Apparently, there are some 23,000 camellia cultivars. Therefore, when a Camellia and its label become permanently separated, the odds of a stranger (who isn’t a camellia expert) identifying it are pretty slim.
However, there are a very, very few camellias where it’s possible to have a good stab at it, even by a fretful gardening tutor. This camellia is one of those. When our two gardeners moved into this house, the camellia was in the garden, unlabelled, and wildly overgrown. But, when it flowered – wow! And I think I can assure them, with a high’ish degree of confidence, that it’s Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’, described as both the most popular camellia in the world, and as the most beautiful camellia in the world. It was certainly ubiquitous here in the 1970’s, when this specimen may have been planted.
Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but this camellia is definitely something to behold.
Even clipped as a topiary shrub, it still flowers magnificently. It’s garden-worthiness surely comes from its hybrid vigour.
If you’ve visited Cornwall in spring, I hope you visited Caerhays Castle, a magnet for camellia and magnolia lovers across the world. The estate has been in the ownership of only two families since 1379. It was a member of the second family, the Williams family, who bred the x williamsii camellias.
JC Williams and his head gardener produced the first plants around 1923, by crossing Camellia saluenensis and Camellia japonica. The first series of crosses all had single flowers, but they all had the very desirable characteristics of hardiness, vigour, and floriferousness. The parents of x williamsii can still be seen around the walls of Caerhays Castle.
But ‘Donation’ did not come from there, or not directly. Landowners swapped plant material. JC Williams gave a seedling of C. saluenensis to Colonel Stephen Clarke of Borde Hill, Sussex (another garden not to be missed).
Colonel Clarke hybridised the young plant with C. japonica ‘Masayoshi’, and Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’ was born, in 1941.
Ironically, the original plant at Borde Hill died, but Trewithen Gardens, in Cornwall, had been gifted a small plant and this is the parent of all ‘Donations’.
What makes x williamsii such a very good garden plant?
Camellia x williamsii varieties are entirely hardy and vigorous. Several varieties make good windbreak hedges.
They flower earlier in the season and for longer than the majority of other Camellia japonicas. It is not unusual for them to start opening their first flowers in December and still be producing a decent show in early April. If frost knocks over one set of flowers the next batch is never very far behind. After the March 2018 ‘Beast from the East’, this often took only two or three days.
Endearingly, unlike many C. japonica cultivars, most C. x williamsii varieties tend to helpfully drop their spent flowers to the ground rather than have them dying off on the plant.
Here’s a look at Camellia ‘Donation’ left to grow as it wishes – it’s a picture from Burncoose Nurseries, one of the oldest parts of the Caerhays estate.
Thanks to our two gardeners for sharing their ‘Donation’ with us.
4 thoughts on “Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’ AGM”
OOh how blissfully beautiful
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Thanks to our knowledgeable tutor for identifying our camellia. Removing the lower branches meant it didn’t overpower the corner and we now have epimediums and erithroneums growing happily underneath
And what a lovely way to accommodate what, out of season, can be just another shady evergreen… :~))