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Camellia japonica ‘Desire’

Categories:Camellias Shrubs Winter Interest

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Camellia japonica ‘Desire’ – my favorite Camellia.
If you walk into a garden nursery this time of year you will see rows of Camellias, all dark green and sparkly,  with photographs artfully dangling from limbs in an effort to show you what the bloom will look like later.  I relate this because the first time my partner Angela and I saw a bloom of Camellia japonica ‘Desire’ we thought it was one of those photographs…it was that perfect.

We bought the plant and almost every bloom since has emulated the first perfect moment…almost – last week we had a bloom open so slowly due to recent cold and wet weather that it exhibited what is commonly called ‘balling’, where a flower does not completely open.  Some fully-double old roses, peonies, and indeed Camellias are prone to balling.  Do not let one ruined flower in another’s garden dissuade you from seeking out Camellia ‘Desire’.

I am an oakleaf hydrangea guy, not a camellia guy, but sometimes you have to acknowledge greatness where you find it.

Camellia japonica in my estimation should be chosen primarily for the dark, lustrous foliage…useful as a hedge and tremendous as a backdrop in the landscape.  Like many roses (climbing roses excepted) and salvia guaranitica, the charm of camellias is lost on me from a distance…indistinct blobs of color from street view. Camellia flowers are best appreciated up close; Camellia japonica ‘Desire’ is the standard by which I will judge all future camellias.

Details: Camellia japonica ‘Desire’
Blooms are  4″-5″, soft white with pink edges and fully double with tremendous substance (they last forever on the plant and as cut flowers).  Each petal is perfect it seems, and this is no small factor when one considers that many camellia flowers lose considerable charm quickly as petals turn a shade of brown that can best be described as ‘decomposing tan’.

Camellia japonica ‘Desire’ grows to 10 feet or so…and this is an estimate from online reports as I cannot directly say; this cultivar seemingly has arrived on American shores only recently.

Culture is basic camellia recipe: moist, rich soil that is well-drained and humus-laden. Wind is not a camellia’s friend, and filtered/morning sun is best. Hardiness zone 7-9.   Water well until established, which should be a year or two.


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