Buy Camellia Red Waratah Plant

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Take a walk in any old Sydney suburb, or in an old cemetery like Rookwood, and you’re likely to see a few survivors from the golden age of the camellia. During the 19th century, the exotic ornamental – a native of China and Japan – was the most fashionable, prized and expensive flower in Europe.

My answer on first assessment is most likely no, but then again maybe yes, but it certainly was there at the early genesis of camellia breeding in Colonial Australia. I’m referring to Camellia japonica ‘Aspasia Macarthur’. Her journey and namesake, has criss-crossed the oceans and lands from Australia, China, England and Europe for four centuries creating one of gardening’s most intriguing stories.

I’ve loved this gorgeous camellia since I was sixteen when I first saw it on the floral display bench at Camellia Grove Nursery at St. Ives, NSW. A pure white, double peony form floral class bloom with an outer circle of petals and an inner group of white petaloids and stamens clustered haphazardly in the centre. I noticed one of the three blooms on the display had a distinct pinkish-red splash or spot. I asked the nursery owner, what it was, and he told me it was common for this variety to revert with more or less pinky-red splashes on the petals of some flowers, with the odd all pink or red flower. This had resulted in many other of its ‘sport’ varieties being separately named, and although I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at the time, it seemed a fascinating behaviour for a plant.

When we were looking at buying our present house in 1985 I remember crawling under the privet and undergrowth trying to discover the extent of the rear garden. I popped my head up to see a magnificent mature C. j. “Aspasia Macarthur’ in bloom…what a joy! How lucky could I be? We bought the property as much for the few garden specimens as the house itself. We were about to start filming a new television program called Garden Australia for ABCTV and for the first time it would be based in a real garden not in a studio and the remaking of the garden from wilderness suited our philosophy for the show.

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