Fall-blooming Camellias Part 1

Camellia x (Unknown Ackerman Hybrid)

From 1992 to 1997, I earned two Certificates in Ornamental Plants from Longwood Gardens.  Of all the horticultural classes I have taken, these are the best, and I still use the course books as my primary plant reference.  As I worked my way through the 18 required courses from bulbs to perennials to shrubs to vines, I made a mental life list of the plants I wanted in my garden.  Some I added immediately, but others were stored away to be added in the future as I discovered them randomly at the nurseries I visited.  This year, fall-blooming hardy camellias rose to the top of the list.

Camellia oleifera at Carolyn's Shade GardensCamellia oleifera

Bark on Camellia oleifera grown as tree (Cresson garden)

Actually, my flirtation with fall-blooming camellias began about 10 years ago during a tour of the Morris Arboretum when I was given a tiny seedling of their Camellia oleifera (two photos above), which was a cutting of the original and famous ‘Lu Shan Snow’ at the U.S. National Arboretum.  It has grown into quite a large shrub with beautiful cinnamon-colored bark, glossy dark evergreen leaves, and copious single white flowers from late October into December.  It is also completely cold hardy, but not resistant to deer who dined on it voraciously.  There were to be no more camellias in my future until I freed up a space for them inside my deer fence.

fall-blooming camellia 'Winter's Darling' at Carolyn's Shade GardensCamellia x (Unknown Ackerman Hybrid)

This spring I removed several large and ailing boxwoods from a sheltered spot by my patio and simultaneously found a source for specimen camellias—it was a “perfect storm” for my venture into the fall-blooming camellia world.

fall-blooming camellia 'Elaine Lee' at Carolyn's Shade GardensCamellia x ‘Elaine Lee’

I purchased three gorgeous plants.  The first, Camellia x ‘Elaine Lee’ (photos above and bottom), has semi-double white flowers that bloom from November sporadically through January.  It has an upright form with an average growth rate to 5 feet.  The second, Camellia x ‘Winter’s Darling’ (photo below), has miniature, anemone-form deep cerise pink flowers that start at the end of October and continue through December.  It has a moderately upright habit and grows slowly to 3 to 5 feet.  The third is an Ackerman hybrid camellia (photos top, above, and bottom), but I am not sure which cultivar.  It has semi-double deep pink flowers.  All three have beautiful glossy dark evergreen leaves.

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Darling’

These hardy fall-blooming camellias, along with many others, were developed by Dr. William Ackerman at the U.S. National Arboretum by crossing C. oleifera with more ornamental forms to produce superior plants.  They are truly hardy in the mid-Atlantic, but should be sited to protect them from winter sun and our winter winds, which come from the northwest, and mulched in winter.  They prefer a well-drained site in part shade.

fall-blooming camellia 'Elaine Lee' at Carolyn's Shade GardensCamellia x ‘Elaine Lee’

For more information on Dr. Ackerman’s hybrids, read his article “Camellias for Cold Climates”.  For more information on camellias, go to the International Camellia Society’s website.  Stay tuned for my next camellia post which will highlight photographs from my recent visit to a private collection of over 60 camellias.

fall-blooming camellia 'Winter's Darling' at Carolyn's Shade GardensCamellia x (Unknown Ackerman Hybrid)

The U.S. National Arboretum, which is part of the USDA, is the source for many of the best plant breeding programs in the U.S.  It also maintains national collections of plants.  The arboretum is currently planning to deaccession its Azalea and Boxwood Collections as well as part of the Perennial Collection.  In the case of the Azalea Collection, although budget concerns were mentioned, one of the reasons given was that it attracted too many visitors. I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine this happening in the U.K.  If you would like to find out more about this amazing azalea collection and the efforts to save it, go to the Save the Azaleas website.

Carolyn

Note: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.

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41 Responses to “Fall-blooming Camellias Part 1”

  1. Cynthia Kardon Says:

    Will you be selling them? I want a camellia now

  2. Murray Callahan Says:

    I have a pink fall-blooming camellia that is blooming so beautifully this year – so many buds along the whole branch. I got it from my sister-in-law who is a “greensman” on movie sets. She was working locally and had some plants left over and asked me if I’d like a few things, so I got some ilex and this lovely camellia which she said is sassanqua. Perhaps that’s what yours are?

