In the Garden | Camellia sasanqua

Of many flowering shrubs that belong to the tea family Theaceae, the early flowering camellia sasanqua is valued for the weeks of bloom in provides from early autumn onwards when few other shrubs are in flower.

According to their growth habit, sasanqua can be used as specimen plantings in lawns or tubs, as a floriferous hedge, an espalier or even in miniature form, in large baskets.

FALLING JOYS: Camellia sasanqua are treasured for their delicate colouring against glossy green leaves, distinctive autumnal fragrance and habit of dropping petals, forming a carpet of colour.

FALLING JOYS: Camellia sasanqua are treasured for their delicate colouring against glossy green leaves, distinctive autumnal fragrance and habit of dropping petals, forming a carpet of colour.

Originally their value was more practical than decorative. The leaves were used to make a poorer grade of tea. Oil from the seeds once ground to make an oil for lighting and cooking – nowadays for a cottage industry to turn into souvenir brooches and rings.

Unlike the more formal camellia japonica, sasanquas don’t offer the gardener a good cut bloom. Unfortunately the flowers begin to fall, dropping one petal at a time once the buds have opened. However, the sheet of colour on the ground paints a pretty picture, which can be enjoyed by passersby, along with the bonus of a distinct fragrance.

As camellias are plants of woodland origin, similar planting conditions should be replicated in the garden. Rich, humus-y soil; moisture retentive, yet one that drains well. Clay ground can be amended with compost, coarse river sand and pulverised cow manure. Camellias are comparatively shallow rooted as well as acid-soil lovers. Lime-free summer mulches will be necessary to keep the root zone cool. 

Unlike japonicas, sasanquas grow fairly rapidly and, because they are more tolerant to the sunlight, are more easily placed within the garden. The densely foliaged types are quickly trained as espaliers or a formal hedge.

There are far too many named varieties for local nurseries to stock more than a colour selection these days (many gardeners buy by colour rather than name) but quite a few have remained long time favourites. The NSW bred ‘Plantation Pink’, noted for its rapid growth as well as long-flowering ability, has large soft pink saucer-like blooms with yellow stamens.

Because of its extremely bushy growth and somewhat rambling habit ‘Chansonette’ makes a particularly good espalier. The blooms, which last longer than most sasanquas, are lavender pink and a more formal double in style.

‘Mine-No-Yuki’ is another bushy shrub with pendulous growth. Feathery creamy white flowers are prolific for several weeks.

With the exception of espaliers and formal hedges, which need specific training, few camellias require pruning and quite large shrubs will transplant readily if need be.

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