When everything is still bare outside, the evergreen shrub Camellia japonica (also known as Japanese camellia) is already flowering abundantly. Neither cold nor snow will stop this winter bloomer.
Highly valued for their stunning floral displays and fresh, glossy, evergreen foliage, few hardy shrubs signal the end of winter better than camellias.
With dozens of varieties available you’ll be spoilt for choice – you can pick from camellias in shades of pink, red, white and cream.
Camellia flowers vary in size and shape, and their forms can be divided into six descriptive groups depending on the number of petals and their pattern or arrangement within the flower. These forms are described as Single, Semi-double, Anemone-form, Peony-form, Rose-form double or Formal double, so take your pick from the ones that most appeal.
Like azaleas and rhododendrons, camellias are ericaceous plants, and this means they need to grow in an acid or lime-free soil to ensure they stay healthy. A simple soil test kit available from garden centres can be used to check your soils acidity/alkalinity (often called its pH), and composts and fertilisers can be added to help make soil more acid.
Alternatively, compact varieties of camellia grow well in large pots or half-barrels filled with ericaceous compost, available in garden centres.
Top four popular camellias for pots or borders:
- ‘Donation’ Semi-double rose-pink flowers. Upright habit. Strong growing.
- ‘Adolphe Audusson’ Bright red flowers. Strong growing.
- ‘Debbie’ Peony-form pink flower. Upright. Strong growing. ‘Lavinia Maggi’ Large double white flowers with pink stripes. Medium vigour.
Houseplants of the month: Winter bloomers that offer scent and colour
Winter bloomers are ideal plants for bringing the spring indoors when outside is still mainly grey and bare. Colourful primula (Primula obconia), cheerful ragwort (Senecio) and white jasmine (Jasminium) provide scent and colour in the home in many shapes and sizes. They’re easy to look after, and have been specially grown to be able to go outdoors as well when the temperature rises above 10°C.
Wild primulas often occur in the mountains on the northern hemisphere. There are some 15 varieties in the European Alps. Ragwort has travelled across from Australia and New Zealand, and occurs widely on the Canary Islands. Jasmine is a (sub-)tropical climber from the temperate regions of Asia which can also do well indoors if it’s given enough moisture and warmth.
What to look for when buying Winter bloomers
- All winter bloomers are keen drinkers, so check the soil is sufficiently damp when buying. Drooping leaves are a sign that the plant has been kept too dry.
- Check the number of buds and the ripeness of the buds on all winter bloomers. Ideally they should already be showing some colour.
- Primula and ragwort should have attractive, smooth leaves, whilst jasmine should have dense tendrils with lots of buds.
- Look out for leaf-miner flies and aphids, and in the case of primula and ragwort also check for Botrytis, a fungus which can affect foliage and flowers when they’re too damp.
Primula offers cheerful flowers in pink, white, purple, lilac and blue which brighten your home when it’s still bleak outside. There are increasing numbers of bicoloured varieties.
Ragwort has green leaves which are a downy grey on the underside. The combination of green with ash grey sets off the fabulous flowers in white, blue, lilac, purple, pink, red and bicoloured beautifully. Jasmine is a bush with dark green leaves and radiant star-shaped white flowers with a lovely fragrance. The long tendrils like to wrap, climb and meander.
Sales and display tips for winter bloomers
The very different shapes mean that winter bloomers can be combined attractively in bowls. On their own they look best in broad rows by colour on tables. Jasmine is very suitable for hanging arrangements. The light colours combine beautifully with whitewashed wood and pastels. The mood should be warm and calm, in order to tempt consumers most strongly to take these fabulous houseplants home at this time of year.
Plant of the Moment is supported by National Garden Gift Card. With over 90,000 plants and products available at hundreds of garden outlets nationwide, anyone, anywhere in the UK can spend HTA Garden Gift Cards on pretty much anything to do with gardening.
Thanks to Adam Pasco and the Flower Council of Holland for the information contained in this article.