Camellia 'Little Liane'
As winter approaches most of the garden goes into a slow decline. It is the time of the year to take care of the perennial garden, cutting back last year’s growth, dividing where necessary, and applying a little bit of fertiliser for the upcoming year.
This is also the time of the year that the autumn/winter flowering shrubs kick into their blooming season, especially those wonderful autumn flowering sasanqua camellias.
The arrival of camellia petal blight has seriously curbed my enthusiasm for the majority of camellias. The way their flowers turn brown almost as soon as they open has driven even the most ardent camellia growers to rethink their passion. The trouble is a fungal one, and it seems there is no chemical cure for it. It spreads very rapidly, and survives through the summer as spores in the ground, only to reappear as the flowers open in late winter early spring.
The sasanqua camellias seem much less prone to the disease, although I suspect it is largely because the fungal spores are not about at this time of the year. Either way, it does mean we can enjoy these lovely camellias before the blight strikes.
We currently have one in flower, the very compact growing ‘Little Liane’, one of the Paradise range of sasanqua camellias, raised in Australia and released onto the New Zealand market in the past few years. It is small-leafed, compact shrub growing to around a metre tall, although our’s has assumed a rather odd shape. When freshly planted it was knocked over and, it being of sight, I did not notice for a year or so. It grew almost horizontally before sending up some vertical branches, so it is now wider than it is high. The flowers are small white, of loose informal peony form and supposedly with a faint pink margin, although my spectacles must not be rosy enough because I have never noticed that. The flower centres is a scramble of stamens, petaloids and small petals, making for an interestingly informal flower. Because of its dense compact flowering habit, this variety was specially selected suitable for low hedges and topiary.
It is probably most like the older form ‘Mine Yo Yuki’, which was once the most common white sasanqua camellia, and still has many fans. It is taller growing but is still quite compact in form, and is often used for hedging.
The other white sasanqua often seen in older gardens is the fabulous ‘Setsugekka’, which carries an abundance of large wavy white blooms with prominent yellow at this time of the year, each bloom being softly scented. This makes a great sight in the garden, growing taller than the other white varieties mentioned above, getting up the three meters after many years.
Perhaps the best-known the sasanqua camellias is not one – the old favourite ‘Hiryu’ is actually a form of the closely related species C. hiemalis, but looks for all the world like one of its cousins. It has masses of beautiful, large deep rose semi-double flowers, shading to red at the petal edges, and is as hardy as can be.
Another old form to keep an eye out for is the venerable variety ‘Plantation Pink’. This has been grown in gardens for many years now, but it is still as popular as ever, with its cheerful clean and clear pink flowers providing such good garden value at this time of the year.
Among the Paradise varieties that are worth looking out for are ‘Belinda’, with large, glowing pink flowers; ‘Blush’ with flowers that open from deep pink buds, to become almost white with a pink reverse on the outer petals; ‘Gillian’, which has delicate semi-double blooms, white faintly edged with soft pink; ‘Glow’, which is basically an improved version of ‘Plantation Pink’, with large deep glowing pink, single flowers with a centre of bright yellow stamens; ‘Joan’, which has very showy large red loose informal double flowers, and ‘Vanessa’, with very large brilliant white flowers which have a pink flush on the outer petals.