Chelsea van Rijn from Trevallan Lifestyle Centre with Camellia Japonicas.
Chelsea van Rijn from Trevallan Lifestyle Centre with Camellia Japonicas. Contributed

Long love affair with camellias

IT'S not my fault, it's my grandfather's!

Every year I wait patiently for July, not just because it's my birthday month but because one of my favourite flowers starts to come into bloom - Camellia Japonicas.

This love affair started with my grandfather and all my mother did was cultivate it and make it worse.

If you come into Trevallan Lifestyle Centre at this time of year you can see my love affair may have gone a little overboard.

Do yourself and your garden a favour and treat yourself to a Camellia Japonica.

These glorious plants are sometimes called the rose of winter, but should be called the jewel of winter because they put on a fabulous flower display in the cooler months of the year when the rest of the garden often looks dull and bare.

Japonica flowers are what make this plant so perfect. I get such joy in seeing the buds open to these so flawless and diverse flowers. I have found more than 10 different descriptions of Japonica flowers.

The most common are single, double, peony and formal double. The shades of the flowers are just as diverse and can vary from red to pink to white and sometimes have multi-coloured stripes or specks.

The flowers are not small either, with many flowers being at least 15cm in diameter. What is even better is these plants flower in abundance and last for ages.

A childhood memory is of water bowls all over our house filled with japonica flowers.

Camellia Japonicas have the darkest green glossy foliage.

The leaves are quite broad, thick and smooth, making the plant look lush and dense.

Japonicas will grow superbly in full shade or part shade. In climates where deciduous trees are popular, japonicas are usually planted underneath so they are protected from the hot summer sun but shine while they are in flower and the tree is naked.

Japonicas don't mind if they are planted in the ground or in a pot. They don't like wet feet though, so make sure your soil is well drained and slightly acidic, around pH6.

They are quite hardy once established. I find they do best if they are mulched well and are given a good fertilise about every three months with a slow-release complete organic fertiliser.

Why doesn't everyone have one of these glorious plants? Over the years they have been given a bad reputation because they are slow growing and some varieties can take years to flower.

Many people also suffered with bud drop, which is loss or decay of buds. Beautiful plants do not grow overnight and it is nice to have a plant that does not need constant trimming.

Some Japonicas can take years to flower, mainly the formal doubles, the others flower very easily.

We also now know that bud drop can be caused by over watering, high temperatures, or pot-bound roots. Some things we can fix others we cannot.

A Camellia Japonica in a pot on a veranda is the perfect way to give your dull winter life some TLC and bring some happiness back into your garden.

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