Armageddon Camellia

February 2, 2009 | By | Comments (7)

You don’t need supercomputers, weather satellites, Nostradamus, or Jim Cantore to tell you an unprecedented Arctic freeze is on its way. All you have to do is look in my back yard. My camellia is in full bloom. And that means the End Times are near.

Camellia Since time immemorial, cherished shrubs and trees seduced into sudden, imprudent winter bloom have always presaged icy disaster. The year’s first daffodils dip in a permanent bow; daphne blossoms sweet as the kiss of Venus turn brown in bud like a tin of little biscuits; quince entices, then sacrifices; forsythia’s sun dims like a candle that’s spent its wax.

Nature giveth. Nature taketh away.

So be quick, Grumpians! Pick blossoms while you can. Capture them in digital files. Let their fragile images race through your optic nerves into the unassailable sanctuary of your brain’s memory center. Good things will not come to those who wait — only shattered expectations and a garden riddled with the corpses of flowers struck down in their prime.

But Hey, the News Ain’t All Bad……

I’m not writing for your newspaper, after all. So I’m glad to report that according to the Mayan Long Count Calendar, you have almost 3 full years until the world (and your garden) comes to an end.(Official Doomsday: December 21, 2012). This leaves you plenty of time to plant and enjoy a camellia bred to endure the cold. And the best source I know to obtain such a plant is Camellia Forest Nursery outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The Park family at Camellia Forest have been collecting, growing, and hybridizing camellias for decades. The last time I checked their website, they listed 240 different camellias. Some are old favorites, like ‘Lady Clare;’ some are weird species you’ve probably never heard of, like Camellia brevistyla and Camellia chrysanthoides; and some are cold-hardy hybrids, like the one shown above. It looks like ‘Winter’s Fire’ to me, but I’ve lost the tag. I’ll gladly welcome suggested ID’s.

Thank You, Global Warming

Cold-hardiness in a camellia isn’t that big a deal anymore in my north-central Alabama garden. Thanks to global warming, camellias grow here with no problem. But it does give people up north who have never grown camellias outside of a cool greenhouse to grow them in a real garden. ‘Winter’s Fire’ is rated hardy to 6A. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s hardier than that. I do know that it’s survived and bloomed here after the temperature dropped to 6 degrees.

The plant blooms early, usually by late January here. Even though a hard freeze may kill a few flowers, it open it flowers over a period of weeks, so I almost always get a good show. I got it as a small plant from Camellia Forest about 6 years ago and planted it at the edge of my woods. It’s now about 8 feet tall and has an upright form with medium-green, lance-shaped leaves that are about 2-1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide. Once established, it’s very drought-tolerant. During 2007, when we got only 28 inches of rain all year, it came through like a trooper.

Besides camellias, Camellia Forest offers an incredible selection of hard-to-find trees and shrubs from all over the world. They ship excellent, well-packaged plants that are a good value and earn Grumpy’s Vaunted Seal of Approval. So if you have trouble locating non-boring plants where you live, give Camellia Forest a try.

Only you’d best do it before December 21, 2012.


  1. Grumpy Gardener

    Isn’t it obvious? They moved to a strange island in the middle of the Pacific that keeps time-shifting in order to hide its existence.

    February 7, 2009 at 3:35 pm
  2. debber

    If the Mayans were so wise, where are they?

    February 7, 2009 at 2:53 pm
  3. Grumpy Gardener

    Just because you live in NW Tennessee is no reason to feel depressed. You can still grow cold-hardy camellias. Some of the hybrids bred by William Ackerman at the National Arboretum and Dr. Clifford Parks of Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill, NC can take below zero temps. Use the link provided above to check out cold-hardy camellias at Camellia Forest. No voles or squirrels have eaten my camellias. If they do, I’ll feed them to the geese!

    February 4, 2009 at 1:36 pm
  4. Helen @ Gardening With Confidence

    You are so right about Cam Forest. Not just a great nursery, but the Park’s have made remarkable hort contriubtions.
    Helen Yoest

    February 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm
  5. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    Camellia Forest is right down the road (well, there are a few turns) from me. Great place, great folks, great camellias. Bought camellias from them over 20 years ago.
    PS Saw a lot of camellias in bloom yesterday while on assignment.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:43 am
  6. Jean

    Dear Grump..When on the way to Orange Beach one Christmas I noticed these tall beautiful plants blooming. I was dumbstruck! Plants that bloom in the winter! Whodathunk? Camelias…so beautiful but trying to grow them in NW Tn could be tricky.Our weather changes on a dime.Do squirrels or voles eat them? Suggestions for my area Mr Grump?

    February 3, 2009 at 7:31 am
  7. chathamcorabbit

    We’ve already done what we could to prepare for apocalypse- just the basic stuff- ammo & pork-n-beans… But what we haven’t done is planted for multi-season interest. Almost nothing happens in our yard until tomato / barefoot weather.
    Thanks for the info on Camellia Forest- they’re local to me, so really good to know.
    I’m going to operate on the assumption that the Mayans, in all their great wisdom and great art, may not have been completely accurate in their timekeeping. (Maybe they were more left-brained…)

    February 3, 2009 at 12:38 am

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