Well after a couple of weeks of autumn colour through foliage and berries, it’s time for a few flowers that are blooming at this time of year. We always think of Camellias flowering in the spring but the gorgeous sasanqua is an autumn and into early winter flowering type. My plant of the week is indeed a hybrid called ‘Crimson King’ which is one of the best hybrids. It’s large single mainly red flowers open in late October into November and are indeed so beautiful at this time of year.
They are native to Japan, where they are indeed one of the most popular of all Camellias grown and bred there. Camellia was named after Georg Kamel, a 17th century Jesuit missionary while sasanqua comes from the Japanese name for this plant, Sazanka. It is not only grown for the beautiful flowers but the young foliage is used to make a special tea and seeds are used to make the best camellia oil. Camellia oil has a wide variety of uses in Japan including being used to heat cooking and tea equipment and lighting. It also has lots of health benefits to the skin and hair, it was used by the Geisha girls to produce their famous soft skin and also sumo wrestlers in their hair. I also use it to keep my hand tools free of rust just like the Samurai warriors of old did on their swords.
It is hardy here in the uk and is one tough plant, the only problem being that the first frosts can effect the flowers making it an ideal plant to grow in a sheltered part of a garden or against a wall or even a in heated glasshouse or orangery. It makes a pretty open plant floppy at times but can be pruned after flowering to help keep its shape. Soilwise it does like a nice water retentive fee draining acidic soil in full sun. A mulch of organic material and a feed of Vitax Q4 is helpful to the plant in the spring. It is also well worth making sure it doesn’t dry out in the early summer as it is at this time the flower buds for the autumn months are formed. If they dry out they will fail to form properly and fall off the plant. It will make a large shrub overtime in the right spot but don’t let that put you off as regular pruning can keep it in shape. It also does grow very well in pots as long as it is watered enough for the above reasons. Thankfully it’s pretty pest and disease free.
It can be found growing in a lot of gardens like Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, RHS Wisley and Kew. This form is widely for sale but Camellia specialist nurseries like Trehane are good places to try for mail order