Camellia 'Red Candles' Exceeds My Expectations

The "snow event" that local weathermen forecasted last week did not materialize, but we did experience very cold rain and temps that fell well below freezing for several nights in a row. I imagined that any open camellia flowers would turn to brown mush, though tightly closed buds would survive. I went out to inspect after the weather warmed up and the sun came out. Yep, most blooms were brown mush. The exception was Camellia japonica 'Red Candles,' also sold as 'Crimson Candles.' It has been blooming for a month and the freezing temps did not faze it:

Since I planted it eight years ago, this shrub has never disappointed me. Its abundant, rose-pink blooms are a beacon in the winter woodland garden. 'Red Candles' has bronze-red new foliage, which turns a deep green. The shrub has matured to about 9 by 5 feet and makes an attractive statement year-round.

Whenever I put in a new plant, I am usually optimistic. I do my research and try to put the right plant in the right place. Nevertheless, some plants die dramatically or else limp along till I put them out of their misery. Others succeed for a while, then eventually decline. Many are understated, doing their job but nothing more. Some do well; yet pleased as I am, I eventually take them for granted. But a few, like 'Red Candles,' are outstanding, each year bringing me new joy and wonder. 

Planting and Caring for Camellias:

'Red Candles' will grow in USDA hardiness zones 7a-9b. A few camellias are hardy in zone 6. All grow best in well drained, acid soil under the canopy of deep rooted trees that allow sun to filter through. I dig wide holes for mine and add compost to the native soil before backfilling around the root balls. To encourage good drainage it is important to plant all camellias high, with their trunk bases above the soil line. I water well and then add mulch around the bases to protect the roots. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. To promote good health, keep spent blooms and fallen leaves cleaned from under the shrub. Camellias don't usually need a lot of fertilizer. Wait until blooming has finished in early spring to fertilize with an organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants. 



Plants for Winter Blooms

Why in the world do we gardeners put in plants that bloom in winter? Why the obsession to find a spot of color against a gloomy landscape? I was asking these questions today when a bit of sunshine, after several overhung days, pulled me outside. The temperature was barely above freezing, a bitter breeze blew in my face, and the soil was soggy from recent rains. Nevertheless, there I was, bundled up, searching for those hardy blooms that braved the vacillations of an Alabama winter. Camellia japonica 'Red Candles' is a prolific winter bloomer, despite frosty air.

The fact is, many of us gardeners are greedy people. We want it all. We want a year-round paradise, if not in reality, at least in our dreams. Even northern gardeners who are snowed-in through much of the winter challenge the frozen land outside their windows. They hover around grow lights in the basement or bathroom, nurturing seedlings for a warmer season. They fill sunrooms, kitchens, and other living areas with green plants and pots of flowering tropicals, whose vibrant leaves and colorful blooms are remarkably beautiful against a backdrop of snow. 

As for me, today I needed to be outside, checking on things.Flowering quince, Chaenomeles, is a shrub whose flowers may persist for two or more months.Hellebores are up and producing flowers.This is another plant whose blooms may continue for several months.My garden in January is no paradise, but rather a panorama of bare stems and branches against a backdrop of evergreens. But I found occasional buds and blooms, and I was happy my garden included a few plants that dared to blossom in winter. Daffodils are just pushing up and beginning to form buds, and tea olives are filled with tiny white buds that will soon fill the arbor garden with fragrance.

Variegated Winter Daphne is also filled with buds that will soon open to fragrant blooms.

Distylium 'Vintage Jade' has many tiny red buds. When they open, they are reminiscent of witch hazel.

This Edgeworthia chrysantha bud is just beginning to open.

Another view of Edgeworthia buds. Yes, they feel furry!

Camellia 'Something Beautiful' lives up to its name.

Many of the Camellia 'Something Beautiful' blooms have fallen to the ground because of wind and rain, forming bouquets of blossoms on the earth. Fortunately, many more remain on the shrub.

I felt a hint of things stirring beneath the surface as I examined the blooms in my winter garden, and I am reassured that spring will come.