    • Hi Murray, It is a great year for camellias, and how lucky to get a free one. C. sasanqua is a non-hardy camellia species that Dr. Ackerman bred with C. oleifera to produce Ackerman hybrid camellias. There are dozens of cultivars, a lot of them pink, I just don’t know which I have because it was mis-marked. Carolyn

  3. What a lovely collection of Camellias Carolyn! I love them all and so wish I could grow them. I cannot believe the statement about having too many guests. . . could this be a mistake? I would agree with you that that sort of thing would never happen in the UK.

    • Hi Carol, I am sorry you can’t grow camellias. Thank heavens Dr. Ackerman came along so we can grow them here. In answer to your question about whether there was a mistake, here is the published statement from the US National Arboretum’s section leader, Scott Aker,: “I cannot dispute the beauty of the display and its value as an attraction for our visitors. Currently, again in part to diminishing resources, we are now unable to accommodate the crowds of visitors in April and May when the azaleas are in bloom.” The boxwood, daylily, daffodil, and peony collections are also being eliminated. Carolyn

  4. ‘Elaine Lee’ is beautiful. I’ve always had a soft spot for white Camellias, although their blooms never seemed to last as long as the pink varieties in our garden, often turning brown early. Still, they’re such lovely blossoms at this time of year when little else is flowering in the cold.

  5. I love the color and texture of the bark on the tree. It has great form too.

  6. I havent come across fall camellias before. I have some spring flowering ones so I am now off to see if we have fall (or autumn) flowering camellias here in the Uk as I think they would add some much needed colour at that time of year.

    I cannot believe the US National Arboretum is closing its azaela collection as it has too many visitors that sounds completely mad!!

    • Hi Helen, The name fall-blooming camellias is kind of a misnomer. It makes me think of colorful fall leaves whereas all those leaves are long gone right now, it’s 20 degrees outside, and my camellias are in full bloom. Technically it’s still fall until December 21, but it feels like winter and the camellias are gorgeous. I thought you UK gardeners would be amazed at what the National Arboretum plans to do. Carolyn

  7. Aren’t you in the northeast? This is awesome that you can grow camellias! I grow them here in my Zone 6/7 garden. It is funny though because everyone tells me I can’t. That makes it all the more special that one of my half dozen or so camellias is now about 12 feet tall and most happy. You should see jaws drop. It is fantastic you have them there too. I grow sasanquas and japonicas and have never heard of the oliefera. It sure is pretty.

    • Hi Tina, I’m actually in the mid-Atlantic (Pennsylvania), probably zone 6b, although we haven’t been anywhere near our lows for 15 years. C. sasanqua and C. japonica are generally not hardy here. When I wrote this article, I thought everyone had heard of Ackerman hybrid camellias, but that’s not the case. Dr. Ackerman took C. oleifera (the photos with the small white flowers and beautiful bark) and crossed it with C. sasanqua and C. japonica to produce his cold hardy hybrids (the photos of the showier flowers). They have been well-tested and do indeed go through our winters and worse. And they get big as you point out—some to 12′. Look for Camellias Part 2 to see the whole range of what’s available. Carolyn

      • Hi Carolyn, I have heard of the Ackerman hybrids but I did not know they were of the olifera parentage. I know they generally have the word ‘winter’ in their names and have read about them. I have not seen them available for sale down here. They are pretty and it’s great people further north can grow some kind of camellia. I grow my sasanquas and japonicas on the northern side of my home. They do fantastic here even though I am technically out of the zone. It might work in your area too since you are a zone 6B. Camellias are actually quite hardy and tough. I found that if they got the winter sun then they burned and did not do well due to heating up then freezing at night. Keeping them on the north of a house or evergreen seems counterintuitive but they’ve done fantastically for over eight years now. Thanks for the info on the Ackerman hybrid parentage. I think it a very pretty flower.

      • Thanks for your tip about the winter sun. I have read that but forgot to mention it. The Ackerman article at the end of my post describes all his hybrids—it’s amazing. Carolyn

  8. Beautiful camellias, but I love the white ones!

  9. I like camellia’s a lot. I wish I had room for a winter flowering one.

  10. Carolyn – I’ve never heard of these fall camellias. I’ve been successsful with a couple spring ones here in Delaware and am always sad when their voluminous blooms are gone. So glad you wrote about these. You have made me a happy person! I hope to add one to my landscape. Thank you!

