Camellias are not difficult to grow, and these vigorous evergreen shrubs are worthy of places in every garden – if that were only possible. In reality they can only be grown in warmer states, and then only in partial shade in areas with good summer rainfall. At least, that is true of most of them, because when it comes to pushing the boundaries of camellia growing, one plant stands out for its ability to not only grow in colder areas, but to also tolerate and even enjoy more sun and heat than almost any other. This is the Two Marthas Camellia, a hybrid variety that is not only hardy and vigorous, but has stunning flowers in early winter, when most other plants are going to sleep.
Growing Two Marthas Camellia
The Two Marthas Camellia is an upright, dense and vigorous evergreen shrub, beginning life as a slender plant, but broadening with age, so that a mature bush will be between 6 and 12 feet tall, and having started a slim 3 feet wide, it can easily become as much as 10 feet across. Imagine what a spectacular vision that would be in full bloom. Even when not in bloom the dense foliage is handsome, and a perfect background in your garden for your summer-blooming plants. The glossy leaves are deep-green, and broadly oval, 3 or 4 inches long, with a softly-serrated edge. But of course, with camellias, we are here for the blossoms most of all, and the Two Marthas Camellia doesn’t disappoint.
Starting in fall in the far South, and a little later further north, the major blooming period for this shrub is October and November. In colder areas new blooms will tend to open during warmer spells and remain dormant during colder ones. Each blossom lasts about a week, and with the profusion of buds on the bush, flowering continues for weeks stretching into months. As these blooms come at such a quiet time in the garden, they are doubly welcome, but at any time these vibrant blossoms would catch our hearts. Each bloom is an open cluster of petals, 4 inches across. There are 8 broad, rounded outer petals creating a bowl, in which sits some smaller, narrower petals, all surrounding a large central column of bright yellow stamen. The petals are a delicious ‘strawberry ice-cream’ color, officially described as lavender pink. Whatever we call it, the color is vibrant and wonderful, and a bush in full bloom will be a gorgeous sight in your garden.
Camellias grow best in zones 8 and 9, but the Two Marthas Camellia will also grow well in zone 7, where a spot with some sun in the middle of the day, but shade in early morning and afternoon is best. Early sun after a cold night can heat the buds too quickly and damage them. Hot afternoon sun can burn the foliage, so take some time finding that perfect spot in your garden – it’s worth it. In zones 8 and 9 light shade all day is ideal, but the second thing so great about the Two Marthas Camellia is its resistance to much more sun than almost any other camellia, and its resistance to heat too. So even in zone 10 you can grow this beauty, and even if the spot is ‘too sunny for camellias’, this one will thrive.
As for soil, moist, well-drained soil, rich in organic material, is best. Even more important is the pH, or acid level, which should be between 5 and 6.5. You can find out your pH level with a simple kit or probe from a garden center or hardware store, or simply look around your neighborhood – if your neighbors have healthy-looking camellias or azaleas, with deep-green leaves and lots of blooms, then you can have the same.
Growing in Pots and Planters
If you do live in an area with alkaline soil, then there is still a simple way for you to grow the Two Marthas Camellia, and all our other camellias too. Plant them in pots or planter boxes, making sure they have a drainage hole, a very necessary feature. Use a potting soil designed for acid-loving plants, and also use fertilizer for camellias or azaleas. Keep them well-watered all year round, watering thoroughly whenever the top ½ inch of soil has dried out. It’s that easy, and with their fibrous root system, camellias will thrive for years and years in pots, becoming more and more beautiful as they do so.
History and Origins of the Two Marthas Camellia
The Two Marthas Camellia is a hybrid plant created by the famous camellia expert and breeder Dr. William L. Ackerman, who worked at the National Arboretum, in Washington, D.C. He created many of the hardiest camellias we have, as well as many fall and early winter bloomers, like this one. To create it he made a cross between a Japanese camellia called Camellia sasanqua ‘Ô-nishiki’ and a plant of a tree-like camellia with white flowers from India and Nepal, Camellia kissii. He collected these seeds, and among the resulting seedlings he found one he named ‘Two Marthas’, although we don’t know who those two ladies were. It produced is first blooms in 1973, and it was officially listed in 1982.
We are pleased to have found some top-quality plants of this reliable camellia, which extends the growing range into both cooler and hotter areas. These special plants are always in high demand from keen gardeners, so order now, because our limited stock will soon be gone.