In many plant families if you look hard enough you will find a member of the family to which you have a closer affinity than any other. So it was for me with Camellia rosthorniana. Although I stand in awe at most of the Camellias we can grow in our gardens there is often something a little too confected with some of the blooms, particularly the doubles that I don’t like. That said there are many that I covet particularly as I don’t have the acid soil they need. So I admire from afar knowing I can never successfully grow them.
I first saw Camellia rosthorniana in a private collection, nestled into a space between bigger Camellias and other woodland plants it sang a song for simplicity, poise and elegance that resonated with me and I immediately lusted for it. Gentle arching growth, small elliptic glossy leaves, open growth and from February to late April the most beautiful flowers starting from a pink teardrop that slowly opens to a white, pendulous single bloom. Golden anthers are very visible and the whole appearance is like a very refined and delicate cherry blossom. The fact that the foliage is so glossy, the flowers porcelain perfect, the anthers like yellow spun gold make this a plant you should covet too.This plant looks good nearly all the time, the mark of a good plant in my book. Elegant evergreen leaves, beautiful flowers, clean growth all add up to bring it to the top of my list.
The history of the plant is interesting. The species plant was originally first noted in 1925 and grows almost exclusively in Guizhou, Guanghxi, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in China. There it makes bushes about 3 metres tall by about 2 metres wide. It thrives in moist acid soil, dappled shade with adequate moisture in summer. All Camellias are from the Theaceae family which also includes Camellia sinensis – the source of your morning cup of tea and most require moist, acid conditions to grow best. As with many plants that are this beautiful there are obvious efforts to hybridise and ‘improve’ the original. In this case the first to do this was a Japanese grower, Akira Shibimichi who started selecting forms to hybrise in 1991 and in 2002 grew and patented a smaller variant of the plant called ‘Elena’.
There is another variant more regularly seen called ‘Cupido’ which is tighter in growth and the flowers are more clustered together. Both forms are available with a bit of detective work they are both worth seeking out.
What to do though if, like me, you don’t garden on acid soil? In my case, through lots of experimentation I found a position for my plant grown in a pot. Putting it on the North side of my house, protected by an overhanging Cercis siliquastrum it makes perfect growth. Lots of light for flowering and the leafy cover above shades it from the summer sun. A little water to keep it moist and it stays happy. It rewards me by flowering from late February to the beginning of May with a succession of small but beautiful flowers that are very eye catching. If growing in a pot then obviously the soil has to be on the acid side and I would recommend an inch or so of grit on the top of the pot to preserve moisture. If you are one of the lucky people with acid soil then this is plant should definitely be on your lust list. In the open garden it needs dappled summer shade, moisture and no cold winds. If you can provide that then you can bask in the glory of another great plant to enjoy in early spring.