A Rainbow in December

Those of us with acidic soil have the advantage of some of being able to grow the best spring-flowering shrubs and trees – camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons. For those with less favourable conditions, even smaller varieties can be grown in ericaceous compost in large containers. But there is a camellias species that means you don’t have to wait until spring.

Camellia sasanqua is a native of China and Japan. It can tolerate wetter or drier soils than the ones usually seen in gardens (which are cultivars of C. japonia or C. x williamsii), but must never be allowed to dry out completely. They will also take soils that are almost neutral as well as acid ones. However, it is not as hardy and requires winter protection unless you are in a favoured milder area of the UK. Also tolerant of bright sun, it should be grown in a sheltered but less shady position – west-facing would suit it well and with the protection of a wall to ripen the flowering wood will help in cooler locations. They are also smaller shrubs, reaching five to six feet in about ten years, with even smaller varieties also available.

And they start flowering in late autumn. I planted Camellia sasanqua ‘Rainbow’ in September 2016, since when it has grown to four feet. This year it started flowering at the end of October and by mid November looked like this:

Camellia sasanqua 'Rainbow' - 2017

Each flower is white with irregular pink markings around the edge of the petals

Camellia sasanqua 'Rainbow' (close-up) - 2017

Some people can detect a light fragrance from sasanqua camellias (although not all claim it to be a pleasant one). This variety may start throwing out long shoots when growing well, and although it doesn’t need much pruning, these can be shortened after flowering.

It should continue to bloom right through December, so I will have a rainbow for Christmas this year.


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