I just want to know what it is…


Camellia ‘Adorable’

I have a garden of my own, I volunteer one day a week in a local park and I have one gardening “job” where I help out with a garden the owners of which are finding it hard to cope with.

Occasionally in my own garden I get annoyed that I can’t remember the name of something. Between planting it and getting the first crop, I lost the name of an apple tree. The broken off label turned up a year later under some leaves. ‘Elstar’, totally useless but if I hadn’t found the name I could have replaced it with another of the same. Of if I’d wanted to plant something to pollinate it or be pollinated by it, without a name I wouldn’t have known its pollination group.

At the park I help look after a National Collection of Camellias. The whole point is that people should see them growing and have a label that tells them what they are so that if they want one they know what they’re looking for. Or perhaps they’re trying to identify one in their own garden and use the collection to get a comparison. Clear, accurate labelling is essential, backed up by good records so that when a label, or plant, goes missing it can be replaced. Note I say when, not if.

The private garden was owned by a well known plants woman and inherited by her niece.  Amongst much else, it contains 65 Camellias, at least 10 of which are unidentified. They include one that is also in the National Collection, also unidentified! The aunt left notebooks, scraps of paper, invoices, gardening books by the dozen, nursery catalogues and much else. Not much help.


Unidentified Camellia


There are very many possible reasons why it might be important in the future to be able to identify a particular plant. It may be important to a future owner or to a third party for whom the identity of one of your plants is significant.

I remember getting an enquiry about a Camellia in a Sussex garden, the only one in the garden with a name on it. We were the only nursery listing it and the new owners of the property wondered if we could tell them anything about it. With our information and theirs, we were able to establish that they’d bought the property of the lady who had raised the camellia and named it after herself, so they had the original plant of that variety. What might have been just another plant acquired a significance.

I have 22 camellias in my own garden, not to mention the ones in pots or on my allotment. One or two have labels. If I die or forget, their identity is lost. Such information as I do have is on this computer, who knows what will happen to that.
I suppose what I’m saying is that if you have good or rare plants, create and maintain records that are intelligible to others and that will survive your departure. And I’m saying it to myself first.


Seeds, lovely seeds.

There’s a magic in the way that great big plants grow from tiny little seemingly dead seeds. It fascinates small children and for many of us is no less fascinating when we are past retirement age.

I have been collecting seeds from camellia bushes at the National Collection in Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, with their permission. I work there one day a week, helping to maintain the camellia collection and write about it on my other blog, jimscamellias.com .

Yesterday I collected seed of eight varieties, adding to the eight from a week ago. I have little idea how many seeds that was in total but it took a couple of hours to extract them from the fruits. Perhaps a couple of thousand seeds in total. They have all been sent off to go in the seed list of the Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group of the RHS.


I don’t know what their viability is though when I have grown them myself it has been very high and I don’t know how successful people will be in growing them. What is clear though is that there is the potential there for a thousand new varieties of camellias to come into being, all different, all new, all un-named. Amongst them may be one or two truly outstanding forms; I wish I’d known which seeds they were, I’d have kept them for myself.


Who knows what will happen to them. Camellias are long lived, they could outlive their raiser by centuries. Will someone come along and “identify” one as (choose a name) because it’s a single red camellia and that’s what it looks like in their book? Will one get passed on to a nurseryman to name and launch and make his fortune with (dream on).

I hope that in ten years time, when the true potential of a particular seedling may become apparent, that the owner still has the information about its origins, but it seems unlikely. I have had camellias flower when less than two years old, but only by keeping them under-potted. The flowers they produce are an indication of what they might be capable of, but you’d expect them to do better when growing well in the ground.


Camellia ‘Yojimbo’ (unregistered seedling) A good seedling of ‘Mary Williams’, still in a pot. As good as a lot of existing named varieties but perhaps not distinctive enough to register.


There are many tens of thousands of camellias in cultivation already. You could argue that we don’t need any more or you could argue that we need to keep raising new ones for a heap of reasons. Nature doesn’t do clones very much, genetic diversity generally confers an advantage.


A few more, plus Sarcococca, and Fuchsias and Hydrangeas


I’ve collected seed from one of my Dahlias too. I raised seedlings of ‘Orange Cushion’ a couple of years back and they’ve turned out well. I’m not sure it will give me viable seed this year but ‘Veritable’ is looking promising. I wonder what I will get, I want to grow them all, in fear of the one I throw away being the one that was going to be truly fabulous.

Then there are the Roscoeas, and Disporums and …………


Six on Saturday – 5/8/2017

Dahlias and Japanese anemones are definitely flowers of the second half of summer. I’m impatient for them to start flowering, then depressed when they do.

Dahlia ‘Orange Cushion’. There is not the remotest possibility of this dahlia ever being mistaken for nearly red or nearly yellow. It’s a bang down the middle orange. I’ve had it for several years and leave it in the ground over winter. I sowed some of its seed last year, am keen to see what I get.

