The Garden Muse: Let’s talk about the Camellia japonica

Published 10:00 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

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the Garden MuseThe Camellia japonica commonly known as the Japanese camellia is one of my very favorite evergreen shrubs. Because it remains green throughout the dreary cold winter months giving the garden some visual sign of life and more importantly it’s beautiful flowering habit, January through March and sometimes into April.

The Camellia can be dated back to the 11th century in China, where its likeness has been found in paintings and on porcelain. In China it is considered a symbol of good luck.

In 1807 It was sold in the United states as an exotic plant to be grown in the greenhouses of the wealthy. It soon was distributed to the southern states where it would be grown successfully outdoors. Some cultivars are now cold hardy to USDA Plant Zone 6.

The two most popular varieties of camellia are Japonica and Sasanqua. Japonica being the larger of the two, growing up to twelve feet in height. Sasanqua can grow up to six feet in height, it also has smaller leaves and flowers.

There are now more than 2,000 cultivars developed from Camellia japonica. The flowers can be single, semi-double, or double and range in color from white, pink, to red, and variegated.

Camellias should be in the shade and planted in moist well-draining, slightly acidic soil. If their roots are too wet, they may develop root rot. Overwatering, hot temperatures, and pot bound plants may also develop bud drop.

One of my favorite varieties ‘Les Marbury’ is a beautiful specimen that blooms a pretty red and white candy cane striped flower along with solid red and blush pink sometimes on the same plant. After three moves to different locations in the gardens over the years, I have discovered that it prefers to grow in full shade with a wind block and now it is very happy and thriving.

Camellia japonica is a fabulous low maintenance (once established) plant that delivers year-round beauty in the garden.

Dawn Conrad is a Retired Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbalist, Writer and Artist. She can be contacted at