Camellia japonica

Camellia bloom before the flowers or early spring.

After centuries of breeding, there are more than two thousand cultivars of Camellia japonica! Additionally, there are more than a thousand cultivars of both Camellia sasanqua, with smaller but more profuse flowers, and comparably rare Camellia reticulata, with fewer but garishly big flowers. This does not even include the more than a hundred other specie of camellia found in the wild throughout East Asia.

It is obviously difficult to generalize about so many different personalities. Actually though, the glossy and slightly serrate leaves of almost all Camellia japonica are surprisingly similar. Also, most grow into rounded shrubs that are happy to stay below first floor eaves. Only a few grow into small trees, and only after many years. All prefer rich soil and regular watering.

The flowers that bloom late in winter are the most distinguishing characteristics of the many cultivars. The largest can get more than four inches wide. Flower form is remarkably variable (and can be described as single, semi-double, double, formal double, paeony, anemone or rose). Many have prominent yellow stamens. Color ranges from pure white to red, with every shade of pink in between. Picoteed, striped and blotched flowers are not uncommon.

A Strong Foundation

Before: Camellias left the foundation exposed a long time ago, but instead obscured the view from the windows above.

‘Foundation planting’, which most of us think of as vegetation intended to merely obscure a foundation behind lower and prettier plants, has a simple utilitarian origin. Before homes were so commonly outfitted with rain gutters like they are now, densely shrubby foundation plantings diffused water that fell from eaves, and limited splattering of mud onto foundations and walls.

Nowadays, foundation planting only needs to look good, and maybe obscure crawlspace vents or exposed undersides of decks. They might be allowed to get as high as window sills, or higher.

These camellias got more than a bit too high. They had not obscured the cinder block foundation in a very long time, and did not contribute much to the shingled wall above. What was worse was that all of their best foliage and bloom obscured the view from the window above, and obstructed sunlight to the interior. They were impressive specimens, but were not doing their job.

We tried to prune their canopies lower and thinner, in order to promote more lower growth that we could prune down to later. They responded by merely replacing what was pruned away, exactly where it was pruned away from. We considered relocating the camellias to where such big and lanky camellia trees would be desirable, but they are too old and firmly rooted in place.

After: Camellias can either start over or die.

The only option was to coppice them. It was quick and easy. We cut them to the ground with the expectation that they will either regenerate from their stumps or die. If they die, we will not miss them. (Okay, I might.) The new growth will obscure the foundation well, and after a few years, should resume blooming. They will be patchy if some but not all do survive, but we tried.

The remaining sculptural specimen obscures no windows.

Stumps are a few inches high. Any new growth should hopefully develop on top, just above grade.

Horridculture – High & Mighty

Camellias are pretty this time of year, but . . .

Camellias have been blooming for a while now. I typically get rather good pictures of them. The pictures are nothing too artistic, of course, and are intended to merely exhibit the floral color and form. A bit of the glossy foliage in the background is nice.

The picture above is not so useful for exhibiting much of the floral characteristics. Even the pink color is muted by the sloppy background and gray sky above. Zooming in would not have corrected the positioning of the flowers. I simply could not get close enough to do any better.

That eave in the lower right corner of the picture is above a two story building. That is where all the blooms of this particular camellia shrub are located. With so much of the lower growth shaded out and gone, this shrub is more like a small tree. The bloom is too high up to be appreciated. The picture below demonstrates what it all looks like without zooming in.

If there were windows facing this big camellia shrub or tree, I would likely prune it only a bit lower, just to keep it below the eave and within view of the windows. Without windows, I know that I really should prune the tall trunks back to what little lower growth remains, in order to promote more growth and bloom closer to ground level where it can be appreciated.

The difficulty I have with pruning it back is that this big camellia shrub or tree is so impressively big and sculptural, and all the glossy foliage looks so good in the foreground of the rich dark brown wall. I do not know what is more important here, the sculptural limbs and rich green foliage that lasts throughout the year, or the colorful but seasonal bloom.

There is not much to see from this distance.

Six on Saturday: Vanity II


As I mentioned in the immediately previous post, this is the sequel to that same previous post, and the second ‘Six on Saturday’ for today. These five bad pictures of good camellias, and the sixth . . . picture, would make sense only after reading the previous post:

These pictures are somewhat better than the previous six, . . . although black vinyl nursery cans and the gravel on the ground below are a bit too prominent in the first four. The flowers are centered better within the pictures, . . . although the first three are not facing the camera.

1. R. L. WheelerP90330K

2. Variegated Guilio NuccioP90330K+

3. Nuccio’s GemP90330K++

4. Valentine’s DayP90330K+++

5. Unidentified camellia in the home gardenP90330K++++

6. ME! As mentioned above, the previous post makes a bit more sense about these pictures.P90330K+++++

Now, in case you do not read the previous post or know who Brent is, I will explain briefly that he is a renowned but extremely vain landscape designer in the Los Angeles region, and has been my colleague since we were college roommates in 1986. I posted my selfie here for comparison with Brent’s selfie in the previous post. Together they demonstrate that, although I am not nearly as proficient with taking good selfies as Brent is, I look much better in my selfies. Ironically, Brent Green, the renowned landscape designer, got his selfie in a nursery; and I am a nurseryman, but got my selfie in a landscape.

