The many members who braved a cold and wet night were rewarded with an excellent talk on camellias by Jeremy Wilson, and members’ enthusiasm was reflected in the number who took a new camellia home.
Jeremy was gardener at Cambridge University for three years, followed by three years senior gardener for English Heritage. He then spent twelve years as head gardener, managing a number of private gardens – planning, designing and advising.
He owns Strete Gate Camellias where he grows over 400 varieties of camellias and tea plants. He is an RHS judge for camellias.
Camellias were named by Carl Linnaeus after Georg Joseph Kamel, a Jesuit missionary and pharmacist, who studied the flora and fauna of the Philippines.
One of the reasons there are so many varieties of camellias is that they readily sport. Camellia sinensis is the original tea plant, though the larger-leaved C. sinensis assamica is widely grown and 3.2 million tons of tea was harvested in 2008!
The seeds of C. sinensis and C. oleifera can be pressed to yield tea seed oil (not tea tree oil), a sweetish seasoning and cooking oil, now widely used in beauty products.
Jeremy listed six flower types (single, semi-double, anemone, peony form, rose form double and formal doubles) and showed examples of each. Camellias are available in a variety of shapes and are suitable for hedging even in full sun. In general they prefer semi-shade and a sheltered spot. Buds may drop due to lack of water the previous summer. Plant in autumn, provide a dressing of iron (such as sulphate of iron) and use an ericaceous fertiliser.
Camellias should be pruned immediately after flowering. They survive drastic pruning, though may take some years to flower again. Vine weevils are the main pests, but scale insects followed by sooty mould may also be a problem.