February 07, 2013

Dreaming of Camellias

It's an interesting aspect of the human condition that we tend to desire most the things that are just beyond our reach...especially when those things are highly desirable to start with.

When we're talking plants and gardeners, the effects can be particularly powerful.

Here's the thing. My garden is located in the northern Midwest, in USDA zone 5. I like Camellias. Dang. They're hardy in zones 6 to 9. So I'm stuck drooling over them whenever I see them during my travels, or on other gardeners' blogs.

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"But wait," you say. "There are a few cold-hardy varieties."

I wouldn't have really registered that thought until I found a few encouraging articles from:


The latter source makes the case for a particular group of Camellias--Winter's Charm, Winter's Beauty, and Winter's Star--rated to -15 F, which is about as cold as we get here. Carolyn at Carolyn's Shade Gardens also recently featured some excellent posts about cold-hardy Camellias.

But just because it's "possible" to do something, doesn't mean a person should. Just because I covet my southern neighbors' Camellia bounty doesn't mean I should try to push the zones and grow one here. Or should I try it? The warm microclimate near the rock wall would be near perfect for a Camellia, right?

What do you think? Should I be content to enjoy Camellias from afar, or should I act on my Camellia dreams?

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(Note: The Camellias shown here, to my knowledge, are not cold-hardy. For more information on cold-hardy Camellias, visit Carolyn's blog or the U.S. National Arboretum website.)

34 comments:

  1. I just can't resist push the boundaries, myself, I just have to have a go, even if I might not succeed, so of course you should try growing camellias!! And they are so lovely too!

    Find a good place for it, and if you buy a small one (which most people have to do as they are quite expensive) you can always keep it in a pot for a few years and wrap if in blankets and bubble wrap on extremely cold winter nights. Get some good advice locally about which one to choose and have a go :-)

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Helene. I am very unsure about this decision. Part of me says, "Go for it." Part of me says, "You have no business trying to grow a non-native that doesn't even belong in your zone." But I know that I will always have a special place in my heart for Camellias. ;-)

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  2. I lust for plants that won't grow in my area too, but overall I'm ambivalent about pushing the zone boundaries. I like the fact that the U.S. is so diverse because its varied climates support different plants. I love agaves, but to me they look weird anywhere but a desert climate. Lately I've been seeing crape myrtles in the New York City area. They're beautiful trees, but to me they say the South.

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    1. Yes, I feel the same way. I'm feeling a little greedy even considering growing Camellias here. But we'll see. I might just try one small one in a very warm microclimate near my house and a rock wall.

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  3. Oh, go for it! You know where your garden is warmest in the winter, and by your rock wall sounds perfect! What have you got to lose (beside a little time and some money)? I love them - I say give it a try! You did want enablers, didn't you? ;)

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    1. I love your enthusiasm, Holley! Yes, I welcome enablers and critics, alike. You all will help me to form my decision. This is a tough one!

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  4. I love Camellias too and tend to be in the 'give it a go' camp!
    I've a couple of borderline hardy plants, mainly perennials but one shrub, a variegared Caenothus. It survived here (Scotland) last year as it was so mild but I suspect it's a gonner this year. It doesn't bother me that much because at least now I know I tried and failed therefore won't covet it any more!

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    1. I haven't pushed the zones much in my garden, but I'm always fascinated by experiments. And it would be fun to have Camellias blooming during the cold fall or early spring. I would only go with one of the varieties that is considered very cold-hardy. I'll be curious to hear if your Caenothus made it through!

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  5. Absolutely go for it! What's the worst that can happen? A few plants will die in a glorious cause. Regrettable, but necessary. Remember, you are the general of your garden.

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    1. Wow, that is an affirmative! ;) Thanks for the empowering statement. I'm still on the fence, but I certainly appreciate your encouragement, Jason!

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  6. Thanks for mentioning my blog (the link doesn't work though). Your post caused me to go to my post and try to get to the Ackerman article to look at temperatures. I discovered that that link doesn't work and am trying to contact the International Camellia Society to find the article. But in the meantime, I really think -15 degrees is stretching it. If I can get the article up and running again, I will come back to you. However, why not try one anyway in a micro-climate? The best place to order them from is Camellia Forest. See what they say about hardiness.

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    1. I added one link under the first mention, and just added another link under the second mention--hopefully they both work now. I might just try one small one, Carolyn--maybe in a pot near the house. I wonder if I could wheel the pot onto the protected porch during the winter...that might work! Thanks!

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  7. I think I dream of hibiscus the same way you dream of camellias. I have a Southern exposure that lets me plant a zone or two higher than I should. Go for it! Who knows you might be unexpectedly rewarded.