Someone put a fern in last week. Another of those groups of plants that I love, that do well in my conditions and that I have to resist the temptation to buy every time I see one I haven’t got already. Paesia scaberula, Lace Fern, is a New Zealand fern that a few years ago would have been regarded as borderline hardy even here in Cornwall. I’ve had no such concerns for the last few years, it’s in danger of matching the description in my NZ ferns book of “forming dense masses to the exclusion of other vegetation”. It’s 15-18 inches tall with lacy fronds and thin wiry stems. It spreads on the surface by means of slender rhizomes.

Eucomis montana. Very handsome it may be, but it stinks. We moved it away from the front door lest visitors think it was us when we opened the door. We have several other Eucomis species and varieties, mostly in pots, and none of them smell of anything much. You can grow them from seed, then propagate good forms from leaf cuttings.

Anemone x hybrid ‘Lorelei’, or ‘Loreley’ according to some. The last 48 hours of wind and rain have taken their toll on this bloom, but you get the idea. The best pictures I have of it are backlit shots of the back of the blooms. After 3 years it is still a tight clump but I expect it to start spreading at some point. There’s no happy medium with some plants, they sulk or they rampage.

Grafting. In this case, a couple of varieties of Camellia reticulata, ‘Songzilin’ and ‘Mouchang’. ‘Songzilin’, aka ‘Robert Fortune’, was probably introduced in 1824 and then again by Robert Fortune in 1844. ‘Mouchang’ is a more recent American raised hybrid. The pure bred reticulate varieties are very hard to root from cuttings so are usually grafted. Varieties of C. sasanqua are usually used but I had seedlings of C. reticulata and used a cleft graft. I did some last year and got about 50% take.
I’ll do a more detailed blog about them on my Camellia blog at some point. Here is a link to a picture of ‘Songzilin’.

Grafting. Yeah, I know I already did that one, but this is different. The first Six on Saturday I did was back on 6th May and one of the things I included was a graft of ‘Plympton Pippin’ onto my poor specimen of ‘Elstar’ apple. I’d grafted it (simple splice) in February and by May it was flowering. Well now it has a quite respectable sized apple on it. I know I should have removed it, but it doesn’t seem to have held it back at all, the extension growth from that scion is as good as any of the others done at the same time. Apple grafting is easy and it’s a great way of getting better pollination, growing more varieties in a small space and giving you something to blog about.

So that’s another Saturday and another Six. I see ThePropagator, host of this meme, has posted his, no doubt others will follow.

End of month view, March 2017


There’s quite a bit flowering now, bulbs and bushes. I’m not sure how but we still have three magnolias, used to have five. The one behind the polytunnel is Vulcan and it’s slowly falling over. It might be possible to push it back up and prop it, I hope so. The plum tree on its right is flowering well this year. Need to prune that a bit in the next few weeks.


Magnolia ‘Vulcan’


The weather has taken a turn for the worse again, it was quite good earlier, now the wind and rain are back. It’s that time of year. If I’d been more organised I’d have put an entry into the Cornwall Spring Show, it being just up the road from here. I just popped out and took pictures of my various camellias, I think I would have managed to enter a few classes. Too late now.


Top row: Mystique, Tinker Bell, Minato-no-akebono, Bob Hope                                  Second row: Bob’s Tinsie, Annette Carol, Kokinran, Charles Colbert

Lots of things are pushing through the ground and confirming that they survived the winter. Some are not and the worrying begins. Ginger family things are always late, Roscoeas, Hedychium and Zingiber in my case. I’ve seen a rapid increase in slugs just in the past week or so, bane of my life. The torch and secateurs evening routine needs to get started.

Slugs are very selective, some very delicate looking plants are untouched. You’d think someone could work out what deters the little buggers and bottle it. Adiantum venustum is a very delicate looking but remarkably tough fern that is never eaten. The white flowers are of Pachyphragma macrophyllum, good in shade and seeds about somewhat.


Crûg Farm Nursery will be at Boconnoc for the Cornwall Spring Show, last year’s purchases included Chrysoplenium davidianum, which has grown remarkably well considering it looked like it was dying of drought most of last summer. I have a few blue wood anemones, labels long since vanished.


I follow a few allotment blogs and I cannot understand how at this time of year people have loads of empty space for all their seedlings. Every bit of covered space I have is stuffed with overwintering fuchsias, sprouting dahlias, tender camellias and much else. There is never enough room for growing and spacing seedlings. So they get put outside wherever possible. This lot will have to go back in though, before the weather trashes them.


As ever, I am spurred into monthly action in order to be part of Patient Gardener Helens end of month meme. Check out hers and everyone else’s contributions at https://patientgardener.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/end-of-month-view-march-2017/

End of month view -December 2016


At this time of year a bit of sunshine makes a huge difference both to photos of the garden and to the pleasure of being out in it. Today is desperately dull.

