PLANT OF THE WEEK #57: Camellia sasanqua ‘Paradise Blush'

I’m one of those people that have a thing for hedges. I just love the structure and framework that they provide a garden. I also love the sense of order and formality that they contribute, even when all about them may be chaotic and naturalistic. In fact, I think it is this juxtaposition of an informal planting within the structural framework of a good hedge that I love the most. And so I had this vision in mind when I set out to create a perennial border at home. I wanted the looseness of the perennials to be contained within a nice dark green hedge that provided privacy and a feeling of enclosure. But what hedge was I to plant? I’m just a passionate home gardener and didn’t know where to start so I sought the advice of an expert and invited Jeremy Francis from Cloudehill to help me out.  He suggested that we plant a hedge of Camellia sasanqua ‘Paradise Blush’. It has been a huge success and draws lots of comments from passers-by who ask me what it’s like.

Firstly, Camellia sasanqua ‘Paradise Blush’ is an Australian native. Well, it’s been bred in Australia and so it is well suited to typical Australian conditions. By that I mean it is remarkably drought tolerant, loves a bit of full sun and isn’t phased by any of those heat waves with north winds blowing in from the back blocks of hell. In fact it protects you against them. I recall Jeremy Francis mentioning that he has even seen a beautiful hedge of this growing happily beneath a massive old Eucalypt. I rest my case. Frost and a dusting of snow also present no problem. The only thing to avoid is wet feet so ensure there is adequate drainage if you are considering planting in boggy conditions.

Camellias are of course known for their flowers. When it comes to flower, I never really planted my hedge for the flowers. They are just a bonus. However, they are a nice bonus. Flowering from late autumn into winter, the blooms of ‘Paradise Blush’ are small and discreet, starting off as deep pink buds that open to small semi-double flowers with the reverse side shaded pink. In full sun, it is very floriferous, and I find that a trim in early autumn removes a fair few of the buds leaving just enough floral intensity for my liking. One of the advantages of this particular variety is that the flowers are subtly fragranced. Not enough to really notice on an individual plant, but when planted as a hedge, and on a warm sunny day, your garden is filled with a gorgeous tea-like scent that is subtly sweet and spicy. And as a side note, there are a wide variety of sasanquas in the ‘Paradise’ range which offer a choice of flower options to suit individual taste, although not all are fragrant.

‘Paradise Blush’ has glossy smallish dark green leaves, a dense and upright growth habit, and is quite vigorous during spring and summer (more on this later). I planted mine at 1 meter spacings however you could easily get away with a 1.5 meter spacing. (It would just take an extra year or two to thicken up). A beneficial feature of this hedging material is that it grows equally well and dense in shade as it does in full sun. Even though your hedge will grow more rapidly in the sun, you will not notice any difference in appearance in your hedge if it runs through both sunny and shaded aspects as it does at my place. It naturally wants to grow to around 4 meters so that means you are not planting anything that, deep down, really just wants to be a massive tree better suited to the middle of a paddock on some farm. This means it is easily kept in check, which leads me to ‘prunability’…

I keep my Paradise Blush well trimmed, and due to its habit find it can easily be maintained at 1.8m high and no more than 80cm wide. The important point to note here is that a good hedging plant must be able to be trimmed hard and it must be able to reshoot from old wood when required, which Camellias manage to do reassuringly well. Unlike conifers, if life gets away on you for a while, and if your hedge gets out of control like a hormone injected teenager, then you can give it some tough lovin’ and bring it back under control with a good hard prune. In terms of a maintenance schedule, as with all hedges, frequent light prunes are better than a sporadic hard prune. This is due largely in part to the fact that a light prune allows you to just blow the small trimmings underneath as a mulch and it saves the time-consuming task of cleaning up. I have a 70 metre stretch of Camellia sasanqua hedge and I simply walk along it with the hedge trimmers every three months.  It takes no more than 1-2 hours to knock the whole lot off. I think that’s worth the effort. It really only grows during the spring and summer anyway so that leaves you a good 6 months of the year when it doesn’t do much.  The winter prune is just to appease the OCD in us and to remove a few daggy bits. 

So all things considered, I can highly recommend Camellia sasanqua ‘Paradise Blush’ as an ideal hedging medium. It just ticks all the boxes and in my experience have found it to be a low maintenance, hardy plant that provides a wonderful backbone to my garden. I love it.

We’d love to hear of your experience of the drought and heat tolerance of the ‘Paradise’ range of camellias  

And are you, like Ash, in two minds about flowering hedges?


Follow Ashley on instagram – sassafras_gardens

Discussion

  1. Yes Camellia Paradise Blush is a beautiful plant. I have a part Camellia hedge here in North West Victoria. The Camellias are 20 years old and are very strong growing. They are drought tolerant, wind tolerant and they flower strongly in the midday sun. The scent is stunningly good. I’m glad you asked Jeremy Francis for his opinion on hedge plants. His creation Cloudehill has wonderful, well maintained hedges. I lived in the Dandenong Ranges for 25 years and visited Cloudehill often. It’s been a great inspiration to me.

    1. That’s terrific that you share the same experiences with Camelias as I do Beth. I feel nowadays they can be a bit underrated! And I agree, Cloudehill is wonderfully inspiring!

  2. I love the photos of the camellia hedge as a backdrop to the perennial borders. Ash’s garden looks beautiful. I have recently planted a Paradise Blush Camellia and wondering how quickly will it grow, and when would be the best time to prune it to thicken it up? At the moment it is about 0.75 metres tall with a few longish side branches. It has a few flowers which are a lovely colour but I am happy to sacrifice these to gain good shape and density of foliage.

    1. Hi Andrea! I’m really pleased you have a Paradise Blush. Really, anytime is a good time to prune. If you aren’t growing it as a hedge, and want to maximise flowers, then a single yearly prune, just afyer the flowers have finished in Winter is all that is needed to keep it nice and compact. If you want to make it bush out at the base, then tip prune the lower branches and prune the new growth at the top a bit harder. Best to sacrifice a bit of height in the first few years to gain the bushiness at the base. They grow quick. In just a few years your Paradise blush will be well established and at least 2 metres high. I hope you get lots of enjoyment from it and enjoy it’s lovely fragrance 🙂

  3. Great article & pics, very inspiring. As you said, the flowers are a bonus beyond the glossy dark green leaves & form.

    1. Thanks Mark 🙂 I agree the flowers are a bonus, and they are small and discreet enough to not overpower anything else that may be happening at the time.

    2. Hi Ash
      Just read your article and found it very informative your garden really brings a tear my eye i lived in the crescent in Sassafras until 1981 then went further afield in search of work I always regret that decision.
      I have been attempting to grow camelias in my garden not far south of Perth the last couple of years abd have some japonicas which are doing ok not quite vigorous as there but still get to two meters and flowering through autumn /winter /spring and im also creating hedges along the fences with Sasanquas which are also doing ok very green and more vigorous than the japonicas bjt taking a while to thicken up ive been a bit scared of pruning them but after reading your article i think i might be better off doing that during the latespring /early summer growth period and see how i go im sure a couple of them are paradise blush which has given me great hope to get through the hotter summers thesoil here is around ph7 but very sandy so its zlot of work building up nutrient levels with compost etc but im getting there i often think to my self that if i worked this hard at home in Sassafras my garden would be really beautiful .Someting like yours

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