At Old Town our streets are named after camellias and there is a beautiful camellia garden that has been planted by the field house in the residential amenity area.
Camellias – Southern Charm with a History
Fall and winter bring out the flowers of one of the loveliest blooming shrubs we can grow – camellias. Like many other camelliawonderful plants we grow and admire in the landscape, camellias are native to the Orient. European plant explorers to China, Japan and Korea found many wonderful plants both under cultivation and in the wild, sending them home where they quickly became fashionable in Victorian times.
Many folks are unaware that the leaves of a very close relative of garden camellias is the source of the beverage we call tea! Camellia sinensis has been grown and used in China since 2737 B.C., and it became a popular drink in Europe in the 17th century.
Due to the expense of transporting leaves from the Orient, the British became interested in establishing tea plantations in the southern colonies as early as 1744. Early plantings from seed in Georgia were not successful. According to Dr. Bill Welch’s research in ‘The Southern Heirloom Garden’, which he co-authored with Greg Grant, attempts to grow tea plants from seed in Cat Springs near Bellville, Texas, were also not successful, according to the Cat Springs Agricultural Society records!
A successful commercial planting of tea was finally established by the Lipton Tea Company near Charleston where it is still in production as the only commercial tea plantation in the U.S., currently under new ownership.
The most familiar of the camellias is Camellia japonica – often simply called ‘japonica’ – with varieties blooming from early winter through spring. Camellia japonica has been cultivated in the U.S. since about 1800, initially as tender greenhouse ornamental plants in the north. It wasn’t until 1819 that Camellia japonica was introduced into southern U.S. landscapes through a nursery in Charleston. Today, many large, old camellias grace old plantations and homesteads all across the south and many fine specimens can be found around Tyler and East Texas.
Camellia japonica flowers are large, often double and very showy. Because they bloom during the winter time, open flowers may be damaged by a freeze. But, if the buds are tightly closed, they are usually protected from freeze injury. The plants themselves are generally quite cold hardy for our area.