Camellia bushes are a highlight of fall, winter and spring in southern gardens, and they have a long history in the South. Gardeners further north could only look in envy at them, until Dr. Clifford Parks of the University of North Carolina decided to help. An international authority on Camellias, he searched for varieties that were more cold-hardy, and by breeding them together, and selecting new plants from the seedlings, over many years, he developed the April Series. These plants are renowned for their ability to grow in zone 6 – outside the range of other varieties – and they are the benchmark for cold-hardy camellias. If you love these flowers – and who wouldn’t? – but you live in zone 6, or even in zone 7, then among the April Series is where you should look for plants. Even further south, these lovely bushes are very desirable, flowering later than many others, and extending the blooming season right into the spring. Of them all, the April Tryst Camellia is outstanding, and its gorgeous double red blooms are a highlight of spring in warmer areas, and a chance for gardeners in cooler zones to enjoy these wonderful blooms.
The April Tryst Camellia is an evergreen bush, growing to between 5 and 8 feet tall, and 3 or 4 feet wide. It is an upright plant, with beautiful dark-green glossy leaves. These are oval, tapering to a short point, 3 inches long and a little over 2 inches wide, with smooth contours. They cover the bush densely, showing us just a little of the smooth, gray bark of the stems and branches. In early spring the fat flower buds, that have sat patiently closed through the winter, open in succession over several weeks, giving a long blooming period. Each bloom is large, almost 4 inches across when fully open, with about 15 petals fanned out in a circle. The color is bright red, and it has been compared to the color of red-currants. The flower is what camellias fanciers call ‘anemone’, so in the center of the petals is a cluster of many small petal-like stamens, numbering about 130. These are also bright red, but some have flashes of white on them, and some have strands of rose-pink, and that colorful center makes the flower unique and very beautiful. This plant carries many blossoms and makes a beautiful display in your garden.
The April Tryst Camellia should be grown in partial sun to light full shade. Some morning sun followed by afternoon shade is ideal, and against what might seem right, it is best to grow this plant in full shade – during winter at least – in zones 6 and 7. This protects the plant from opening its buds too soon when warmed by the sun, as they can then be damaged by a late frost. Young plants benefit from more shade, while older plants can tolerate more sun. A position in bright shade, with a clear view of the sky overhead, is also an excellent location
The soil should be rich and moist, but well drained, and camellias need acidic soil, with a pH of no more than 6.5. If you or your neighbors are growing camellias, azaleas or rhododendrons successfully already, then your soil must be suitable. Otherwise a simple test kit from a garden center or hardware store will give you the answer. If the pH is between 6.5 and 7.0 it is possible to still grow this plant in the ground if you use chelated iron, a product that is applied in spring, and possibly again in fall, to provide the necessary minerals your plant cannot get in alkaline soil. If you have a higher pH, then consider growing camellias in pots. Use a pot with a drainage hole, and use a potting soil blended for acid-loving plants, and a camellia or azalea fertilizer. Only feed plant in pots in spring and early summer, as too much food will reduce flowering. By planting in a pot, you can grow this plant even in cold zones, bringing it into a cool place for the winter. An unheated, well-lit porch is often ideal – it only needs to be above freezing, and hot rooms are not suitable. Keep it outdoors for as long as possible, until temperatures fall below 40 degrees at night. Camellias rarely suffer from pests or diseases, and they are easy to grow once the soil and light levels are right.
The April Tryst Camellia was created by Dr. Clifford Parks, emeritus professor of botany at the University of North Carolina. His April Series is a group of camellias particularly suitable for blooming in spring in zone 6. They are forms of the Japanese camellia, Camellia japonica, which grows wild in Japan, China and Korea. For centuries gardeners in those countries collected unique forms of this plant, and in 1807 some of them were brought to Charleston, South Carolina. At first they were grown as pot plants, and then later it was discovered that they would grow outside in the garden. Many varieties exist, but the plants in Dr. Park’s April Series are the most cold-resistant ones available. The variety called ‘April Tryst’ is particularly beautiful. It was found at his Camellia Forest Nursery as a seedling of ‘Yours Truly’, a pink and white variety from the 1940s. It was registered as a new variety in 1993. This plant is the best red of the series, and highly recommended, not just for cold zones, but for every garden. Its beautiful flowers will brighten your spring, but order right away, because our stock is limited, and everyone wants to grow this lovely plant.