There are some more pictures of Brent’s home garden that I will likely share next week. They are much more interesting than the sorts of landscapes that I work in.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Six on Saturday: Vanity


These are five of the pictures of camellias from Nuccio’s Nursery in Altadena that I said last week I would share this week. I will share five more immediately afterward in a second ‘Six on Saturday’ post. I am not certain if there is a rule against doing so, but no one seemed to mind when I did the same to share an over abundance of autumn foliar color last autumn. You can find the second post here:

Brent Green, my colleague who I sometimes mention within the context of my articles, typically in a rather unflattering manner, took these pictures nearly two weeks ago. He lives and works nearby, in the Los Angeles region.

Brent takes horrible pictures. He always has. He was wasting my film on bad pictures such as these in 1986. I told him just before he took these pictures that I really wanted GOOD pictures. These are what I got.

Also, Brent is VERY vain. Back in 1986, when we were roommates in Fremont Hall at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, he often had me go get the car to meet him at the bottom of the stairs because he was in that much of a hurry to do whatever he happened to be doing at the time. It might have been getting close to a week since he last got his Grace Jones flat top do done. Perhaps his clothes were getting close to three months old, so he needed a new batch. It was always a rush. The problem was that there was a mirror in our dorm room. I would wait in the red zone at the bottom of the stairs with the engine running for several minutes before going back up to the top floor and most of the way down the long hall to our room to find him staring at himself in that mirror. When I told him that we needed to leave NOW before the car got ticketed, he would still need to add some more Sta-Sof-Fro to his do . . . and stare some more. He had hair back then.

Yes, this is relevant here. Anyway, these are the camellias:

1. Chandleri Elegans or Francine – What do they see off to the right? Why is one cowering behind the other? This picture should have been centered, and wider than tall, or horizontal rather than vertical.P90330

2. Rosette – What is so interesting off to the left that the flower can not look at the camera? Is this supposed to be a picture of the flower low in the picture, or the gravel beyond it?P90330+

3. Red Devil – There are a lot of distracted flowers here. What is this one looking at on the ground? Is the gravel that interesting? Perhaps the vinyl cans are. This one should be centered too.P90330++

4. Demure – This one looks like an album cover from the 1970s; pale, distracted, and off center against an industrial background. It could be a bad picture, or it could be artistic.P90330+++

5. Tata – This one looks like a teenager with bad acne looking down before jumping off the high dive.P90330++++

6. Brent Green – The only good picture of the bunch.P90330+++++

Now . . . how did Brent take such bad pictures of flowers that he could so easily aim the camera at properly, AND take such a perfect selfie without being able to see the picture as he took it? Could it be VANITY?!?

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Sasanqua Camellia

81219Some might say it blooms very late. Others might say it blooms very early. Regardless, sasanqua camellia, Camellia sasanqua, blooms in autumn or early winter when not much else is blooming. The abundant two inch wide flowers can be pale pink, rich pink, white or red, all with prominent yellow stamens. Some are fluffy with many petals. Others have only a few. Alas, fragrance is rare.

Each cultivar of sasanqua camellia has a distinct personality. Some are strictly upright, and can eventually get somewhat higher than downstairs eaves. Others are too limber to stand upright on their own; so they grow as low mounds, or espaliered onto trellises. With proper pruning that does not compromise bloom too much, some can be pruned as hedges, or as foundations plantings.

Sasanqua camellia has been in cultivation for many centuries. Prior to breeding for bloom in the past few centuries, it was grown for tea and tea seed oil, which is extracted from the seeds. This oil is used for culinary purposes and cosmetics. The finely serrate elliptical ‘tea’ leaves are about one to two and a half inches long. The glossy evergreen foliage is appealing throughout the year.

Six on Saturday: Camellias on Parade II – Another Sequel


The camellias are getting meager, but a few are STILL blooming, even a week after the camellias that were blooming so late last week! These pictures were taken at the same time as those for last Saturday. There were just too many to fit into six pictures. Last week, we had two light pink and four white camellias. These are the dark pink or red camellias. There are no pictures of sasanqua camellias, and we have no reticulata camellias.

1. This is probably the biggest of our camellias. I do not know the name of it or any of the camellias here, but I believe that this is one of the old classics that had been around for centuries, and was popular in the 1960s.P80428
2. If this big ruffled dark pink camellia looks like the last one, it just might be. It does not seem to be as deep red, but that might be a result of the exposure.P80428+
3. You know, I do not typically like this simple pink; and I do not typically like this floral form; but for some reason, I really like this simple pink camellia. It just looks so much like a camellia should look.P80428++
4. This floral form is more refined, but looks almost too perfect, as if the flower were assembled by robots on an assembly line.P80428+++
5. This one also seems to have been assembled, but is a bit friendlier. I happen to like such formality.P80428++++
6. Like #3, this one has an unavoidable appeal. It really looks like a camellia should look, although it also looks like it could use some Grecian Formula.P80428+++++
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Six on Saturday: Camellias on Parade


The camellias are STILL blooming! They may not bloom profusely, but they have been blooming for quite a while. I do not know how many different cultivars are here, but there are more than I can fit into just six pictures. There are six more for next week, although two might be the same. They are the dark pink or red camellias. For this week, we have two light pink and four white camellias. I did not get any picture of the sasanqua camellias. I have not seen reticulata camellias or any other specie here.

1. This clear pink camellia is probably my least favorite of these six, only because it is a bit too casual for my taste.P80421
2. This clear pink camellia looks more refined. I really like this form.P80421+
3. Now we have white, my favorite color, but the bright yellow stamens in the middle make this casual camellia look like a fried egg.P80421++
4. I happen to prefer this fluffier white, with less prominent stamens.P80421+++
5. Wow! This one really looks yummy!P80421++++
6. Now my favorite; so simple, and so white, although, the camellia in the previous pictures actually looks yummier!4bd5
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate: