I’ve never gardened on acid soil, so I’ve never grown camellias. Though I’ve duly admired prized camellias when visiting other people’s gardens, I can’t say I’ve felt the lack of them myself. They’re not really my kind of flower: a bit flamboyant, not good in company. In Paris though, I’ve been tempted. Since Christmas, huge, beautiful camellia plants have been appearing in the Marché aux Fleurs and outside local florists’ shops. The price, fairly reflecting the time and care required to produce the mature, pot-grown specimens, makes them easy to resist as an impulse purchase, but what about a smaller plant, just coming into flower? On a cold, grey, blustery day the perfect, waxy flowers offer a short cut to another, kinder season.
It seems that camellias thrive on Paris balconies. Woodland plants by origin, they prefer partial shade and adapt well to container cultivation, given the right kind of potting compost. They offer a dramatic display of flowers in the dreary days of late winter, but what about the rest of the year? In a woodland garden, the dark, leathery leaves offer a neutral background for later flowering shrubs, but what do you do with a large, leathery camellia bush when it’s lurking on your balcony in the summer? Maybe some people just rent them for the winter and send them back to the nursery for the rest of the year.
Whatever the reality, I’m not tempted by camellias any more. Spring’s here and delicate, new, seasonal flowers are opening every day. The deciduous plants on the terrace are putting out fresh, green leaves, and if I feel the need of a burst of colour on a wet, grey day, I can always get the metro out to the Parc Floral. This photo was taken there last week, where the path winds among giant camellias, sheltered by a canopy of pine trees. The best place for them.