Leucantha CamelliaCamellia japonica 'Leucantha'
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Camellia japonica 'Leucantha'
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The Leucantha Camellia is a true heirloom plant which has been grown in America for almost 200 years. It has beautiful blossoms of pure-white petals, and a golden center of stamens. It has a more natural look than many other camellias, and fits well into less formal and semi-wild gardens, yet it also looks beautiful among clipped evergreens around your home. It forms an upright, slightly arching shrub to 8 feet tall, and blooms in March or April, after most other camellias have finished, extending the season for their gorgeous bushes.
The Leucantha Camellia should be grown in partial shade, with morning sun. An east-facing or north-facing position is excellent, or anywhere with afternoon shade. It also grows in light dappled shade. The soil should be moist but well-drained, and rich in lime-free organic material. It should be acidic, with a pH value of 6.5 or less. Pests and diseases are uncommon, and this bush grows easily in suitable conditions, and needs almost no attention. It has some drought resistance once well-established, but regular watering is best.
Some beautiful things just stay with us forever, like antique furniture, vintage movies or old books. The same is true with plants, because while many come and go in a moment of fashion, others endure. We reached back to the very early decades of camellia growing in America, and we pulled from the pages of history a beautiful blossom, with all the simplicity of the best old things, and a pure, magical beauty. Blooming later than many others – and so extending the ‘camellia season’ in your garden – we offer you the Leucantha Camellia. Born in 1838, making it almost 200 years old, this beautiful bush has pure white flowers with gorgeous flaring petals, and a bold central ‘brush’ of yellow stamens. The flowers are carried in profusion, and this variety is ideal for lovers of more ‘natural’ plants. It would fit perfectly into a relaxed, natural garden, at least as well as it does in a more formal one.
The Leucantha Camellia is a dense, upright evergreen bush with glossy foliage. It will grow in time to be 8 feet tall and it could reach 5 or 6 feet wide. The stems are upright and slightly arching, giving a more relaxed, open look compared with other, stiffer, varieties. The leaves are about 3 inches long, tapering to a short point, with noticeable serrations around the edge, and a tough, leathery texture. Even when it is not flowering this is an appealing and eye-catching shrub. Blooms develop slowly through fall and winter, and usually open in March or April. This is late for camellias, and this variety is terrific for extending the period you can enjoy camellias in your garden. The flowers are 3 to 4 inches across, with 20 or more broad, open petals forming a graceful circle. In the center is a dense cluster of yellow stamens, and together this creates an outstanding look. Blooms open in succession over several weeks, with each bloom lasting 5 to 7 days.
This more ‘natural’ looking camellia is perfect for a more relaxed garden, fitting well into semi-wild settings perfectly. White is always such a versatile color that it fits in everywhere, with all other flower and foliage colors. Obviously this shrub also belongs in a white bed, or among evergreens around your home, against a wall, or, let’s face it, anywhere at all. It grows well in a large tub or planter, and would look perfect placed on a terrace or patio.
The Leucantha Camellia is hardy from zone 7 to zone 9. It may also be hardy in sheltered spots in zone 6, for instance against the wall of your home.
The Leucantha Camellia will grow best in partial shade, sheltered especially from the hot afternoon sun. Against an east or north-facing wall is ideal, or in the dappled shade from overhead deciduous trees. The soil should be moist, rich in organic material, but well-drained. It needs to be acidic too, with a pH value no higher than 6.5, and preferably lower. Although it is possible, with work, to lower the pH of your soil a small amount, in practice this rarely works, and certainly not for long. If you don’t have suitable soil, the best way to enjoy this lovely bush is to grow it in a pot or planter. Use a potting soil blended for acid-loving plants, and make sure your pot has a drainage hole. Keep the pot outdoors all year round in zone 8 and 9. In all cooler zones bring the pot into a cool, well-lit place for the coldest months, when night temperatures are below 40 degrees. Although resistant to much lower temperatures, bringing frozen plants indoors, and then putting them back out into frozen conditions, is not a good idea. Shelter your plants until outdoor nights reach 40 degrees, or 50 degrees if the place you kept them was warm.
Pests and diseases are rare with well-grown camellias, but white flowers do sometimes turn brown and fall before opening properly. This usually happens during unusually wet springs, and don’t spray your bushes with water when they are blooming. This is normally just an infrequent occurrence, and not a serious, long-term problem. No pruning is needed with this bush, but if you do want to trim it for shape, do that immediately after the flowering season is over.
The Japanese camellia, Camellia japonica, has been grown in Chinese and Japanese gardens for centuries. Some of the very first plants in America did not come directly from Japan, but via Europe. The island of Manhattan was not always skyscrapers, and Michael Floy was an early nurseryman there, who owned farm land at the ‘upper end of Broadway’, he said, where he grew plants and sold seeds. He brought one of the very first camellias over from England in 1800 for a gentleman in Hoboken. In 1827 he moved his nursery to Staten Island, and remained there until his death in 1847, by which time the land had, of course, become extremely valuable. In 1838 he listed a variety called ‘Leucantha’ in his catalog. The name is a Greek word meaning ‘white’, and it could be a natural form or variety, which may have been found in Japan and then brought by Mr. Floy to America from England. Whatever the details of the story, this beautiful plant is still with us today, a true heirloom and a gorgeous piece of American history.
There is nothing like having a piece of history in your garden, especially if it is as beautiful today as the day almost 200 years ago that it first arrived in America. You will love the Leucantha Camellia in your garden, but order soon, as heirloom plants like this are always in enormous demand, but in limited supply.