Homegrown fragrance can be one of life’s greatest enjoyments and experiencing it this time of the year from the clustered camellia is even more of a treat. This camellia, a species known botanically as Camellia grisjii, yields a flood of sweet perfume as it loads up with hundreds of white blossoms.
The sense of smell is one of life’s treasures discovered while we are young. When my son was about 14 months old, I saw him bending over to put his nose in a flower. How did he know?
Fragrance is very powerful; it can actually take you back to another time, another place via your memory. It is like playing back an old VHS home movie. You may remember grandmother’s porch where the roses were close by climbing a trellis or perhaps out in the back yard where the giant wisteria would flood the area with its perfume.
When it comes to camellias, fragrance is not a trait most gardeners would list. It is more about the richly colored ornamental blossoms in a host of forms such as peony, double, rose and anemone. The clustered camellia, however, is not only exceptional but decidedly different.
It is native to eastern China and though produced by our nurseries, it is considered threatened overseas due to loss of habitat. It is a compact evergreen shrub or small tree that can reach 9 feet and is cold hardy to zone 7b. You can choose to trim and keep shrub form or leave it natural with only a little selective pruning.
The quantity of blooms
is simply incredible, reminiscent of an English dogwood (Philadelphus coronarius). It can command attention even from a distance. Those who drive by will have to take notice and then those who visit will be lured closer as they somehow become magically captured by the spell of the smell permeating the air from a dozen feet away.
In the landscape the obvious companion plants would be other camellias that are in shades of pink or red. Incorporate daffodils, like old-fashioned campernelles, and you will have a most picturesque garden. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens the huge palmate leaves of nearby palms serve as a dramatic contrast in texture.
Like all other camellias they require fertile, well-drained acidic soil. So pay attention to your soil preparation, working in 3 or 4 inches of organic matter and plant on raised beds. While many camellias are planted in the fall, spring is also an exceptional time for planting the queen of woody shrubs.
Camellias perform best in high filtered or shifting light, versus full sun. In our garden the 900-plus camellias are growing under a canopy of tall castanopsis trees allowing just the right amount of light for not only spectacular scenery but also vigorous healthy growth.
Glossy evergreen leaves, and hundreds of buds and blooms with a tantalizing fragrance make the clustered camellia a winner. Adding some to your garden will ensure your garden is beautiful, and that you also will be creating memories for your children and grandchildren.