Not famous for their fragrance or because they make the perfect cut flower, nonetheless, camellias are among some of the most beloved garden shrubs. Most people recognize the large, open blossoms of Camellia japonica. The large shrubs have glossy green leaves and are surprisingly drought tolerant once established. Hot, dry winds may trigger bud drop, but in protected spots, they will perform for many years. Hundreds, if not thousands, of named varieties range in flower color from purest white through every shade of pink to deepest red. Flowers may be single or double with many variations on those themes.
A much less well-known camellia species is even more adaptable for Southern California gardeners. Shrubs and flowers of Camellia sasanqua are generally smaller in stature than their C. japonica kin, but will tolerate more drought and even brave the sun in most locations. What they will not tolerate is excessive rain, cold wind, and extended frost. Coastal gardeners can rejoice at that.
Sasanqua camellias have been selected and hybridized to produce a number of varieties that are sturdy and lovely to look at. Again, flowers come in white and rosy hues and single and double forms. Some of them are loose and low-growing and can be used as borders or groundcovers. These include the bright red ‘Bonanza,’ peony-flowered, white ‘Mine-No-Yuki’ (which translates as ‘White Doves’), and the deep rose-colored ‘Tanya.’ Most others are more upright. Choose from ‘Apple Blossom’ (colored just like those blushing white blossoms on an apple tree), semi-double pink ‘Cleopatra,’ fully double pink ‘Jean May,’ large, white flowering ‘Setsugekka,’ or the cheery red blooms of ‘Yuletide’ (can you guess when it is in bloom?).
If you have little space or just want to try a novel display method, consider training a sasanqua on a trellis or system of wires against a wall; this method of training shrubs and trees is called espalier. A few good candidates for this treatment are ‘Hana Jiman’ with large pink-edged white flowers or ‘Show-No-Sakae’ with soft pink blooms. That flexible ‘Setsugekka’ (sometimes described as “willowy”) can be tied to upright structures as well. Enough reasons to try this adaptable import? Just meet a sasanqua or two and you will be thoroughly charmed, as well.
• Take in the Native Plant Sale sponsored by the California Native Plant Society, Channel Islands. It is Saturday, November 14, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., at Ventura’s Plaza Park. Visit cnpsci.org for details.
• Plant drought-tolerant shrubs (California natives or those from other Mediterranean climes) such as Australia fuchsia (Correa species), Grevillea varieties, or lavender starflower (Grewia occidentalis).
• Watch for cabbage moths around your cabbage-related crops. They are small and pure white and their larvae will ruin your young plants in a hurry. Cover the rows with floating row fabric or spray with Bacillus thuringiensis if you notice them already chowing down.