Monday, April 16, 2012

Comely Camellias

Two types of camellias grow well in the Seattle area: Camellia japonica and its smaller, daintier cousin, Camellia sasanqua.

The larger of the two, C. japonica, is in blooming right now in Seattle and will continue into May. There are many varieties of this shrub, the Sunset Western Garden Book lists an entire page of them, but the most familiar form is the one shown below with deep, rose pink flowers.

Camellias want some protection from hot sun, although you see plenty of them doing just fine in western exposures here in the mild summer climate of western Washington. Once established, they are quite drought tolerant. They do well in the acid soils of the Seattle area. Fertilize with an acid plant food shortly after blooming to assist in setting healthy flower buds for the coming year.

Prune these shrubs just after they bloom. Large specimens can be limbed up to make them into small trees. Note that flower buds for the coming year start to form within weeks of the last blooms. If you wait too long in the season to do your pruning, you risk losing next year's flowers.

Camellia sasanqua is much smaller and finer textured than C. japonica. Many varieties have single flowers, as you see above, and bloom time is December through January. Sasanquas offer a greater variety of flower colors and variegations than C. japonica. Shop for them when they are in bloom to be sure of what you are getting. Sasanquas make excellent subjects for espallier. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pieris japonica

Lily of the Valley Shrubs (Pieris japonica) are about half way through their spring bloom and color show right now. These graceful, slow growing shrubs are popular in the Seattle area, and for good reasons.

First, there are the flowers. Large clusters of bell-shaped flowers appear in early March.
Perhaps most commonly seen in Seattle are plants with white flowers.

Flower color choices also include shades of pink, such as 'Valley Rose' and 'Valley Valentine.' Some like 'Christmas Cheer' and 'Daisen' have white flowers edged with rose red.

But the show's not over when the flowers fade. New foliage emerges in colors ranging from bronzy pink to fiery red. Those colors last for 2-3 weeks and then the leaves turn green as they mature.
Varieties grown for their stunning new foliage color include 'Mountain Fire' and 'Flaming Silver.'

There are many varieties of Pieris japonica. Some are dwarf plants, such as 'Pygmaea,' which gets to about 18" tall and wide. Some have variegated leaves, such as 'Variegata,' which has a white margin along the edges. All are slow growing and attractive year around.

Lily of the valley shrubs are easy to care for in the Western Washington area. These plants like part-shade, and moist, acidic soil. Older plants can be limbed up to look like small trees. Pieris is often grouped with rhododendrons and azaleas, which have similar soil and sun requirements.