Autumn’s showy camellias

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THIS time of the year produces some of autumn’s showiest flowers, especially sasanqua camellias.

A new Camellia sasanqua awaiting registration.
A new Camellia sasanqua awaiting registration.
As these extremely hardy, drought-resistant plants come into flower, one hears the funny squawk of the honeyeaters, which love the nectar. This demonstrates that it’s not only Aussie plants that attract native birds. Camellias have been cultivated in China for a couple of thousand years with the most important camellia being the tea camellia, Camellia sinensis, for its leaves, which grows well here with its small, white, fragrant flowers.

It was introduced into western gardens in 1740.

The Chinese introduced us to drinking tea – remember the old phrase “a cup of cha”? In Peter Valder’s “Garden Plants of China” I discovered this is a Chinese word and it was in the 6th and 7th centuries that tea drinking there was adopted by the population at large.

I have used Camellia sasanqua “Hiryu”, with its single to semi-double crimson flowers, for hedges in many of my clients’ gardens. And, indeed, along the rear fence of our own garden. I find this a particularly strong grower for this purpose, although equally so is C.s. “Plantation Pink” with a profusion of pale pink flowers.

Camellia “Plantation Pink” as a hedge in Braddon.
Camellia “Plantation Pink” as a hedge in Braddon.
Although C. sasanqua was introduced to the west in 1896, Valder notes that despite frequent visits to China, he rarely sees sasanquas growing there as opposed to the larger family of Camellia japonicas. These are distinguished with larger leaves, and flower later in September/October. Another delightful sasanqua is C.s “Mini no yuki” with petite white paeony form flowers.

Winter-flowering, white camellias can brown quickly with frost. To prevent this, I grow ours under the protection of other plants.

Now is the time to visit a local garden centre to choose from the hundreds of varieties of sasanqua camellias as they come into flower. These camellias will tolerate full sun but, like most plants, require a well-drained soil. They will not tolerate heavy clay soils.


IN the ‘70s, I lived up the road from one of Canberra’s great gardeners, the late Jim Macfarlane and his amazing Griffith garden in Barrallier Street. One spring, I was having trouble with yellowing leaves in gardenias. It is natural that some yellow leaves fall from the lower part of the stems as the new growth appears, but not when all the leaves turn yellow.

“Give them a dose of Epsom salts, it is a magnesium deficiency,” advised Jim, at the same time filling an old jam tin for me from a large bag of Epsom salts [magnesium sulphate].

Jim said he gave every plant in his garden Epsom Salts each spring and autumn. This is one of the major elements for plant growth and I will return to this subject next week.


In the garden…

  • Divide bearded irises. Check the rhizomes to ensure they are healthy, cutting off any bad bits. When replanting always leave the top of the rhizome exposed to the full sun. Do not cover with mulch as the top needs to bake with hot sun. This is important for flower production.
  • Plant herbs in beds around the garden rather than in one specific herb garden. This aids in companion planting and combats insect attack on nearby plants.
  • Grow plants that snails won’t touch. These include Geraniums, Heuchera (Coral Bells), Sedum, Cyclamen, wallflowers, Antirrhinums (Snapdragons), foxgloves, Japanese anemones, crocus and penstemons to name a few.

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.


  1. Cedric,

    You recently wrote about osmanthus fragrans but I can’t find anywhere in Canberra that has them. Any help would be appreciated.

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