My various Hakonechloas are providing some colour, as are the evergreens but there isn’t a great deal flowering. Just outside the front window I have Camellias ‘Navajo’ and ‘Paradise Little Liane’ in bloom. It’s very nice to be able to see them up close without going outdoors. Just in front of the dark conifer is another Camellia, called ‘Minato-no-akebono’, which means Harbour at Dawn. It has small pretty pink flowers that are sweetly scented; one of which is about half open.


Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’

I was trying for a different perspective with my camera, so I put it atop my monopod at full extension, then held it as high as I could while taking pictures with a cable release. Its an effective way of getting an overview and you can get almost overfamiliar with the usual views of your own garden so it’s good to find a new angle.



The usual view


Same lens, same focal length, same position, different height.

I’m off to The Patient Gardener now to see whether other people have more going on at this month’s end.

Camellia flower variation

I was asked a question the other day about Camellia ‘Satan’s Robe’. The flowers had white stamens instead of the yellow ones they should have had. On closer inspection it turned out that the anthers had not developed and each stamen ended in a small white club. Looking at photographs I have taken of the same bush over a number of years, I observed that in most years the stamens developed properly and carried a mass of yellow pollen, whereas this year there is none. None of the anthers has developed properly and the flower is more double as an increased number of stamens have developed into petals.


‘Satan’s Robe in 2015 and 2016.


This was not a surprise. Wild camellia species generally have single flowers with five petals and a central boss of stamens which produce yellow pollen. In the numerous double forms that we grow in gardens, it is the stamens that have given rise to the extra petals. This they do with varying degrees of success. In formal double flowers the stamens are gone entirely, replaced to the centre of the flower with perfectly formed petals.

In just about every other case, some or all of the stamens survive, but are not necessarily recognizable as such. Examine the centre of a double flower and you are likely to find some perfect stamens and some that are intermediate between stamen and petal. Commonly there are imperfect petals with imperfectly developed stamens at their edge. Sometimes all the stamens turn partially into petals. All these modified stamens are known as petaloids.

The Higo group of camellias are held in high regard in Japan and elsewhere, with particular attention being given to the spreading boss of stamens, of which there must be over one hundred. When these are inclined to become petaloid, the variety is deemed flawed. ‘Dewatairin’ generally produces petaloids not stamens but is widely grown outside of Japan because the petaloids are seen as attractive and interesting.


Higo camellias ‘Dewatairin’, ‘Okan (x 2) and ‘Jitsugetsusei’ showing petaloids in the first two blooms, fully developed stamens in the other two.


In general it seems that hotter climates favour the development of perfect stamens whereas cooler climates such as the UK favour the development of petaloids. ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’ in the UK is always anemone centred with a central mass of petaloids and no stamens. I have seen it in Brisbane with a mass of stamens and barely more than a single row of petals.


Camellia ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’ in Brisbane and in Cornwall.


It is interesting that when the stamens become petaloid, they may all take the form of fully developed petals or, like ‘Bob’s Tinsie’ or ‘Bokuhan’ all take the form of small spoons in the centre of the flower. In many others all stages of intermediates are found.


‘Bob’s Tinsie’, ‘Bokuhan’ and ‘Drama Girl’ showing variation in petaloid development.


I was able to reassure the lady with the ‘Satan’s Robe’ that she did in all probability have the right plant, but it does highlight a little of the difficulty with identifying an unnamed plant or even verifying the accuracy of the name provided.

Autumn flowering Camellias

Camellia sasanqua 'Navajo'

Camellia sasanqua ‘Navajo’

I paid a visit yesterday to the Camellia National Collection at Mount Edgcumbe in the hope that their autumn flowering camellias would be putting on a show. I was not disappointed.

The autumn flowering camellias are often referred to as “the sasanquas” though some are forms of the species C. hiemalis, others hybrids. Many originate from Japan, sometimes renamed in other lands; others have been raised elsewhere, mainly America and Australia, which have the most suitable climates.

They need a long growing season inorder to produce and ripen new growth, then initiate and produce buds and blooms by the autumn. In the UK they are best in full sun, ideally with the backing of a south or west facing wall. In general they will tolerate poorer and less acid soils that other types of camellias.

Most of the Mt Edgcumbe sasanquas are growing in shade and as a result many of them are somewhat shy flowering. Many of them have a tendency to wide spreading, even unruly growth and this might also be offset by lighter conditions.

Most of them have a scent of sorts, emanating from the nectar and to my nose somewhat oily in character. It is responsible for attracting many late foraging insects, notably wasps.

The blooms will be produced over a long period, from October into the new year, with the best flushes in warmer spells. There are a few hybrids between autumn and spring flowering species and these can have exceptionally long flowering periods.

Particular favourites of mine are ‘Navajo’, ‘Cotton Candy’, ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and ‘Paradise Little Liane’. The first three seem to produce good displays most years, the last is a plant of diminutive stature with sweeter smelling flowers than most.