Come Into the Garden

Camellias (Reticulated Cultivar Unnamed) in the Italian Terrace Garden at VRG (Photo by Tim Lindsay)

With our Mediterranean-style climate in Los Angeles, we have more opportunity than most to explore the natural world and to be creative, surrounding ourselves with nature’s favorite flowers and plants of the season.

There is a special kind of joy when one puts their hands-in-the dirt gardening. The result is a happy blend of mental relaxation and creative energy.

Our garden star this month is the CAMELLIA, one of nature’s greatest fall gifts. They are the jewels of the shade garden that brighten the winter months with blooms of incredible variation and beauty. Camellias were also one of Virginia Robinson’s favorite flowers. The pink flower pictured here was named after Virginia Robinson at “Nuccio’s” famous camellia nursery.

Virginia Robinson Camellia originated in the USA in 1950 Nuccio’s Nursery

Native to Japan and China, the camellia has been part of Asian cultures for thousands of years. In Korea, the flower is a symbol of longevity and faithfulness. In Japan, the red camellia, sometimes called the Japanese rose, symbolizes love. In China, camellias are seen as lucky symbols for the Chinese New Year and spring.

Camellias made their way to America around 1800. Today, over 200 varieties are recognized. In the West, the camellia, known for its perfect symmetry, has come to symbolize desire, refinement, and everlasting beauty.  Writer Alexandre Dumas' La Dame aux Camélias was named for the flower.  The book in turn inspired Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi to compose his famous opera, La Traviata.

The camellia has a colorful history in Southern California.  Much ado is made over roses in Pasadena, but the camellia has its own regal history in the region.  In the 1950s and '60s, young women traveled from across the Southland for a chance to be named Descanso Garden's Queen of Camelia Land.  Photos from the era show the outgoing queen presenting the winner with a crown of camellias in a festive ceremony. 

In the fashion world, the camellia is synonymous with Chanel, as it was Coco Chanel’s favorite flower. Coco was given her first bouquet of camellias by her polo-playing companion Boy Capel. Coco Chanel and Virginia Robinson were close, and Virginia would frequently wear a white camellia on her lapel when she welcomed Coco to her home.

Camellia Care:

Plant camellias in slightly acidic soil in an area with good drainage. Camellias grow and bloom best in partial shade (morning sun and dappled afternoon shade are ideal conditions) with shelter from the hot afternoon sun.

  1. Camellia care is pretty simple; plant in a shade to part sun area (morning sun, afternoon shade) with rich soil.
  2. Camellias like ample moisture and well-drained soil. Water during dry conditions to encourage new growth.
  3. Camellias do not grow well when planted too deep. Plant 1-2 inches above surrounding grade.
  4. Prune to shape camellias as needed; prune selectively instead of shearing to maintain natural shape of the plants.
  5. Pruning should be done in the spring and when flowers have faded. Camellias set flower buds in late summer, so pruning at the wrong time of year will significantly reduce blooming.
  6. Using a fertilizer for acid-loving plants such as camellia/azalea food after blooming will both provide necessary nutrients and help the soil retain the proper pH.
  7. These popular blooming evergreens are susceptible to scale. Treating with dormant oil and yearly with systemic insecticide soil drench can take care of this issue.


Post by Joan Selwyn
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member
Founder of the Friends

  1. Kerstin Royce
    | Reply

    Such uplifting and wonderful Highlight articles. Thanks to all.

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