You Fell in Love With ’em, Now Where Ya Gonna Plant ’em?
When you buy a plant it is helpful to have some idea of where you might want it to go in your garden.
This is especially true if you are buying a plant that will get big, like a camellia.
Here is where will power comes in, that little voice that tells you to resist that second, third, or fourth piece of chocolate because, in this instance, you know exactly where you do not want it to go.
Raise your hand if you have will power. Wonderful! I don’t.
So we’ll proceed from my weakness, and not your strength.
My weakness is buying plants first, then figuring out what to do when I get home.
This approach invariably offers no intelligible answer to Bob’s inevitable question (since he would be doing the digging):
“And where is that plant going?”
Let’s try pre-programming will power.
By scouting our property and answering some simple questions, maybe doing a little casual planning, we may actually find lots of places in the garden for camellias.
This would in turn give us the chance to buy even more camellias than we planned.
Questions to Ask
Mass or mingle? Single specimen? Hedge? Dedicated bed? We’ve done it all, usually by evolution dictated by where camellias might grow best in our particular garden.
Single specimens have a Wow! Factor near a porch, or in view of a window. (See Choosing Camellias.)
In a woodland setting with meandering paths, single specimens can be focal points, especially when tucked around a bend to create a surprise as you wander.
You can’t miss these specimens in full bloom. Later, foreground plants can continue the show with the camellia as a backdrop.
Camellias can make a spectacular hedge when in bloom. For an intense Wow! Factor, use only one variety.
The deep, rich evergreen shrubbery makes a splendid backdrop for summer blooming shrubs or perennials in a long bed.
Mixed hedges of japonicas and sasanquas can be effective for bloom in spring and fall, but you should understand that this will be a more casual hedge because species vary in their growth habits.
Camellias in a hedge are usually placed more closely than the recommended six to eight feet This means that spraying and pruning can present challenges in close quarters.
When camellias are massed in a bed, nobody gets the limelight. Everybody gets the limelight.
Bloom times vary.
One camellia’s blooms are fresh and bright while its neighbor’s are drooping and dropping.
Plants in the back get lost unless their blooms are big and bright and bold and sassy.
Ample space between plants and use of diagonals (but diagonals in which direction) helps give plants a turn in the spotlight. Varying heights of plants, with taller ones to the back can help (if everyone does what they are supposed to do).
Still, the best of plans can run amok because camellias usually take up more space than you originally planned.
Massing camellias is efficient. Watering, fertilizing, mulching, checking for insects and diseases, it’s all there in one place.
There is no wandering to find that odd camellia in the outback that may have needed help long before you finally spotted it. See Camellia Recovery and Care for tips.
Large shrub or a small tree? This is a decision you can make after the bush has some solid growth on it.
We talk about limbing up in entries on Pruning and Wildlife. Limbing up, or removing lower branches, eliminates Lumpies and Bushies and reveals sculptural trunks that can be a central point of interest.
To keep visitors from asking what’s wrong with a plant you’ve limbed up, try to maintain a balance between trunk and top.
Keep trunks short on young plants or low growers, go for longer trunks on tall plants.
Limbs can be removed as the plant grows to maintain balance. You can create a shade garden under limbed up plants or use an attractive mulch. Hedges can be limbed up if the shrubs get out of hand, for a staged, Old World look.
Fall or spring bloom? When and where do you want color?
Japonicas bloom late winter to spring and usually need little pruning. Their leaves can yellow in too much sun and look unhealthy, an unpleasant contrast to vibrant blooms that fall in tact from the plant.
Sasanquas bloom fall to winter, can take more sun and more moisture than Japonicas but can get rangy and need pruning to bring them down to size. Their flowers fall apart and drift to the ground petal by petal creating sensational groundcovers.
Read plant tags on hybrids on the market today to find out when they bloom. (See Choosing Camellias for more on hybrids.)
Formal or casual? Camellias by nature are formal plants, though they can get to look tubby and wild if pruning is ignored.
Which is fine if they are in a woodland setting and not next to your front door.
Our Simeon and Betty Sheffield combo, pretty much unpruned except for regular air layering, is a wild and crazy group.
But we love it.
To us, the duo is a symbol of success.
Low evergreen hedges and azaleas fronting tamed camellias will maintain a formal look, as will structured planting in rows.
Forsythia and early spring-blooming spirea, asters and chrysanthemums in fall, are sharp contrasts to a camellia’s form. Their free-flowing, exuberant habits will create a more casual look.
Mulched, rustic paths that casually meander through woodlands will add to the grace and serenity of an informal garden.
Segregated or integrated? Camellia afficionados would consider this question heresy. Growers who pamper their camellias cringe at sharing space with less worthy plants.
If you visit botanical gardens in the South, you will usually find “camellia gardens,” areas devoted almost exclusively to camellias.
These are seductive when camellias are in bloom. Once the season ends, excitement fades.
Maybe you want to be heretical. Mixing and matching can be fun, a continual experiment, if you enjoy gardening. Companions can bloom with camellias, complementing the color scheme, or they can bloom in another season.
Companions do not need to be cozy with camellias.
Even at a distance, as long as the sight line is continuous, companions and camellias can play off each other, harmonizing or contrasting.
Individual needs for sun or shade vary, so by default companions may need distance from camellias. If you have patience, a little experimentation can pay big dividends.
This is the topic of our next installment: 10. Companions for Camellias.