One of the highlights of autumn for me is the flowering of my Camellia sasanqua specimens. They grow to perfection in our Sydney climate, offering evergreen structure and background greenery, as well as beautiful blooms. Once established, they are tough and forgiving: they sailed unscathed through our hot summer this year. They can be used to create formal structural elements in the garden, to provide a distinct contrast to the blowzy, exuberant form of many warm-climate plants.
They are very adaptable, and will grow in full sun or part shade. In full shade, their growth will become rather straggly and they will not flower very well. They can be used for high or low hedges or screens; espaliered on walls or over arches; trained as standards; grown in containers; or employed as dense feature shrubs at garden entrances or in mixed shrubberies. I think they look great when pruned to a single trunk with their lower branches removed to give the effect of a small tree. Heights range from 1-4m, even to 5-6m or more with age in some instances. There are also a few groundcover versions.
They bloom over a long period in autumn, with a profusion of large, silky, rounded flowers, with single, semi-double, informal double (peony form), double centre (anemone form) or formal double blooms in many shades of pinks, whites or reds; some have bicoloured petals. The flowers often have a slightly earthy scent which befits the season, and the petals usually fall to the ground like a pretty carpet around the base of the shrub. The flowers are less stiff and formal than those of their cousins the Camellia japonica. Their leaves are also smaller and the overall habit of the shrub is more open and airy. The slanting angle of the sun in autumn sidelights and polishes the leaves, making the whole shrub sparkle on sunny days. Birds such as lorikeets love to visit the flowers for their nectar, creating a comical display as they quarrel and tumble in the branches. For more information on cultivation, follow this link to my plant directory.
For specimen plants, eventual trees, tall hedges or informal screens, a cultivar with strong, upright bushy growth is the appropriate choice. Examples include 'Setsugekka' (single to semi-double, white), 'Exquisite'¢ (large, soft pink single) and 'Bonanza' (crimson, semi-double to informal double flowers).
For low hedges or tub specimens, it's best to choose a compact growing cultivar such as 'Shishigashira' (semi-double to almost double, bright rosy red), 'Little Pearl' (white semi-double with a pink bud) or 'Yuletide' (single flower of vivid red with prominent golden stamens). Some of the miniature Paradise cultivars, developed on the Central Coast, are also suitable as they grow only 1m tall.
For espaliering a camellia flat against a wall or over a metal arch, use a cultivar with strong side-branching laterals. These should be pinned or tied to the wall and forward-facing laterals cut off close to the main trunk. Suitable ones include 'Bert Jones' (semi-double, rich pink), 'Beatrice Emily' (deep pink buds opening to white informal double blooms with a faint lavender edge) and 'Early Pearly' (formal double, white). An espaliered row of sasanqua camellias can be a good solution against a wall or fence down a narrow passageway or driveway.
A sasanqua camellia with a weeping habit is 'Red Willow', with reddish-pink semi-double flowers on very pendulous branches, which suits a container or a position at the edge of a wall. 'Marge Miller' is a groundcover camellia with mid-pink semi-double flowers, which could also be used to cascade over a wall or bank, or trained as a weeping standard.
Ideal companion plants for these camellias are the many types of shrubby or groundcover Plectranthus, which provide a contrast of form with their feathery flowers of pink, purple or white. Cane and shrub Begonia also mingle happily with the camellias, and the beautiful Japanese windflowers will wander between them and send up their white or pink flowers in early autumn. Groundcovers such as mondo grass, Liriope, rhizomatous Begonia and Tradescantia are also possibilities. Pretty, low-growing Ruellia makoyana with its silver-striped leaves and cerise-purple flowers in autumn is another suggestion.
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