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Camellia Gardens in Southern California

Updated on September 23, 2013

The Golden State is red, pink and white this winter as thousands of evergreens begin to flower. Find out why Camellias love California.

The best Camellia show on earth is in California. In winter, thousands of the flowers burst into bloom before covering the ground with red, white and pink petals.

The scene could be from the forests of Japan or China, where many Camellias originate. But this isn't Japan, or China. The world's best Camellia forests are now in Southern California, and these early-flowering Camellias are Sasanquas (Sun Camellias) at the Descanso Gardens, 20 minutes drive from downtown Los Angeles.

Descanso Gardens

The Descanso's Camellia Forest has the largest Camellia collection in the world, with over 700 species, 34,000 varieties and 100,000 shrubs and trees, many of them rare and some over 20 feet tall.

Huntington Botanical Gardens

Also in Southern California, Huntington Botanical Gardens have 12 acres of Camellias, 40 species and over 1200 cultivated varieties, going back over 100 years. Both gardens have been named International Gardens of Excellence by the International Camellia Society, and Huntington Gardens are also a participant in the North American Plant Collections Consortium's (NAPCC).

San Gabriel Mountains

Both gardens also sit on the loamy soil at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, beneath canopies of native California Live Oak. A winning combination for Camellias, which love free-draining fertile slightly acidic soil and, usually, dappled shade. And then there's the climate. Frosts are the bane of Camellia growers because when direct sunlight thaws the flowers too quickly, they crumble.

Camellia Sasanquas

Camellia Sasanquas, which are currently putting on a spectacular early show at the Descanso Gardens, are particularly suited to sunny California. They demand five hours of it a day. Otherwise, they won't flower. A bit overlooked in other parts of the world, they've been planted in Southern California since the 1900s.

Many have simple elegant flowers, a graceful habit and a delicate fragrance - the perfect antidote to more overbred blousy Camellias. For example, at Descanso Gardens, visitors can see Camellia sasanqua 'Yume', which has beautiful single pinkish-white flowers and at Huntington, Camellia Sasanqua 'Wave Crest', which has papery, white single flowers.

Camellia Japonica

Lovely as they are, Camellia Sasanquas are only the prelude to even more spectacular displays at both gardens. Soon they will give way to the dazzling flowers of other varieties such as those of the massively popular Camellia Japonica.

This crescendo of color peaks in January and February, when both gardens will host Camellia-related events. Descanso Garden's Camelia Festival will include shows, competitions, lectures and demonstrations and Huntington's Camelia Table on the North Vista will be open with displays of flower forms and grafting.

Camellia Japonica 'Mary Costa'
Camellia Japonica 'Mary Costa'


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