Garden Plant of the Month January 2018: Camellia

Camellia japonica: flowers in the snow
It’s like something out of a fairytale: when everything is still bare the evergreen shrub Camellia japonica (also known as Japanese camellia) is already flowering abundantly. Neither cold nor snow will stop this winter bloomer. In the first four months of the year the plant sparkles with large rose-like flowers with a diameter of up to 12 cm. The combination with the large, shiny dark green leaves make it an appealing sight for everyone who wants greenery and colour on the patio, in the garden or on the balcony.

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 are also lilac, salmon and bicoloured 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 are some 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 this year).

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.

What to look for when buying

  • Camellia is a woody plant and comes with a plant passport that shows that the grower has complied with the European Union’s phytosanitary requirements. The passport can be found on the plant’s label.
  • When buying, check the number of buds that can flower and their state of ripeness. Dry or dropped buds are a sign that the Camellia will not flower optimally.
  • The plant must be free of pests and diseases. Brown discolouration can occur if there’s too much moisture on the petals and botrytis (grey mould) develops.

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 in order to create greater impact. It’s easy to create an Eastern styling in the run-up to Chinese New Year (16 February) with some Chinese lanterns or a print of an old Camellia picture to create a fabulous eyecatcher amongst the early spring range 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.

Garden plant of the month
Camellia is the Garden Plant for January 2018. The ‘Garden Plant of the Month’ is an initiative from the Flower Council of Holland. Every month the Flower Council works with representatives of the floriculture sector to choose a plant which is particularly popular with consumers, or which is not (yet) particularly well-known but which has the potential to do well in the garden, on the patio or on the balcony. Because everything is more beautiful with more plants.

More information
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Twitter: @watplantendoen is an initiative from the Flower Council of Holland to help consumers discover that you feel better with plants around you.