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Camellia Season has Arrived

As we enter July, camellia season has well and truly arrived at Melbourne Gardens! Revered across the globe, these brilliantly-coloured winter beauties have been a feature of Melbourne Gardens for more than a century. The camellia collection has existed for at least 145 years and is home to over 36 species and 900 cultivated varieties of camellia.

The entire collection has been recognised as a 'Garden of Excellence' by the International Camellia Society since 1996. Many of the camellias planted at the Gardens by William Guilfoyle, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne from 1873 to 1909, were raised as seedlings in his father's Sydney nursery. Some of the species in the collection are historically significant, dating back to the 1820s when they were first cultivated in Australia. Many of these old cultivars and species are no longer available in the nursery trade. 

What are Camellias? 

Native to many parts of Asia, there are over 3,000 varieties of camellia which come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours, but all of which are long lived and boast dark and glossy evergreen leaves. The two most popular species of camellia are Camellia Japonica and Camellia sasanqua. Camellia japonica is the most common variety featuring large leaves and flowers that bloom from early winter through early spring. Camellia Sasanqua features smaller leaves and flowers and tends to flower in autumn.

As a rule, camellias tend to grow slowly, reaching a height of between 2 to four metres, and growth tends to be dense and upright. Camellia flowers begin life as tight buds, each of which unfurls to reveal lush petals which vary from light colours such as white and yellow through to deeper pinks and reds. Some boast stunningly variegated petals. 

Growing Camellias

The ideal placement for camellias in your garden is a nice shady patch which will give your plant space to grow. Camellias prefer a well-drained soil that is slightly acidic (a soil pH of between 5.8 to 6.5 is preferable) and require moderate watering once established. 

Here are a couple of tips to help keep your Camellias in good shape:

  • Prune Camellia japonica after it flowers, and Camellia sasanqua early in the springtime before its flower buds form. 
  • When initially planting your camellia, set it a little higher than surrounding soil, to allow any excess water to drain off from the plants' centre. 
  • Young camellias require a lot of water to help encourage spreading of their root system, but older trees only need sporadic watering. 
  • Camellias don't need much fertiliser, so only fertilise sparingly after your plant has finished flowering. 
  • As camellias are shallow-rooted, don't plant them near other shallow-rooted trees or shrubs such as maple, which will compete with your camellia for nutrients. 

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