I guess it was bound to happen. See enough beautiful camellias and even though you know they're out of your zone, you start to wonder, what if?
During my "winter break" I love to look at the camellias blooming all over Savannah, in the squares, in courtyards, on traffic medians, just about everywhere. Until recently I've managed to remain detached. I've maintained a "this is an exotic treat to be appreciated only here" attitude.
But in the meantime I meandered through the Camellia Trail at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens (at the Historic Bamboo Farm) while researching a story for Savannah Magazine. So many colors and shapes, such welcome color in winter. With their silky petals and golden centers they are very much like peonies for southern folk.
Although camellias weren't the topic of my article, I found myself doing a little quick self-taught camellia course, just to satisfy my curiosity. At least now I know the difference between the two most popular species; Camellia sasanqua and Camellia japonica.
Camellia sasanqua blooms first from fall to early winter, and tends to have smaller blooms and a looser habit, while Camellia japonica blooms in winter to early spring, with bigger, bolder blooms and a stiffer, upright stature. Both are broadleaf evergreens with handsome dark green foliage.
The flowers of Camellia japonica fall off the plant whole when they're done. It's not only a tidy attribute, the spent blooms carpet the ground below make for an attractive mulch of sorts.
Around Savannah you'll see where people have placed these blooms for display in unusual places. Often when I pass by the courtyard of the Gordon Low home (he was father to the founder of the Girl Scouts) I see tht someone has placed a bloom upon every step leading up to the stately home. At other times you'll come upon a few flowers simply sitting on a stone bench. So southern, so Savannah.
And then I read two things that made me think, hmmm...perhaps I might grow a camellia in Minnesota.
--Turns out plant breeders have been working on cold-hardy camellias, Monrovia sells Ice Angels, 'Winter's Snowman', 'April Remembered' and 'Spring's Promise'. Only hardy to zone 6, they won't work for me where zone 5 is only a safe gamble sometimes. Darn.
--Reading a NY Times review of Tovah Martin's new book, The Unexpected Houseplant, I was struck by something she said, that any plant (within reason) could be adopted as a houseplant given the right conditions. Conservatory-grown camellias flourish, so why couldn't I grow one outdoors and bring it in just as it's about to bloom?
Sounds possible, but several sites say that camellias don't like change (well, who does?), and will drop their buds when moved or if conditions vary even a little. I'd love to hear of anyone's experiences with this idea?