Camellias must be the second most common shrub in Seattle after rhodies. Well, maybe third given all those Tam junipers (Juniperus tamariscifolia) growing into sidewalks. Camellias come in several different species and a bunch of cultivars. At the moment Camellia japonica is at its peak. I confess that I’m not all that fond of C. japonica. They’re blobular (a technical gardening term). They get too big for most city lots, and they hang onto their flowers for waaaay too long.
Unlike many plants that discard their flowers petal by petal, Camellia japonica drops its flowers whole which can be lovely on the ground or ugly on the bush.
C. japonica is a dense, evergreen shrub with nice shiny leaves, but it can get very large – a lot larger than you expect. Pruning to constrain it is a lot of work, the camellia will win eventually and often look ugly to boot. I saw one the other day pruned into a rectangle (another member of the ill-fated rectilinearis tribe). In this month where camellia blossoms light up every block, I think this poor shrub had two flowers, the rest removed as a result, as Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty says, of “shear madness”.
However, they can be artfully pruned into small mult-stemmed trees, allowing one to actually see out of the house. I suppose a camellia completely covering the front window relieves one of the need for curtains, but I prefer to at least have the option of letting light in.
If you have a large enough yard (or a thing against window coverings) and want a spring blooming camellia, try a Camellia x williamsii hybrid. They are similar to C. japonica butactually drop their blooms so you don’t get that floral beauty and the beast thing going. The Great Plant Picks website has some camellia suggestions that are specifically suited to those of us living west of the Cascades.