Wednesday 12 March 2008

Springtime camellias

One day last week, on my way to the postbox, I stopped to admire a camellia bush that grows in a garden at the end of my road.

It is a huge shrub, about 10ft tall, covered in enormous pink blooms and with fallen blossoms carpeting the ground underneath it.

As I was standing there, thinking that the camellia must be one of the most colourful flowers of the spring, a very old Chinese woman stopped beside me.

"It is beautiful," she said. "I come here every spring to see it." Then she told me what it was called in Chinese, although I couldn't pronounce it, let alone write it down.

I wondered if it reminded her of her childhood home.

Camellias come from southern China, where they have been cultivated by man since about 1725BC, when the Chinese emperor found that an infusion of camellia sinensis leaves was his favourite drink. This became known as tea.

Buddhist priests prized tea for its use as a stimulant. They spread its popularity to Japan and also developed the Japanese tea ceremony.

The tea plant and ornamental camellias are closely related, but are not the same. It isn't advisable to boil up an old camellia leaves to see what they taste like.

In England, ornamental species such as camellia japonica became popular in the early 1800s because of their lovely flowers. They bloom in March and bring colour to even the greyest day.

The old Chinese woman and I spent several minutes admiring the Camellia. Then she said to me: "In the autumn, I come to see your garden too. You live up the road and you have lovely Chinese lanterns."

I felt proud. I hadn't realised other people liked my garden.

I also felt pleased that flowers could break down barriers between people. So often, city dwellers live in the same road and never speak to each other. A beautiful garden is something that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy and talk about.

For more information about camellias visit:


Anonymous said...

Those camelias are wonderful - as are the chinese lanterns. The Camelias look like they're really exotic, but they like our climate and they're really easy to grow.

Badwitch said...

Thank you! I am thinking of getting a camellia for my own garden.