The Grumpy Gardener – The Rose Of Japan




The Grumpy Gardener – April
Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander

In his regular column for French News Online, professional gardener Mike Alexander notes that the camellia blossoms when little else in your garden offers any colour and the plant can live to be two hundred years old if you treat it well.

Treat them well they can last 200 years: Camellia sasanqua-juni (Credit Wikipedia)

Treat them well they can last 200 years: Camellia sasanqua-juni (Credit Wikipedia)

After the wet winter that France has just experienced the camellias are putting on a wonderful display. There are nearly three hundred species of this evergreen flowering shrub and there are estimated to be three thousand cultivars and hybrids. They originate in south-east Asia and both the Chinese and Japanese have been cultivating them for centuries. The oldest recorded specimen still living can be found in the Panlong Monastry in China and dates back to 1347.

Few people realise that this is the same species from which tea is produced. The Buddhists believe that their founder, the Nepalese prince Siddhartha Gautama, travelled to China to prove his faith. He swore not to sleep en route but eventually weariness overcame him. He was so disappointed with himself when he woke that he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground where they grew instantly into tea bushes. After partaking of the leaves he was immediately refreshed.

Tea is just one byproduct of the camellia and tea oil made from the seeds, though little known here, is the main cooking oil used by millions of people in parts of China. It is also important in traditional medicine.

Most camellias grown by gardeners are for ornamental purposes with C. sasanqua, C. japonica and C.reticulata being the favourite garden species. The more common flowers range from white to pink and red though with such a large number of cultivars it is possible to find a far wider range of colours and an equally confusing variety of flower sizes and types. Camellia sinensis is the variety from which tea is produced.

Camellia sasanqua (Credit Wikipedia)

Camellia sasanqua (Credit Wikipedia)

Camellias are acid-loving plants and will not thrive in soils with too much lime. This should not put you off though as they grow very happily in pots provided you plant them into an ericaeous compost called “terre de bruyere” here.

Although not particularly fussy, they hate drought and don’t like to be waterlogged either. Being woodland plants they do best in a semi shaded environment and if grown in pots will need feeding on a month by month basis from spring until July. After that don’t feed them as they are prone to dropping their buds if overfed late in the season. Water regularly and try to use rain water rather than tap water which reduces acidity.

I recently visited the Jardin de la Roseraie in Bordeaux bordering le Lac. This wonderful 33ha municipal park will be at its best once the roses are in flower but at the moment the extraordinary camellia collection is just coming to the end of its display. The magnolias are equally impressive and should go on for a little longer. Camellias thrive here in the sandy slightly acid soils of the Medoc but even if you are only able to have one or two in pots they flower when little else is showing colour and they can live to be two hundred years old if treated kindly.

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Grumpy Gardener

Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Writer: Mike Alexander
mike@mikealexander.fr
Follow Mike on Twitter 

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