Never Argue With A Judge!

by Charles Lee – Hume Camellia Society

C.japonica 'Alba Plena' Imbricated.

C.japonica ‘Alba Plena’

When I first started entering camellia shows one of the things I found difficult was differentiating between the various forms of blooms. What was a semi-double, or informal double and so on. By continually pestering knowledgeable people around me one day it finally clicked, and I figured that I knew everything that was to be known about “form”.

Some months later, after the Narandera Show, I posed a question to one of our local judges (Barry Di Salvia) regarding formal doubles. I had noticed that the winning entries for “Best Formal Double”

C.japonica 'Little Suzie' Tiered, but no bud-centre

C.japonica ‘Little Suzie’
Tiered, but no bud-centre

always seemed to have one particular shape or form in that they always were bud-centred. Following lengthy discussions over some months and considerable research I determined that there was potential for confusion in our Camellia World with regard to “Formal Doubles”.

Let’s Define Formal Doubles

The International Camellia Register advises that a formal double has many rows of regular, overlapping petals and no stamens, and comes in four distinctive forms:

C.japonica 'Sawada's Dream' Spiral

C.japonica ‘Sawada’s Dream’

  1. Fully imbricated (petals arranged so as to overlap like tiles),
  2. Tiered,
  3. Spiral, and
  4. Bud-centred.

This is where my confusion and lack of experience kicked-in, because all winners were of the bud-centred type, or so I thought!

Research into definitions of formal doubles reealed a series of, at best, descriptions. None were detailed enough to be considered a proper definition.

C.reticulata 'Valentine Day' Bud-centred

C.reticulata ‘Valentine Day’

Some examples are:

  1. National Camellia Show Schedule, Warragul 2009 – “A flower having many rows of regular, overlapping petals and so visible stamens, the petals being arranged in one of four different ways, i.e. fully imbricated, tiered, spiral or but-centred. Example ‘Nuccio’s Gem’.
  2. Camellias Victoria Newsletter, April 2010 – “A flower having many rows of regular, overlapping petals with a bud-centre and no visible stamens.”
  3. Hume Camellia Society Newsletter June 2000, & Albury, Narrandera & Wagga Camellia Show Schedules, 2009 – “Any number of petals, regularly disposed, tiered or imbricated, but no visible stamens”.
  4.  “Camellia Nomenclature 2006” – Southern California Camellia Society – “Fully imbricated, many rows of petals, never showing stamens. Example: ‘Grace Albritton’, ‘Nuccio’s Pearl’ and ‘Valentine Day’.
  5. “Camellia Culture” – 1981 Edition, New Zealand Camellia Society – “Fully imbricated, many rows of petals, never showing stamens.”
  6. Jennifer Trehane’s “Camellias, the Gardner’s Encyclopedia” – “Once called the perfection form, formal double blooms have many rows of overlapping petals and no stamens. There are four different arrangements. The first, most usual type is fully imbricated (where the petals are regularly arranged throughout). The second type is where the petals are arranged to form a star or hexagon. The third group is the beautiful spiral form. Lastly there are the bud-centred blooms, with many rows of overlapping petals but centres that do not open fully. 
  7. Stirling Macoboy’s “What Camellia is That?” – “Many rows of flat, cupped or recurved petals, overlapping in symmetrical form, usually with central cone of tightly furled petals; in some cultivars petals arranged in layers, giving a hexagonal or perfect spiral appearance.”
  8. NSW Camellia Research Society Website – “Many rows of regular petals, building up to the centre, and never showing stamens. E.g. ‘Otome’ and ‘Desire’.”

This certainly leaves me with some uncertainty about terms used or not used in many of the definitions or descriptions. Most did not demand that winning feature of a bud-centre, whilst others do not cite any information on the four distinctive forms. So where does this leave nongs like me or our poor Judges when selecting the “Champion Formal Double”?

Well, it seems that that is easy! Judges are taught that a formal double bloom without a bud-centre, like the ‘Little Susie’ example is “past it” or “too old” regardless of any other attribute.

Canmews Winter 2013

Similarly, to get or maintain a bloom with one of the four distinctive forms and a bud-centre can also be challenging. For example, not all ‘Sawada’s Dream’ blooms have the delightful spiral effect, or, in the case of ‘Grace Albritton’ you do not always see the tiered attribute.

C.japonica 'Rubenescens Major' showing budded and fully busted

C.japonica ‘Rubenescens Major’
showing budded and fully busted


C.japonica 'Desire'

C.japonica ‘Desire’

The Register says ‘Rubenscens Major’ as a good example of the “bud-centred” form, however it does not hold that form as the photo in Jennifer Trehane’s “Camellias, The Gardener’s Encyclopedia” shows.

Many blooms do not hold or achieve the desired form. ‘Desire’, this lovely flower can suffer from balling, which means it does not open. Whilst the beautiful ‘Hazel’s Gift’ opens through formal double, to semi-double, and on to an informal double. So this flower could win the formal double prize on a Saturday, and be an informal double come Sunday.

Barry tells the story of a winning ‘Sawada’s Dream’ at the Young Show a few years back that lost its bud-centre about an hour after judging!

I could end this discussion with an attempt to write the perfect description for a “Formal Double” but it is a big challenge to cater for all the forms and attributes. At the end of the day if I had listened to the learned judge in the first place I probably wouln’t be writing this. Therefore I will keep searching for that perfect bloom, fully imbricated, or tiered, or spiral, or bud-centred, all with a bud-centre and not stamens etc., etc., etc.

In my garden I will seek that perfect ‘Tootsie’, beautifully imbricated, and with that all important bud-centre!

Some Winners

C,japonica 'Tootsie'

C,japonica ‘Tootsie’

C.reticulata 'Black Lace'

C.reticulata ‘Black Lace’

C.japonica 'Susie Fortson'

C.japonica ‘Susie Fortson’

C.japonica 'Nuccio's Cameo'

C.japonica ‘Nuccio’s Cameo’

C.japonica 'BlackTie'

C.japonica ‘BlackTie’

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