The Stalwart Beauty Everyone’s Quiet About, Except This Guy



Oh, Oh, OH, that is GORgeous!

A booming, Brooklyn-inflected voice approaches the far side of the camellia table at Gray’s Nursery.

Oh, look at THAT one, GORgeous!


I love this man instantly. Even more when I hear his companion cooing about bees in the blooms. I edge around the table to get closer. A desire to lift the low-hanging bloom of my favorite for his hearty admiration moves me into the warm bubble of their floral awe.

He wears the red “keep calm and garden on” shirt of an employee. It strikes a bold compliment to his robust voice and build. We each reach to cradle a bloom and show the other – his is a variegated white and pink, each bloom unique, mine is the large and single ‘Coral Delight’. Speaking simultaneously of their beauty and variety, our cups are full.

Isn’t it wonderful how encounters with beauty, especially shared with someone else appreciative, can do that? Can fill you up and shift your perspective? Even if just for the moment?

A camellia in bloom has that kind of magic – the layered petals, the rich colors, the golden stamens beckoning for bees, the way the white ones glow against the dark green, and the reds pulse in the late winter light.

Growing up in Portland, it’s taken me awhile to really see camellias and stop taking them for granted. We had a huge one when I was kid, but I mostly remember the brown mush of the blooms on the ground – pressed with imprints of my jelly sandals and the dog’s paws. A problem of scale, I suppose. I was too small to properly face the flowers of that lofty grandmother of a camellia.

At the northern end of Camellia japonica’s hardiness range, I wouldn’t expect to see so many long-lived specimens around town. But, now, while they’re blooming, take a look – they’re everywhere, defying google search warnings of winter kill. On the south side of the Meridian building’s parking lot there’s a row of camellias towering two-stories high with trunks broad enough to hug. Tucked against house foundations and in commercial lots, in old neighborhoods and new. It’s easy to NOT see them, they’re so common. You wouldn’t be alone in assuming they’re yet more English laurel when out of bloom.

The truth is, camellias are stalwart beauties for your garden. They’re remarkably drought tolerant and totally shade tolerant. Last time I visited Larry’s garden, dark under the ancient oaks, redwoods and bamboos, I couldn’t believe how vibrant his camellia looked. Its glowing pink flowers pulsed with beauty and distracted my work. We decided he needs another! There’s nothing comparable for shade gardens. And, if you have deer, you’re usually safe to go with camellias, too.

And, yes, as the quieter admirer at the nursery noted, camellias, especially single or semi-double types, delight the early waking bees with a face full of pollen and nectar.

Back at home, where I’ve been clearing out a back corner, I realize it’s time to plant a camellia of my own. Maybe right there where the blackberries have always grown, giving less and less fruit in the shade and demanding more and more work. Yes, I’ll just dig those out and bring in a nice evergreen backdrop with a camellia, a red one like ‘Rosehill Red’.

And you, where will you plant a camellia this spring?

Comment below.

2 comments on “The Stalwart Beauty Everyone’s Quiet About, Except This Guy”

  1. Anna Truxes says:

    I love this, sister. Thanks for the daily dose of beauty with a capital Bee and in the accent of my favorite city. Love you!

    1. Leslie Davis says:

      Ha! Beauty with a capital Bee. Yes, that’s what I’m talking about! Love you, too, Anna.

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