Camellias although native to Japan do extremely well here in Donegal.
They adore our wet climate and peaty soil, indeed many of the great gardens further down the country would love to add these amazing evergreens to their collections.
But alas the limestone shelf means that for many gardens to be able to grow these fabulous shrubs is but an expensive pipe dream.
Many of the great historical gardens of Donegal were famed for their collections of Camellias, Rhododendrons , Azaleas and Magnolias – all from far flung lands, but ideally suited to our soils.
By DD Gardening Columnist Gareth Austin
Gardens such as Brooke Hall, Ard Na Mona, Glenveagh and Mulroy House possessed enthusiastic owners who had a combination of suitable land, a keen interest in Horticulture and the wealth to afford these exotic delights, which at the time were the height of modernity.
Camellias were planted as shrubs to grow and enjoy, to be allowed to reach their full height and to off colour and interest from distance….but somewhere we’ve forgotten this and tried to grow these in containers or to trim them into rounded shrubs as if they were something delicate and tender.
Camellias need to be planted in open ground, and look best when allowed to get 6,8,10’ or more in height. There glossy evergreen foliage looks great every day of the year and when the big blousy flowers come on them…boy do they stand out! The large rose-like flowers stand out against their glossy foliage and for around 10 weeks look just amazing, but like all good things they have to come to an end, but for the period they are in flower they are just amazing.
Yes, you can buy a Camelia in a Garden Centre and plant it into a pot and they will do well for a few years, but then you’ll start to get yellowish leaves and problems associated with them not flowering….so prevent all this and just plant them in the garden.
The lack of flowering comes from their love of moisture; you see if the plant goes dry in the summer, the flowers buds which are forming then will just dry up and fall off and the following Spring you get no flowers.
Camellias are trees of peaty, woodland soil, so the best ‘feed’ you can give them is loads and loads of Autumn leaves, just pile the leaves up below (or around them when they’re small) and that’s all you’ll need, these leave rot down and provide as much nutrition as the Camellias need – too much feeding and the Camellias will put on growth at the expense of flowers. A handful of chicken manure pellets every couple of years is enough fertiliser to add….yeah, not much, but adequate.
For trimming and pruning, don’t just ‘give them a wee trim’…if you’re going to cut back a plant do it with conviction. I’ll tell you why; if a plant is 6’ tall and you cut it back to 5’ every single branch you cut will come back at least twice as thick, so you’ll cut it back down to 5’ again and it’ll come back thicker again….Whereas if you cut it back to 2’ it’ll grow back up to the height it was, be less bushy and dominating in the garden and you’ll get lots more fresh stems which bring with them more flowers. General rule in Horticulture “Always be brave with pruning”.