Melbourne’s climate is generally hot in summer but without frost in winter – the mean average temperature is 15 degrees Celsius, and rainfall is roughly 50 mm per month; in other words, a reasonably kind climate for growing camellias, barring drought periods and the few scorching summer days.
The Camellia sasanqua cultivars (thirty-eight different cvs.) and several Camellia heimalis cultivars scattered about the Gardens are, of course, in full flight in late April. Wild Camellia sasanqua (pink form) and Camellia sasanqua ‘Yae-wabisuke’ were very early. Our furry friends the possums nibbled quite a few of these plants last year, but thankfully appear to have found something tastier lately. Some early-flowering species are in bloom, such as C. brevistyla, C. brevistyla f. rubida, C. rhytidocarpa, C. puniceiflora, C. cordifolia, and surprisingly, one lone flower of C. japonica ‘Speciosissima’ on 20th. April!
Nearly all the 950 camellias have had addressograph labels attached; we will finish this before long, when the gardener in charge of camellias has more time; the extension to the Children’s Garden and the renovation of the Fern Gully have been occupying the staff for a few months.
There are about fifty camellias in the Nursery at the moment, (some of which are duplications e.g. 10 Camellia japonica ‘Kingyo-tsubaki’ double-tailed form); some of these will probably be planted out later in the year.
The Voluntary Guides take Camellia Walks for the public in most years; our visitors are astonished by the great variety of the camellias which we show them, because although japonica and sasanqua cultivars are very common in Melbourne gardens, one doesn’t often see Camellia reticulata cultivars or the many new hybrids, and very rarely any of the species.
Naturally the Guides alert the visitors to the Growing Friends twice-yearly plant sales. The Growing Friends are a large voluntary group who raise thousands of dollars for the Gardens by growing plants not often found in the nursery trade. They have a yard allocated to them in the Nursery, and the Gardens’ chief propagator Dermot Molloy assists them, often starting plants off in the Nursery’s shadehouse. Rosemary Ball is in charge of the camellia section, and she and Dermot venture forth every summer to take cuttings of the chosen plants.
I would be delighted to welcome any of Camellia Society members and to take them on a tour of the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens and its camellias.
Jenny Happell, May 2015