Painful truths about Camellias

by AnneWareham on March 31, 2015

Post image for Painful truths about Camellias

It being the season, and garden writers needing to endlessly provide reading material, I recently read a piece in praise of camellias. Understandable – they are quite attractive flowers with a good shiny evergreen leaf. Hmm. And

Camellia 'Donation' at Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham SAM_9454

Bit out of focus, but you get the idea…

people go long distances to visit them in Cornwall with magnolias. And blue skies if you’re lucky.

However. Charles has always hated them – because they discolour, rot and generally depress, while still on the bush. Some are reputed to drop cleanly, saving the revolting look of a whole decaying bush of them. ‘Donation’ is one, I believe, and I always understood this was ‘Donation’. Well, don’t get excited.

Camellia 'Donation' at Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham SAM_9457

Not bad….

We had a great year for them this year. Not much frost. Rain not exceptional. Looked quite good for a (short) while.

I used to grow several others, all supposedly clean dropping. I had visions of them all along the back of the border, cheering me up in spring.


Camellia 'Donation' at Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham SAM_9624



Camellia 'Donation' at Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham SAM_9623

o yuk yuk


You should be warned, shouldn’t you? Well, I just did. They always do that.

People used to grow them under cover. Maybe that worked?

Anne Wareham

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Charles Hawes March 31, 2015 at 1:00 pm

If I need ever to example to Anne how she is impervious to my feelings at times then the continued existence of this shrub is it. Every year it covers itself with buds of flower and without fail in a matter of days of opening its blooms they becomes tinged with brown at best or at worst are transformed into a mini compost heap of rotting leaves. I am sure that if you breathed on it too hard it would complain and show its true colours. One day I am going to chain saw it down.

AnneWareham March 31, 2015 at 6:55 pm

Go on then, cut it down. Xx

Shetland bus March 31, 2015 at 5:45 pm

I also have a camellia that was magnificent till the wind blew. My garden is showered in beautiful (without tinges of brown) flowers..

AnneWareham March 31, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Maybe the decaying brown ones have a better cling factor!

Abbie Jury March 31, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Do you get late frosts? In which case Charles is right, these are not suitable plants for your situation. The problem is not that allegedly self-grooming varieties are falsely described. I can say this with confidence being a Jury, It is that they are self-grooming when the flower has run its course. If the bloom is damaged before then (most common causes being frost or petal blight but I doubt that you have the latter), then the damaged brown flower will stay on the bush looking unsightly. Much of the UK is marginal at best for camellias which is why they have traditionally been grown under cover except in Cornwall and a few other favoured locations. More a case of pushing the climatic boundaries too far, I would suggest, than the short comings of the plant genus and modern breeding. There will be hardier varieties better suited to your conditions but you would have to do some research on what these are and then see if they are available commercially.

AnneWareham March 31, 2015 at 8:08 pm

I wonder what a late frost would be? The camellia flowers were damaged in early March, in a mild winter. A late frost would be late April. We’re not especially cold for the uk.Could any frost is the problem…?

Abbie Jury March 31, 2015 at 8:15 pm

I know a month for month translation is not entirely accurate but March – our September, late April – our October? A late frost for us is anything after early August. A September or October frost would be devastating. But any frost will damage open camellia flowers and mush them.

AnneWareham March 31, 2015 at 9:13 pm

Those flowers are just not hardy in uk then. Frost is ordinary in March And April in most of the country.That’s clear. And not exciting enough to search out varieties which could/might be…… Thanks, Abbie.Xx

Barbara Riley April 1, 2015 at 7:36 am

You question whether growing under glass is the answer and we thought it was the problem. The Camellias in the glorious Camellia House at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, are sadly infested with aphids which means that (especially on the sunniest side of the house) the plants are covered with sooty mould.

AnneWareham April 1, 2015 at 8:19 am

I suppose we might have anticipated that one!

Madeleine Wilde April 5, 2015 at 8:41 pm

your problem with moldy/brown/soggy flowers is due to the lack of removing at least 50% of the buds before they bloom – pop off the buds, leaving just one per blooming branch … doing that provides space for the single flower to have great air circulation … tedious chore? – yes, but the results are worth the tedium …

AnneWareham April 5, 2015 at 10:17 pm

Thank you. But nothing could be worth that! At least nothing camellia-ish…

Amy Murphy June 1, 2015 at 11:24 am

I love them, too, in bloom. So much so I believed an article saying that some had been bred to grow in my Zone 5 garden. I fell for the press, purchased several at considerable expense. They all died. Sometime, often, I have to acknowledge I can not grow some plants in my garden, no matter how much I’d like to. Now I enjoy camellias when I visit the San Francisco, CA area.

AnneWareham June 1, 2015 at 12:09 pm

There should be comeback against inaccurate or over optimistic garden articles. Time the garden media grew up and stopped greeting everything with breathless enthusiasm.