Totally different to their large and flamboyant cousins, miniature-flowered Camellia have great appeal, with their massed profusion of dainty blooms through the winter months. The little blooms almost have the appearance of fruit blossoms, and unlike most winter-flowering camellias, some of them are delightfully scented. They fit in well with other garden plants, particularly in a cottage garden-style or woodland setting. When the flowers fall from the shrub, they form a pretty carpet around its base. They look very pretty floating in a bowl or a birdbath. Although the flowers may be small, the shrubs are not usually dwarf and will reach heights of 3-4 m or more, although their form is probably on the whole less ponderous and dense than japonica camellias, and they can be pruned to keep their height lower if desired. They have smaller leaves and more open growth, with elegant arching stems - which makes them suitable for espaliering on fences.
There are species of these shrubs, as well as a number resulting from hybrid crosses. Species include Camellia rosiflora (semi-double rose pink flowers), Camellia lutchuensis (fragrant white single flowers with a touch of pink, held on willowy stems) and Camellia tsaii (subtly fragrant white flowers with a pink touch on the outer petals). Some favourite hybrids include 'Wirlinga Princess' (pale pink single to semi-double flowers with a touch of deeper pink), 'Fragrant Pink' (deep pink informal double with Osmanthus fragrance), 'Cinnamon Cindy' (upright shrub, white informal blooms with a touch of pale pink, cinnamon scent), 'Alpen Glo' (pale pink single to semi-double with bright pink edges), 'Blondy' (fragrant white anemone form opening from pale pink buds) and 'Gay Baby' (cerise-pink semi-double). 'Baby Bear' is a cute low-growing shrub to 1m with tiny light pink single blooms, being ideal for small gardens where there is no space for any of the larger camellias and suitable for a tub. Some companion plants for the miniature-flowered camellias, in bloom at the same time in a similar colour range, include snowflakes, violets, hellebores, Crassula multicava, Ruellia makayona or some of the shade-tolerant winter-blooming Salvia, such as S. dorisiana.
Like most Camellia, these miniatures generally need to be grown in partial or dappled shade (though a few, such as 'Wirlinga Princess' and C. rosiflora, are more sun hardy) and they flourish best in a free-draining, slightly acidic soil (pH 5.5-6) which is rich in humus. They like moisture in spring and summer but hate sodden soil, which can rot their roots, so they must have good drainage. Many gardeners believe that fertilising these plants with a specific camellia food is very beneficial, and this is best applied in early spring and again in summer. A water-soluble fertiliser is can also be given every month or couple of months from early spring until early autumn. They do need regular watering in their early years; once established they become fairly tough. They do like some extra moisture at flowering time. A shallow mulch of compost or cow manure applied in early spring will protect the roots from summer heat, as well as slowing evaporation of water from the soil and providing humus and some nutrients.
Camellia have shallow fibrous roots which dislike disturbance, and they do not thrive if planted near aggressively greedy established trees such as Jacaranda, maples or Liquidambar. Pot-grown specimens should be given good quality potting mix suitable for acid-loving plants in a reasonably large pot, watered regularly and given the same fertilising regime as garden-grown ones. Any pruning can be carried out in after flowering in late winter or early spring. Thinning of overcrowded branches can enhance flowering by allowing light into the bush, which also promotes better air circulation and reduces the incidence of pest and disease build-up. The overall height of the shrub can be reduced by removing taller branches low down within the shrub at their points of origin, rather than by giving the plant an all-over haircut. Hedges should be pruned after flowering and again before Christmas. If you want to move a camellia to a different position, it is best to do this in June or July. Prune straight after the move by one-third and keep the plant moist. Applications of Seasol will help the plant cope with the move.
There are few pests which attack Camellia. Scale insects can be controlled with white oil. If mites attack the shrubs, it may be a sign that they are planted in too much shade. In this case, try to prune the shrub to let a little more light into its centre. Eco Oil may be help to protect new foliage from mites, but once the damage is done (appearing as a pale brown centre to the leaves, looking a bit like sunburn) the leaves are marked permanently.The main disease is a fungus which causes rootrot, but if the shrub is in a well-drained position and not over-watered, it should not succumb to this. To propagate a favourite cultivar, try taking a semi-hardwood cutting in December or January. Keep the cutting moist and in a shady place.