  11. Dear Carolyn – your Camellias are inspirational but have to admire to whites the most – somehow more in keeping with the cold months. I would like more of these but they tend to be rather expensive so wait for gifts! Am I right in thinking they require an ericaceous soil? With such a gorgeous show it was indeed a perfect storm. Look forward to Part 2

    Laura
    p.s. wish I could come to your yard sales – but my sister lives in Maine so …

    • Hi Laura, There will be more whites in the next post. I guess the pinks look slightly garish in the close-ups, but they really aren’t when it’s 25 degrees outside, and they are backed by their dark green foliage. I will have some photos of the whole shrubs in the next post. Camellia Forest Nursery sells them mail order for between $14 and $50, depending upon the size. I guess they are more expensive in the UK. They do not require acid soil (some references don’t even mention it), but they like it. Maine is about 450 miles from here, but I go there in the summer. Carolyn

  12. Wow you have many beautiful collection of camellia. I saw them a lot whan I was living in Japan but not here in Adelaide.

  13. Those classes you took at Longwood sound fantastic! I’m very jealous. 🙂 Beautiful camellias, too! We have some very old specimens in my mother’s backyard that are around 15′ high, but she doesn’t know the names of most of them.

  14. My hat is off to you (and Dr. Ackerman) for adding another notch in the Camellia belt. They are absolutely one of my favorite plants, especially the fall bloomers.

  15. Beautiful photos of great flowers. I tried to grow “Ice Angels” brand of camellias, and despite siting in sheltered place , and protecting with burlap , they did NOT survive past the first winter. I planted in mounded-raised bed to correct the heavy clay soil. I would love to have them, but won’t try again, it was an expensive and disappointing proposition.
    But they are fabulous flowers,!

  16. Brucie Rapoport Says:

    Happy New Year Carolyn! I was happy to read your post on camellias. I’ve had two for about ten years, and they are thriving. One didn’t do well outside, so I potted it and moved it inside where it’s happy (it’s a camellia japonica ‘Mathotiana Supreme”). Bud drop is a problem, although I always get some blooms. My outside camellia is called “Winter’s Star.” It’s visible from my bedroom window, and a delight to wake up to in early December.

    I love Charles Cresson’s garden. I’ve only seen his camellias in spring. Lucky you to have seen them in bloom!

    Thanks for all the great information.

    • Happy New Year Brucie. I didn’t know you could grow these camellias inside. Do you have a greenhouse? How do you take care of your potted camellia? How big is it after 10 years in a pot? Carolyn

      • It’s not a high maintenance plant. I water it once or twice a week, and occasionally trim it. In summer I move it outside to my patio, and in the fall I move it inside to a room that gets a lot of light. It’s not huge — 4’x4′ — and may benefit from an organic fertilizer. Do you have any suggestions for the latter?

      • I usually use fish emulsion, but you probably don’t want to do that while it’s inside because it smells.

  17. Thanks for the tip and the warning.

  18. Hi Carolyn,

    I am going through your blogs on camellias with the Camellia Forest Nursery catalog by my side.

    Do you think these would be ok for a zone 6 garden in NY? We can easily get down to 0F and some times below. Would the fall bloomers be better suited to this area then the spring bloomers as they may not have the flower buds/flowers hit with the severest of our temps.

    By the way, have you been on their website and seen the Prunus mume? The person at Camellia Forest says she has customers up this way that do grow them. They are winter, early spring bloomers that can take the snow like a witch hazel. VERY tempting!

    Happy New Year!

    • Terryk, I have had comments from people north of here saying that they grow Ackerman hybrid camellias successfully. I would think that as long as you are zone 6, you should be fine. I find the spring bloomers to be very bud hardy so I don’t think it makes a difference. I do plant them in protected places. I have had ‘April Blush’ for almost ten years. Prunus mume does grow here–I know several people who have it. I have always wanted one. It is the lead photo in my post Winter Interest Seminars. Carolyn

      • Thanks Carolyn. Read your link too, I may have to try that prunus mume. Will you be offering camellias for sale this spring? If so, when do you think you might have them? I am going to have to find someone to rope into a road trip I think.

        By the way, I forgot to tell you part of my trip to UK included Wisely. That was where the cyclamen society held there winter show. Did not see it all but what I did was beautiful.

      • I intend to offer camellias this spring probably around the beginning of April like last year. All my woody plants are sold by preorder so we would have to time it up exactly.

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