Camellias add color and beauty to the shady Northern California garden from fall to early spring—a time when little else is in bloom. In our area, camellias prefer shelter from the hottest afternoon sun; rich, well-drained, humus rich and slightly acidic soil; and regular moisture. While drip irrigation is excellent for getting water directly to the roots, extra humidity can be provided in the hottest part of our summers with occasional overhead watering. The flowers of these broadleaf evergreens range dramatically in color, form, and size—from petite, single, pastel-hued blossoms all the way through huge, intricate, fully double, deep maroon. The blossoms are intoxicating in their beauty, but the fragrant varieties are particularly alluring. The following are four fragrant camellias worth planting this year.
‘Setsugekka’ camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’)
Size: 8 to 10 feet tall and wide
“Soft and earthy” best describes the fragrance wafting from these large, abundantly produced, semi-double, pristine white blooms. Ruffle-edged petals and a prominent central cluster of golden stamens add to the beauty of each simple yet elegant bloom. The glossy, deep green foliage of ‘Setsugekka’ provides the perfect backdrop for the late winter/early spring show. A somewhat open and slightly weeping growth habit makes this shrub an excellent choice for espalier or training into a small tree. It is ideally planted in a woodland setting or along a shady walkway where the fragrance can be best enjoyed.
‘Kramer’s Supreme’ camellia (Camellia japonica ‘Kramer’s Supreme’)
Size: Slow grower, reaching 6 to 8 feet tall and wide in 10 years
Starting in January and continuing through March, this evergreen, glossy-leaved shrub is covered with abundant fat, deep red buds that open up to 5-inch, peonylike, sweetly scented blooms. With its long, colorful and fragrant bloom period, and its dense, rounded, evergreen growth habit, ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ adds year-round interest to any shaded setting, whether used in the landscape as a single focal point or massed in a woodland spot. It is equally lovely in foundation plantings, especially when grown close to a doorway or window for maximum fragrance.
Pink-A-Boo® camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Mondel’)
Size: Slow to moderate grower, reaching 8 to 10 feet tall and wide in 12 years
Abundant large, seven-petaled, deep pink blooms—centered with a cluster of bright golden stamens—adorn this sturdy, upright evergreen shrub from mid-December through March in Northern California. The blossoms of Pink-A-Boo® are sweetly scented with a fresh, floral, springtime perfume, making them perfect for bringing indoors for wintertime bouquets or for floating in a decorative bowl. This sport of the much-loved ‘Yuletide’ camellia (C. sasanqua ‘Yuletide’, Zones 7–10) makes a colorful focal point plant in a bed or container and can also be used as a colorful hedge or espalier.
‘Fairy Blush’ camellia (Camellia ‘Fairy Blush’)
Size: 4 to 5 feet tall and wide
With its upright, densely branched growth habit and petite glossy leaves, ‘Fairy Blush’ is an extremely appealing evergreen shrub for adorning shaded courtyards and patios even when out of bloom. In late winter, masses of dainty apple-blossom-colored blooms are carried along the branches from top to bottom and are accompanied by a delicate fragrance. This delightful newer introduction—a chance seedling of the species C. lutchuensis bred in New Zealand—is a must-have for collectors or anyone who appreciates beauty and fragrance in the shade garden. ‘Fairy Blush’ is the perfect choice for container growing and can be easily trained as an espalier.
Fionuala Campion is the owner and manager of Cottage Gardens of Petaluma in Petaluma, California.