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    1. I'm thinking everything is right for Camellias except the zone and the snow. Hmmmm...this will be a hard decision. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  8. I would be careful on those plants in your locale. Does any nursery sell them? That would be very telling. We cannot grow them here and we are 6B, (until global warming makes it so) but it is also soil/pH conditions. They would not like it here one bit. I push zones too, but it is always a risk, often dependent on snow cover at the right times of the winter season. Good luck on adding them, you might have one growing which would start others to try them too.

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    1. Thanks for your honesty, Donna! Based on the descriptions I've read, the soil and pH here would be about perfect. But...the cold and snow are huge factors. So, I am considering this one very carefully. As I mentioned in the post, just because I can doesn't mean I should. We'll see...

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  9. Hi....I think gardening is all about trying new things, experimenting and growing what you love! I say absolutely go for it. If the Camellia doesn't make it at least you know you tried. If you don't try you will always wonder!! This winter is the first time I've tried growing plants from cuttings. I don't know why I was always a little afraid to try. I have lost some things, but others are really taking off and I'll be able to plant them in my garden in spring. I was really happy I tried something new and was rewarded for it!!

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    1. Experiments are fascinating. Sounds like you are very adventurous! The thing that amazes me is that some gardeners near me are only able to grow plants hardy to zone 4, while I can easily grow anything noted for zone 5. But I'm on the southeast side of the lake, so that must make a difference. Plus I have a couple of mild microclime areas in the garden. But I'm still not sure about the Camellias. I might just have to appreciate them from afar...we'll see.

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  10. I dearly love camellias too, but I'm afraid I can't grow them so far because of our extreme heat. Summer time is hard on Oklahoma plants. I think you should try if you want.~~Dee

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    1. Usually, our summers are pretty mild. 80s and humid, but nice for growing a wide variety of plants. Last summer was bizarre with the drought from June to August, but most years we have plenty of rain. This will be a hard decision!

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  11. First I am drooling over the roses in your header...secondly if you love camellias that much Beth I say grow one in that microclimate....treat yourself to a much loved plant....

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    1. Thanks, Donna. I couldn't look at snow pictures anymore--there's just too much of it out my windows for weeks on end. I know it's so good for the plants, but I needed some fresh flower therapy. ;-) We shall see about the Camellias...I'm zeroing in on a potential compromise!

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  12. Personally I wouldn't risk it, unless you can put one in a pot and give it some shelter through the worst of the winter - and be OK with it if it dies on you! I have learned through hard experience that for me it is more satisfying to go with the flow and work with the limitations of climate and soil etc. that try to push it too much, but at the end of the day I think it comes down to what will give you most pleasure - and if experimenting floats your boat why not give it a go, particularly if you can supply good drainage, many people have told me that this is even more important than the temperature, particularly if you are pushing the boundaries...

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    1. Mmmmhmmm...that's what I'm thinking, too (putting one in a pot). It just doesn't seem right to plant it in the ground here because it doesn't belong and probably won't survive. But a potted plant can be moved to a sheltered area that doesn't get much snow, but gets enough sun and fresh air. We'll see...

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  13. Go for it!!! Maybe you just need to wrap them in the winter to keep them warm and be careful where you site them so they stay sheltered. You'll never know till you try. :o)

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Tammy. I just melt a little bit when I see Camellias--partly because of the plant, itself, and partly because they're just beyond my reach. ;-)

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  14. I have never had success growing plants that are not for my zone unless I bring them in for the winter, like my lemon & lime trees. Is there a plant for your zone that would work as a substitute?

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    1. Good thought, Karin. I'm thinking the same way about the zones. I can't think of another plant that fits the same niche in my heart as the Camellia. ;-) But I think I have a plan. Stay tuned!

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  15. I have one camellia growing in the pot. Our zone is 7b: Camellias could grow anywhere in the garden, but I didn't find a good place for my plant. It looks good in the big pot! Our NW garden guru Siscoe Morris says that camellias can be pruned as severe as rhododendrones and cut anywhere to control their height. Good luck!

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    1. Good to know! I just read an excellent article about growing potted Camellias in conservatories and enclosed areas, so I'm thinking that will be the route I will take. Then the Camellia can grace the outdoor garden during the summer and the enclosed back porch during the winter. Now I'm getting excited!

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  16. I was all excited about the possibility of Camellias until I read that they only go down to -15.

    Oh well, a gardener can dream can't she?

    Jen

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    1. Well, remember we're talking Fahrenheit, Jen. Do your winter nights get much colder than -26 C? I thought the Okanagan climate was a little milder than ours here in Wisconsin, but maybe I'm mistaken? Still, there may be other reasons (wind, dryness, etc.) that Camellias wouldn't be right for you. They're not really right for me either, but in a pot they just might work! :)

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  17. I love those plants but, alas, cannot grow them here. I enjoy them in conservatories and hot houses though.

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    1. That's a good point, Layanee. I'm thinking I might try to grow one in my enclosed back porch, which stays above zero--even during an arctic blast. Planting one outside here just doesn't seem right.

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