sugar-pink blooms, that is the head-turner at this time of year. Nothing beats it for front-of-house glamour. Park a heavy-budded camellia bush in a pot by the front door and spring, in full, glorious fling, is sorted.
You can also train camellias against trellis, plant them to grow through the front garden railings so the fallen petals carpet the pavement, or site them  along a low wall to make a flowering hedge. London’s sheltered gardens are  perfect places for camellias to thrive, and they make ideal candidates for containers, providing early flowers and glossy greenery all year.
The next couple of months might be the key period for camellias to bloom, but if you choose carefully, you can enjoy a succession of flowers from September to May, says expert Jennifer Trehane, author of Camellias: The Gardener’s Encyclopedia (Timber Press).
Her grandfather introduced the large group of williamsii hybrid camellias to this country in the 1950s, and founded Dorset’s Trehane Nursery, which ships camellias worldwide, as well as to London’s North One and West Six garden centres.

“The sasanqua varieties, which are fragrant and have small, dainty leaves, bloom in autumn, and you can follow these with early japonica varieties and williamsii hybrids, which will take you through to late spring,” she says.
Thus your high-performing trio might be sasanqua Hugh Evans, with single pink flowers from October, then late winter-blooming Betty Foy Sanders, with red-streaked white flowers, and lastly Black Lace, which has elegant double flowers with velvety red petals from March until May.  
For a container, choose a variety that grows slowly, so will not need cutting back every five minutes. Trehane recommends Quintessence, which has a low, spreading habit and has sweetly-scented, single white flowers tinged with pink. “It is perfect on a garden step.
However if you want a tall,  narrow, elegant shape, buy camellia transnokoensis, which has masses of tiny white flowers from December to March and young foliage which is bronzy red, all through summer.”
Anticipation is justifiably popular. “It’s a williamsii hybrid that my father introduced from New Zealand back in the Sixties,” says Trehane. “The flowers are peony-shaped, rosy pink, and bloom over a long period.”
In containers, camellias need ericaceous compost. Trehane is enthusiastic about a potting compost made from wool and bracken ( that is peat-free, contains all the right nutrients and the wool content cuts down on watering by half.
In fact, Trehane cautions against frequent watering. “Wait until the compost is nearly dry, then give it a darn good soak. Most composts will provide sufficient nutrients to last through the growing season but, the following spring, give a balanced ericaceous fertiliser as soon as the buds begin to open.”
If growing one of the beautiful 19th century heirloom varieties appeals — and you will need a sheltered spot or conservatory for them to thrive — you have a month to see them at Chiswick House from this Saturday.
Be quick, however, if you want to bag one of their offspring. Trehane Nursery took cuttings three years ago of 16 gorgeous heritage varieties from this rare collection, the oldest under glass in the Western world, and now the young camellias are for sale, just 200 of them, alongside their parents in the 300-foot glasshouse. Form an orderly queue at daybreak, because doors open at 10am. 
  • For more details on camellia cultivation, and to buy Jennifer Trehane’s book, and plants, visit
  • For entry times and prices of the Chiswick House Camellia Show, visit

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