We’re All About the Camellias

Feb 3, 2011

The Brigadoon camellia at Huntington Gardens

Just when it feels like summer, one more chilly night appears. Without smirking, now, tell your friends and relations in Chicago and Buffalo that we, too, are knee-deep in winter. But since we don’t have a raging pub culture in Southern California, we celebrate the season with winter-blooming camellias. This regal shrub flowers in shades of pink, red and white, fall through spring. February is the best month to view thousands of eye-popping varieties, including some new yellows and fragrant blossoms, with various petal counts and bursting stamens in Kodachrome (ouch, too soon?). To see, smell and even taste, head to Descanso Gardens and Huntington Botantical Garden.


Descanso Gardens Camellia Festival
Saturday, February 5,
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Soak in this hardworking evergreen shrub at Descanso Gardens, for the all-day Camellia Festival. Some 34,000 camellias await, for self-guided walks through 20 acres devoted to camellias. Or visitors may select from a roster of group activities. including a family-friendly Faery Tour of the Enchanted Forest from 9:30 to noon. Free with admission, on a first-come basis.

Also that day, Wayne Walker, Descanso’s camellia horticulturalist, will expand our tea information base with an 11 a.m. talk, “Things too Do with Sinensis.” That’s the species of camellia that gives us our steaming mug, as well as medicinal and culinary applications. Walker covers it all. Reservations are required ($20, $10 member price) by calling 818.949.7980; go to to learn more.

If you can’t get to the garden till after lunch, because you’re stopping to smell the roses, um, they’ve all be pruned back, so you’d better find a better excuse. Hardworking Wayne Walker will lead a walking tour of the Camellia Garden and offer advice on the care and  feeding of your prized plants. Free with admission.

Huntington Gardens Camellia Show
Saturday, February 12, 1 – 4:30 p.m. & Sunday, Feburary 13, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

This is the 39th annual Camellia Show and Sale at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, with hundreds of blooms on display and plenty of plants available for sale. Admission to the show and sales area is free.

But you want to see the extensive and historic camellia collection here at the Huntington, so spring for the admission. More than 1,200 specimens, representing 60 species, including more than 100 new cultivars developed by the camellia king, Nuccios Nursery of Altadena. Head for the North Vista, the Japanese Garden and the Garden of Flowing Fragrance to admire the show.

German horticulturalist William Hertrich, Henry Huntington’s original building and grounds superintendent, grew his own camellia rootstock from seed for grafting new varieties, beginning in 1912. Look for one of the Huntington’s many introductions, C. reticulata “William Hertrich.”

Continue on your personal scavenger hunt to find C. japonica “California,” with its big rose-red flowers (psst! Between the Library and the North Vista fountain). This bit of horticultural history was donated to the Huntington in 2003, but began as an 1888 unnamed seedling, and purportedly is the oldest camellia on record in Southern California.

New treasures in and around the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, include the Chinese species C. reticulata. Near the Japanese Garden stream, look for a small grove of C. sinensis and the tender young leaves used for black, oolong and green tea.


If you’re looking to buy the perfect specimen for your very own, a visit to San Gabriel Nursery and Nuccio’s is in order. Both supply camellias worldwide, and can advise you on many varieties depending upon your garden’s needs. Bring your sun, shade, water and neighboring plant specifics to make the best match.

Descanso Gardens
1418 Descanso Dr., La Cañada, 818.949.4200,
Admission $8 adults, $6 children 12 to 18, $3 children 5 to 12

Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, 626.405.2100,
Admission $15, $20 weekends and Mondays. Admission free on the first Thursday of every month with advance tickets.  Free Thursday, and Saturday and Sunday, hours 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday, Friday noon to 4:30 p.m.  Check the website for specific hours and information.

Nuccio’s Nurseries
555 Chaney Trail, 
Closed Wednesdays & Thursdays; otherwise, open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

San Gabriel Nursery & Florist
632 S. San Gabriel Blvd., 
San Gabriel, 626. 286.3782,

1 Response for “We’re All About the Camellias”

  1. Sandy Gillis says:

    That’s “Things To Do With Sinensis.” But things, too, do quite nicely with sinensis, thank you.



Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena