There are over 330 camellia plants in Araluen Botanic Park with approximately 230 different cultivars and species. Those figures will be revised as a recent purchase included a minimum of 40 new cultivars to be added to the records once they have been planted, verified, coded and mapped. The camellia collection has been recognised as an International Garden of Excellence for Camellias by the International Camellia Society.
History of the Camellias:
Australia: Early settlers brought camellias to New South Wales in the early years of settlement and the Macarthur family bred new camellias still grown in gardens today.
Western Australia: In Western Australia early pioneers brought many garden and productive plants which would have included at least some camellias grown around early houses and farms.
Camellias Australia records that the Newman Nursery in Perth was, by 1936, the first nursery to sell and propagate a wide range of camellias. The owner Charles A Newman propagated a number of camellias with several in the Park.
The early years. 1930s to 1950s.
The earliest camellias were planted at Totterdell Cottage (Administration) and The Chalet Healy (cafe) but after extensive enquiries, no records seem to exist of the source of the plants or the planting dates. Anecdotally, believed to be early in the Park’s development, possibly before 1939 and the start of WW11, and certainly by 1950. The Newman nursery was propagating camellias for sale in Perth in the 1930s so by the early years of Araluen.
All the cultivars known to date from those early plantings were available for sale prior to 1940, some being very old cultivars, so could have been available in Perth. They include: Lady Loch, Mariana, and Wrightii around Totterdell Cottage. The largest ones at the Chalet Healy are Mine-no-yuki, Incarnata /Lady Hume’s Blush, Alba Plena, and Hikarugeni. Some of the smaller ones may be the same age but have been crowded out by the more vigorous cultivars -Mariana, Apollo(Pauls).
These survived the years especially during the 1970s/1980s when the Park was all but abandoned, proof of their hardiness and longevity.
The Development of the Camellia Gardens: 1990 to the present day
Many of our camellias that were not bred locally or in other parts of Australia were originally developed and released in California and their success here indicated an inherent ability to cope with a Mediterranean climate. The remaining originated in New Zealand, other parts of the USA, Japan, Europe and the UK.
A number of the camellia collection were bred locally by several breeders including Charles A Newman, Roy Campbell, Keith Abbott, D J Blythe, W Hebiton and many of these have now been included on the International Camellia Register. The collection also includes some unknowns, several local seedlings and a number of true wild species.
During the 1990s and early 2000s Roy Campbell provided the Park with many camellias he had propagated. He also contributed by planting many of these camellias eg on Hydrangea Hill - HH-S and HH-T.
Donations from many people in those early years are identifiable in the Park by their larger established size and abundant mature flowering in season. There are several unnamed seedlings. Donors are acknowledged on the Camellia spreadsheet.
Camellias are added on an ongoing basis with private donations and plants purchased from various nurseries in Perth. eg Pioneer Gardens with the support of Ms. Jean Evans, John Coles Garden Centre, and various others with occasional camellias for sale.
All the camellias recorded to the 30th April 2019 are listed by cultivar on a spreadsheet on the public website under Camellias. There is also an accompanying plan of the Park showing the garden areas where camellias are growing. The codes also refer to the plans and plant lists on display boards for the benefit of the public.
Environment: Why is Araluen so suitable for Camellias?
Geology, Topography, and Soil: Araluen Botanic Park is situated in the Darling Range, also known as the Perth Hills in the south-east of the greater metropolitan area of Perth. In the upper bushland areas of the Park, the soils are gravelly clay from lateritic caprock. In the garden areas above Bennett’s Bridge there is a narrow much older flood plain level where Stinton Creek and its winter tributary Araluen Creek meander and have deposited rich alluvial acidic soil very suited to camellias and allied plants. Below Bennetts Bridge, Stinton Creek is eroding down to the Canning River over numerous rapids and steep exposed granite bedrock.
Natural vegetation: The native trees, mostly local species, include Corymbia callophylla (marri) Eucalyptus marginata (jarrah) on higher areas and Eucalyptus patens (WA blackbutt or yarri) along Stinton Creek. These trees provide shelter and just the right amount of dappled shade which allows in enough light for growth while protecting the camellias from the hot sunshine and strong winds. There are also other evergreens, tree ferns and exotic deciduous trees and shrubs throughout the gardens ensuring the special microclimate for the camellias planted informally in a bushland setting.
The Perth Region is generally harshly Mediterranean with a long hot dry summer and a lot of wind. Araluen Botanic Park has its own microclimate within its sheltered valley in the Darling Range. Sunrise is later and sunset earlier in the deepest parts of the valley and all but the strongest winds are deflected over the top of the bushland. Temperatures in the north to south valley along Stinton Creek are much lower by several degrees C in winter including some frost, and there is more protection from the summer heat under the trees even on the most extreme days.
Care and Maintenance:
An organic fertiliser, specifically made for camellias and other acid loving plants, is applied in March and after flowering in October
All the camellias are reticulated mostly by dripper systems from the Park’s dams throughout the hot dry summer months sometimes starting as early as October and continuing until the rain (hopefully) starts in April.
The camellias are only pruned as necessary removing dead or damaged branches or branches over paths as they have been planted with plenty of space to grow and display their flowers, even after decades.
The camellias are generally not seriously affected by pests and diseases though the occasional spontaneous death of an established camellia believed from Phytophthora continues to be a cause for concern.
Timing of the Displays:
The earliest flowers are on the Camellia sasanqua cultivars and begin during April and continue into June. They coincide with the displays of brightly coloured autumn leaves throughout the Park. The most widely planted are the cultivars of Camellia japonica which, depending on the cultivar may start as early as May but mostly flower in June to September. The later flowering cultivars are mostly C. reticulata and C x williamsii with the last flowers generally finished during October.
Many of the camellias, particularly the C japonica flower at the same time as the Tulip Festival from mid-August to the end of September. Along with magnolias, azaleas, spring flowering trees and shrubs, annuals and other bulbs they enhance visitor experience.
Three examples of Camellia japonica.
The Future: 2019 onwards
More Camellias are planted particularly to increase the range of cultivars and species.
In 2019 Pioneer Gardens, a camellia specialist nursery in Perth, closed when the owners retired. At the beginning of May Araluen Botanic Park obtained 74 additional camellias. Most are new to the cultivar list though there are some duplicates, as well as 22 whose identity is currently unknown until they can be assessed in flower. Along with several more already in the Park’s nursery, there should be at least 40 new cultivars added to the collection during the 2019 flowering season.
These additional camellias will be entered on to the spread sheet documenting all the camellias in the Park once they have been verified, planted, coded and mapped by the end of the flowering season.
Elizabeth King BA, Dip. Horticulture.
Araluen Botanic Park – Life Member
Version One - 31st May 2019
Sources for Research and Records:
www.nucciosnurseries.com (Altadena, California)
plus: many websites with notes and photos of camellias individually researched as required
Araluen Botanic Park
France, Trevor, Camellias of Araluen 1999/2000, Araluen Botanic Park, WA 2000, with a revision by Grant Nixon in 2008. Park private documents.
Assistance from many members of staff at Araluen Botanic Park