Horti-Culture in camellia-city Porto


Porto in northern Portugal is the city of the camellia. The public parks and people’s gardens are full of them. For those of us who are only used to seeing them as head high, or maybe in Cornwall, up to the first storey, these are huge. And the city clearly loves them. Last weekend, the city council put on its annual camellia festival.


|n an underground metro station! Very Porto. And wonderfully democratic. It ran all weekend, with talks and events as well as lots of round tables with flowers provided and arranged by parks, private growers and nurseries.


It was not that easy to guess who was there deliberately and who was just passing through. It was a great way of making everyone look at the trees which are so much a part of the city, and appreciate the amazing genetic diversity of the plants, not just the different flower colours and shapes but also the different foliage qualities.


Everything meticulously labelled. There must have been several hundred cultivars on display. Some very familiar names, such as ‘Capt. Raffles’, which i think was the first to flower in Britain, named after the sea captain who would have been paid to look after the plants on their long voyage from China. In fact the first were probably imported by the Portuguese who were the first Europeans to visit Japan. They would have flourished here, in a climate not dissimilar to southern Japan.


Most cultivated camellias are derived from just a handful of species. Modern breeding, particularly in the US, is bringing in genes from many more species, often only recently introduced from China or Vietnam, and new to cultivation.


The flowers on the left are Higo varieties, bred, mostly, I think, in the US from varieties originally bred by the Higo clan of Kumamoto on Kyushu in Japan. A minority of those on show were Portuguese bred; but I met several growers who wanted to collect only Portuguese ones, many of which are old and quite rare.


Of course, it being Porto, there has to be an artistic element. The skirt here is made of imitation azulejos, the blue and white tiles which are a particularly Portuguese art form.


And there has to be music. Performers provided accompaniment from the steps of the station.


And finally, this is how big they get! A picture taken from the upstairs of Mosteiro Landim, one of three camellia gardens we visited at the weekend. Some are kept clipped, others are allowed to grow enormous. Whereas we tend to be used to them flowering in a burst in spring, here, in milder winters they can flower off and on from December onwards.

largest camellias.jpg

Blog roll: from Spain: Arañazos en el Cielo, Miguel Recio’s thoughtful blog about gardening and gardeners and El Blog de la Tabla. From los Estados Unidos we first have to mention the beautifully-illustrated View from Federal Twist, James Golden’s tales and images of gardening in the New Jersey backwoods and then Thomas Rainer’s Grounded Design - essential reading for all concerned with making our landscapes more sustainable and more planty. From Canada, Tony Spencer’s The New Perennialist is a must for lovers of contemporary planting. I can get terribly engrossed by the Garden History Girl blog, and in a similar, fascinating and well-researched vein is some LANDSCAPES.