Just when you've tucked everything in for the winter, prayed for a mild season and begun to peruse the seed catalogs, low and behold the Camellia out does itself in the back garden! What a joy to find these beautiful blooms when everything else is dormant. Not only do they brighten up a dreary landscape but they are wonderful in the house as cut flowers too.
I have long lost the variety name of this pink one but it is the first to bloom of my several hardy Camellias. Look how many flowers it has this year!
Early in January the big red one beside my basement door will be covered with flowers - sometimes in the snow! Around late February or March the two toned red and white one will flower. It looks like a peppermint candy dripped all over it. It is one of my favorites because it is the same variety as the one my mom tenderly carried to Alabama when we moved from Florida when I was about 10. That bush bloomed in our laundry room the first winter. Mom had placed it there until she could plant it in the spring. I thought it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen.
Camellias are in the same family as the tea plant that we get our favorite southern summer drink, sweet iced tea. There was a time when no one north of zone 4 or 5 could grow camellias outside a greenhouse but with the culture of the new cold hardy ones, we all can have a bush or two in a sheltered place in our yard. Mine are under tall oak trees or planted near the foundation of my home. They do like a little shade and water but I must admit the ones out under the oak trees (the pink one above) are growing in dry shade and in clay soil. They must be pretty hardy to survive our hot dry summers and my neglect.
Look for cold hardy camellias in your local garden centers in the spring. I bought nearly all of mine at Lowe's. Camellias are beautiful even when they are not in flower, the leaves are dark green and glossy. Give them a sheltered spot and acid soil and they will live happily for years. If you can grow azaleas, you can grow camellias.