Friday, 16 November 2012

Forever autumn

"The summer sun is fading as the year grows old, and darker days are drawing near. The winter winds will be much colder, now you're not here...." Jeff Wayne, Forever Autumn (from The War of The Worlds), sung by Justin Hayward.

Autumn brings really mixed feelings- the days are definitely shorter and winter's 'dead' season is on it's way, but the autumn colours are so strong in that peculiar lazy light that we get at the end of the year. Autumn is known for it's golds, russets, ambers and reds, but don't think that this is the only group of colours to enjoy- make sure you add pinks, whites and reds to your garden in autumn too!

Camellias are well known for their bold and garish displays in spring, bringing shocking pinks, hot reds and crisp whites into the garden after the greys and browns of winter, but the autumn flowering species and varieties are still all to often overlooked.

The best known of the autumn Camellias are the varieties of Camellia sasanqua, and 'Narumigata' is a very fine choice, being fairly easy going and very happy to flower. Gardeners less than content growing the 'common' varieties can delight themselves with any of the 70-or-so varieties of Camellia sasanqua in cultivation in the UK (certainly as listed by the RHS Plantfinder).
Camellia sasanqua 'Narumigata
C. sasanqua 'Baronesa de Sautelinho'
The crisp white flowers of the sasanqua 'Baronesa de Sautelinho' are a delight; not very big, but each one is perfectly formed. 'Hugh Evans' has a large, more open pink flower.
Camellia sasanqua 'Hugh Evans'
Camellia sasanqua 'Cotton Candy'
Camellia sasanqua 'Cotton Candy' is a superb variety, similar to 'Hugh Evans' but certainly a more sought after variety- the flowers are sublime. C. sasanqua 'Rosea Plena' is unusual for it's double flowers and is well worth growing- a nod to the showy varieties seen in spring.
Camellia sasanqua 'Rosea Plena'
In recent years a new series of Camellias has been introduced from Australia, the 'Paradise Series'. Bred by the Paradise Plants Wholesale Nursery, these varieties have been selected to be either smaller growing (so suitable for smaller gardens) or larger and more vigorous to form screens and hedges (Camellia sasanqua hedges are popular in Australia but are largely untried in the UK, where growing habits can be quite different). Here are just a few Paradise Series Camellias:
'Paradise Glow'- vigorous upright variety
'Paradise Hilda'- vigorous upright variety
'Paradise Joan'- vigorous upright, early to flower/long season
'Paradise Vanessa'- vigorous upright variety
Camellia x vernalis is not as well known. A complex hybrid between C. sasanqua and C. japonica, this small group of autumn/winter flowering varieties contains one of the most eagerly sought of the late-season varieties, C. x vernalis 'Yuletide'.
Camellia x vernalis 'Yuletide'- one to seek!
With flowers of rich red and a boss of golden yellow stamens and backed by dark green leaves, 'Yuletide' certainly has a festive colour scheme. Seemingly no more difficult to grow than Camellia sasanqua varieties, and in a sheltered spot you might even see flowers at Christmas! 

The autumn flowering Camellias all benefit from a site in the garden where sunshine can ripen their wood before winter. Apart from that, site your Camellia out of morning sun in cold areas (early morning sun can damage frosted flowers and flower buds), and somewhere where you can enjoy their scent without having to wade through mud. There is some evidence that young plants of the autumn flowering Camellias don't appreciate too much feeding, so unless your soil is very poor it is probably wise to withhold fertiliser when planting. 
Oh, and just when you were confident about classifying autumn flowering Camellias as C. sasanqua or x vernalis varieties, here's Camellia 'November Pink', and autumn flowering variety of the almost exclusively spring flowering Camellia x williamsii varieties!
The odd one out- Camellia x williamsii 'November Pink'
Want to see more Camellia varieties? These pictures have all been graciously loaned by Jim's Camellias (so please don't steal them!). Click on the link to admire the diversity of Camellia blooms in cultivation, and maybe see a must-have variety. With so many different forms in a range of colours there is surely a Camellia for everyone...? Maybe you're convinced already and want to buy some new varieties for your garden... try here.