The joy of winter camellias

Evergreen flowering shrubs known as winter camellias that provide a consistent flower display from late September through to January

Evergreen flowers can brighten dark winter.

Evergreen flowers can brighten dark winter.

Let’s face it, November can be a pretty sombre month for gardening and the best we can hope for in terms of colour are usually some soggy pansies or an occasional flowering kale.

But there is one group of evergreen flowering shrubs known generically as winter camellias that provide a consistent flower display from late September through to January.

These are often classified as camellia sasanqua, although many of them are complex hybrids known as Camellia x hiemalis or x vernalis, just keep in mind that many plant tags do not make this distinction.

That said, the shrubs themselves are more cold tolerant than the spring-blooming camellias, so any concerns about hardiness are unwarranted. The flower form ranges from single, semi-double, anemone (Choji-guruma) and formal doubles, with bloom colours varying from white, shell pink, deep rose and even a few true reds.

Many Winter camellias are also quite fragrant, making them ideal for those front door planters.

Where they do differ from the more common camellia japonica is with their lax branch habit (the upright ‘Yuletide’, being the exception), so you are either going to have to tip prune them to get an upright form or better yet, consider training them as espalier specimens on trellis or fences. This way you get a flower display across the contour and since the blooms don’t open up all at once, you actually get to enjoy them for a few weeks.

Winter camellias also work well in containers, either as temporary seasonal displays or as a permanent feature with a small support trellis.

So I guess my question to you is: why aren’t more gardeners taking advantage of this off-season flowering wonder?

While you’re pondering that, here’s a short list of some of the better cultivars that should be available locally:

• Apple blossom (C. sasanqua) – large fragrant single blooms of a delicate white-edged in pink give it both the apple blossom namesake and its overall appeal. Flowers for weeks on end, starting in late autumn.

• Chansonette (C. x hiemalis) – brilliant lavender-pink formal double flowers put on a long-lasting display against glossy green foliage. Blooms October to early December.

• Kanjiro (C. x hiemalis) –the semi-double deep rose-pink flowers are nicely contrasted by golden stamens. Blooms late fall to early winter.

• Showa-no-sakae (C. x hiemalis) – an old hybrid with a name that translates as ‘glory of the new era’ with ruffled bright pink flowers with yellow stamens peeking through. Starts blooming in October.

• Yuletide (C. x vernalis) – the smaller single blooms of this cultivar are quite abundant and they really stand out as the red petals are slightly separated and nicely contrasted by golden stamens. Always in flower around Christmas.

• White doves (C. sasanqua) –with a Japanese name of ‘Mine-no-Yuki’ (or ‘snow on the mountain’), it’s not surprising that the fragrant semi-double blooms are an elegant creamy-white. Flowers mid-autumn to early winter.

• Jean May (C. sasanqua) – an Award of Garden Merit winner with very fragrant shell pink double blooms. Flowers from late autumn into winter.

• Shishi-Gashira (C. x hiemalis) –abundant bright pink semi-double flowers are nicely contrasted by golden stamens and glossy, deep green foliage. Blooms 6 to 8 weeks starting in October.

• Bonanza (C. x hiemalis) – the rose-red peony-form double blooms are fragrant and show well on those dull winter days. Flowers late autumn into winter.

• You can find more camellias at my plant selection website, www.mikesgardentop5plants.wordpress.com.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maple Ridge City Hall. (The News files)
Maple Ridge takes development services virtual

Building, planning and engineering services will be offered online only until end of the month

Thousands have converged in Whonnock Lake Park to enjoy the nice weather. (Roxanne Hooper/The News)
Thousands enjoy Maple Ridge park as city warns about social distancing

Portable toilets installed in anticipation of nice weather

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two new Maple Ridge schools have COVID-19 exposures

Alouette elementary and Maple Ridge secondary visited by virus

Ridge Meadows RCMP Const. Britteny George and Westview students turned old tires into pet beds. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge students help turn old tires into pet beds

Westview art classes and RCMP constable take on project

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Conservative MP Marc Dalton and former MP and Liberal candidate Dan Ruimy.
Dalton slams budget, Ruimy defends Liberal spending

Neither politician sees federal budget triggering an election

A lone traveler enters the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
VIDEO: Trudeau defends Canada’s travel restrictions as effective but open to doing more

Trudeau said quarantine hotels for international air travellers will continue until at least May 21

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson leaves the assembly with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Paid sick leave for ‘hard-hit’ workers left out of provincial budget: BCGEU

‘For recovery to be equitable it requires supports for workers, not just business,’ says union president Laird Cronk

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Court TV via AP, Pool
George Floyd’s death was ‘wake-up call’ about systemic racism: Trudeau

Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday on all three charges against him

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Suspension of Barney Williams would be reversed if he complies with certain terms

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Most Read