Gail’s Gardens – February 2016

Sasanqua Camellia


by Gail Fanning

Maybe you have noticed the popular ‘Yuletide’ camellia blooming around town. It is a Sasanqua Camelliavariety with lovely single red flowers highlighted by yellow stamens blooming from December onward. Sasanqua Camellias are native to China and Japan, and uniquely adapted for use in our dry summer climate. Unlike the “old fashioned” Japonica Camellias, Sasanqua varieties will take some sun and require less water: but are happiest
with part shade and regular water. The first record of plant breeding of these evergreen shrubs is found in the early 1700s in Japan. The Sasanqua was imported into Europe in 1869 by Dutch East India Company traders, although it had been known to Europeans since 1784 when the Swedish botanist Carl Peter Thunbergdescribed it in his Flora Japonica.

Monrovia growers this year has a new Sasanqua introduction called ‘Pink-a-Boo’ with the same early blooming habit as ‘Yuletide’ and a fragrant pink anemone-like flower: lovely! My favorite white flowered variety isSetsugekka with ruffled petals and large yellow stamens. These varieties, like most Sasanquas grow 8-10’ tall and wide: they are excellent for hedges, or the back of the border. The flowers can be picked and floated in water for a delightful display on the table.

By the way, if you are not familiar with Monrovia, they are a California grower and wholesaler of many wonderful garden plants. Their nurseries are located in Visalia, as well as Oregon and Georgia. Check out their website for excellent plant selection guides, design inspiration, and videos on plant care. Monrovia plants are available locally at King’s Nurseryin Santa Rosa, Harmony Farms in Sebastopol, and Cottage Gardens in Petaluma.

Are you getting all those great seed catalogs now? I had such great success last year with my zinnias that I plan to expand my cutting garden of annual flowers (if I can steal some more space in my husband’s raised beds!). If you have a cutting garden, or want to start one this year, get outside and begin prepping your soil: some compost, shredded leaves and a cover to keep out light and suppress weeds will build your soil during the winter.

These annuals for the cutting garden can be started directly where they will be grown, after the last frost date has passed: Sunflower, Sweet pea, Marigold, Bachelor button, Cosmos, Larkspur, Calendula, and Zinnia.

Planting too early in the season just leads to disappointment: seeds fail to germinate, seedlings languish with cool temperatures, and re-seeding becomes necessary. Here in Sebastopol my experience has been that April 22, Earth Day, is a good time to start planting seeds. By then, danger of frost has passed, the earth has warmed up enough for seeds to germinate (65 to 70 deg. F.), and the amount of sunlight is sufficient for plant growth. You can of course plant later, and your plants will “catch up” quickly. You can purchase flowering annuals in 6 packs at the nursery too, but growing from seed allows you to choose from a much wider variety of colors and growth habits.

Once your cutting flower garden is up and blooming, be sure to provide support for those plants that need it, and cut frequently: this encourages the plant to produce more blossoms. Cutting newly opened flowers early in the morning before the sun gets hot will lengthen their life in the vase. As you arrange your beauties, don’t forget to add some greenery from the garden. Have you ever used olive branches, artichokes, roadside fennel, or Japanese maple leaves (on the branch) in your arrangements? You probably have loads of plants in your garden which you have never considered for a bouquet: how about the fuzzy leaves of butterfly bush, stripy New Zealand flax leaves, or foliage from any plant with variegated leaves? Add one or two of these unusual fillers to fill your house with truly unique flower arrangements.

Looking for garden advice? On-site consultations start at $50: call me at 829-2455 and get started now on planning for the spring season!

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