In the Garden:
While this camellia bloomed at Christmas in Florida, winter-hardy camellia cultivars flowered in Philadelphia, too.
Hardy Camellias Creep North
Two weeks before Christmas in Philadelphia, one rose-red blossom popped brightly on Doris' 'Winter's Fancy' camellia. A miracle, I marveled, because her plant had maybe seven leaves left this spring. North, in Chestnut Hill, four pink camellia flowers were more than I expected on Marilyn's 'Winter's Dream', which also suffered in last winter's warm-then-frigid spring weather.
Up the street, Saundra's glossy-leaved 'April Rose' camellias were lush with plump flower buds tight till spring bloom. Her garden is surrounded by a creamy stucco wall, which makes it a warmer, protected microclimate. (Microclimate refers to the weather in a small space, such as a garden, park, valley, or city space, that varies subtly -- in temperature, humidity, wind, rainfall -- from the region's overall weather conditions.)
Any day now I'll bundle Saundra's camellias in frost-protection fabric and burlap to coddle those fragile buds. After all petals drop from Doris' and Marilyn's flowers, I'll wrap their camellia plants to forestall leaf burn from extreme winter temperatures.
With fingers crossed, I'd planted these cold-hardy camellia cultivars early last season. To my delight (and relief!), they're giving colorful accent to otherwise winter-drab city gardens in southeastern Pennsylvania -- Zone 7 according to the National Arbor Day Foundation's (NADF) 2006 U.S. Hardiness Zone map; Zone 6-B according to the USDA's 2003 U.S. Hardiness Zone map.
Camellias and Christmas in Florida
It's late December. I appreciate but am not surprised at the gorgeous pink flowers covering several compact camellias in a friend's yard in Amelia Island, Florida. Tropical coral and lemon yellow hibiscus bloom nonstop. This is the Georgia-Florida border, NADF Zone 9 or USDA Zone 9-A. The average annual low temperature is from 30 to 20 degrees F (NADF); 25 to 20 degrees (USDA).
Camellias Creep North
Which camellias are acclimated to colder climes (that are becoming increasingly warmer with global climate change) in southeastern Pennsylvania and points north?
Sun-tolerant Camellia sasanqua is a relatively cold-hardy favorite among plant aficionados. Its small, fragrant, usually single flowers are eclipsed by the showy, large Japanese camellia flowers everyone wants. Though rated for USDA Zones 7 through 9, Camellia sasanqua grows and blooms beautifully for suburban friends in USDA 6.
The popular Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) has 3- to 5-inch, semidouble or double, pink or red or white or variegated flowers and dark green leaves. It's very iffy, though, in USDA 6, marginal in 7, hardy in southern zones 8 and 9.
So I'm experimenting. The U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., has been introducing "cold hardy" camellia hybrids with hope but also caution and no guarantee they'll thrive in USDA 6 or colder. Research geneticist William Ackerman developed many of them.
Now retired, Ackerman prefers late-fall-into-winter bloomers because of winter bud loss. He recommends (and I've easily found) some of his 'Winter' series: 'Winter's Charm', Winter's Beauty', and 'Winter's Fancy'. Also on Ackerman's list: 'Winter's Fire', 'Winter's Hope', 'Winter's Interlude', 'Winter's Rose', 'Winter's Toughie', and more. He includes the Ashton series -- Ballet, Cameo, Pink, Prelude, Pride, Snow, Supreme -- which I've never seen.
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