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Ancient Camellias (pre-1900)

Connecting Camellias and History:
The Magnolia Plantation and Gardens' 'Ancient Camellia Collection'

Throughout the southern region of the US one can find Camellia specimens over a century old. They have survived war, countless droughts, hurricanes, heat waves, and cold snaps. The cultural significance of the Camellia in the Deep South is rich with history, as they embody the "look of the South", past and present.

Connecting gardeners to history through "heirloom" plants is not a new idea. However, in the world of woody ornamentals it is anything but commonplace. In recent years, plant breeding for the commercial landscape industry has boomed, and many "new and improved" varieties are being introduced leaving these Old World specimens out of production. We are very proud to be able to offer a mix of both old and new Camellia varieties, as we recognize that every cultivar has a place in someone's garden.

In July 2012 we had the pleasure of visiting 'America's Romantic Garden', Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC. Our mission was to collect old-world Camellia cultivars that are no longer in the trade. Magnolia Plantation has over 20,000 Camellias planted on the spreading grounds, blooming from November to April. The Camellia collection was the most extensive in America before the Civil War, and there are currently over 1,000 different cultivars of Camellia japonica - more than any other garden in America.

Ancient Camellias (pre-1900) are a specialty at Magnolia. Over 150 cultivars of Camellia japonica have been introduced by Magnolia between the 18040's and 1940's. Additionally, they have organized and implemented an international search for ancient Camellias that are threatened by extinction. "Our commitment to establish the Ancient Camellia Collection is a constant world-wide search. Miles Beach, Director of the Camellia collection explains. "In travels overseas during the past two years we have gathered 250 varieties that are new to the US."

Recently Magnolia Plantation was awarded the 'International Camellia Garden of Excellence' award from the International Camellia Society. The award applauds Magnolia's commitment to displaying and providing information on Camellias. Tom Johnson, Magnolia's executive director, said this international recognition confirms "we are on the correct path as we restore the gardens at Magnolia with the pre-1900 varieties of Camellias that were planted by the Rev. John Grimke Drayton."

We are thankful and honored to have the opportunity to gather cuttings from this spectacular collection and share a piece of southern history with our customers. "Magnolia Plantation has such a rich history in the Camellia world, and it is great to have Camellia Forest Nursery offering these Old World cultivars." said Tom Johnson.

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Camellia japonica 'Chrissie' Camellia japonica 'Claritas Alba' Camellia japonica 'Mrs. Freeman Weiss Variegated'
This cultivar has a large semi-double white flower that often has peony-like petaloids in the floral center. The flower is of medium size and often forms an interesting cup shape. Originated as a seedling of Magnoliaeflora about 1950. (Zone 7) This Camellia has reliable white, semi-double flowers of medium size. The growth habit is loose and upright. Originated at Magnolia Gardens in Charleston, SC about 1940. (Zone 7) A rich semi-double pink with white marks has a variable form that varies from a loose peony to anemone form. The plant habit is compact and upright, and the growth is vigorous. Originated at Magnolia Gardens, Charleston, S. C. and first appears in their 1942-1943 Nursery Catalogue.
Camellia japonica 'White Empress'
3 year old plant. This old dependable variety has performed well in this area as well as farther north. The large semi-double flowers bloom early to mid-season on a bushy vigorous plant. (Zone 7a) [3 gallon pot]