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As you sit back with your cup of tea you may not be aware that the tea comes from Camellia leaves, Camellia sinensis. Almost everyone knows Camellias unless you are into football 24/7, an IT nerd or pre-pubescent. These are the glossy foliaged plants producing perfect flowers in Autumn through Winter and into Spring.
Camellias grow almost anywhere, but do best in temperate climates like Sydney, where some protection from scorching heat is found. That said, they are quite happy right up into sub tropical climates up the Queensland coast.
It is considered that there are nearly 200 species of Camellias and probably 20,000 cultivars, cultivated hybrids of the species but most people know just two- Japonica and Sasanqua.
Camellia Japonica are the formal ones with large leaves and flowers, generally flowering in Autumn and Winter The flowers may be pure white, pink, red or any combination of these with the petal arrangement in single, double, anemone, peony or rosa form. Formal doubles have the most perfect symmetrically formed flowers with stamens hidden.
Camellia Sasanqua are characterised by smaller leaves and flowers. They are generally earlier flowering and produce masses of flowers which last a short time and then carpet the ground under. These also come in a wide range of flower colours and arrangements.
You can't go past Camellias for versatility- leave them as Nature intended as shrubs from 1-5m tall or prune them into a tight hedged form. You can keep them clipped hard against a wall (espaliered) or plant as a grouping of differing colours in a mixed garden.
To get the best out of Camellias, plant into free draining soils and use mulch to keep the temperature and moisture buffered. It's best to add a little fertiliser after flowering and again in December. They are not gross feeders so don't overdo it! Camellias will not perish from neglect but will from too much lovin'. Best in slightly acid soils, so check your pH (soil acidity) by using a test kit (available from this site).