Asian beauties in exotic settings
With sixty species and 1,200 cultivars, the Huntington has one of North America’s most comprehensive collections of camellias. Plantings are featured along pathways on both sides of the North Vista and on the slopes of North Canyon, north of the Japanese garden. The beauty of the setting may disguise the function of the gardens as a testing ground for Southern California camellia culture to determine which cultivars thrive best in this locality and under what environmental conditions.
Cultivars of three principal Camellia species invigorate the shady native oak woodland on either side of the North Vista: C. japonica, C. sasanqua, and C. reticulata. Japonicas form handsome shrubs or trees with broad, rounded shiny foliage and single-to-double flowers that are seldom fragrant and range in color from white to red. Their peak blooming season is January to March. This is historically the most popular type of camellia, with as many as 50,000 named cultivars. ‘Pink Perfection,’ the only camellia found growing on the grounds before 1900, is a formal double type with petals that overlap and contain no stamens. It thrives in the shade of a coast live oak beside the path west of the North Vista. ‘Henry E. Huntington’ is a cultivar developed by Nuccio’s Nurseries of Altadena, California, in honor of the Huntington’s seventy-fifth anniversary in 1994. It’s growing in a bed on the west side of the Library.
Back on the path west of the North Vista, look for Elegans Lane, where a chart explains the process of sporting and shows the lineage of Elegans sports.
Sasanquas bear profuse, small, often fragrant flowers in varied forms in white, pinks, and reds from October into February.Reticulatas produce some of the most spectacular flowers in the genus in shades of pink, scarlet, and sometimes white, peaking February through April. They grow as loosely branched, lanky shrubs or trees, which may reach fifty feet in height. Reticulata Knoll along the west path features descendants of the original plants imported in the mid-1940s from Kunming Botanical Garden in China’s Yunnan Province.
Did you know?
The International Camellia Society has named the Huntington as an International Camellia Garden of Excellence, one of only five in the world.
The Camellia Garden Collections
The North Vista frames a view of the San Gabriel Mountains and is flanked on each side by rows of 17th-century statues from Padua, Italy, with an Italian Renaissance stone fountain at the farthest end. Tall columns of “Fountain Palms” (Livistona australis) line each side of the North Vista. Beyond these lie several acres of camellias.
Species Lane is an area dedicated to showing the vast diversity of the genus Camellia, from low growing, horizontally branched Camellia trichoclada to the large leaved, heavily veined Camellia semiserrata.
Elegans Lane educates visitors about genetic mutations that give rise to new cultivars or "sports." When this happens, a camellia will have a different flower color or form growing on one branch of the plant. Thirteen new cultivars have been named from the original cultivar, Camellia japonica, ‘Elegans’.
Reticulata Knoll displays cultivars of the species Camellia reticulata. These have an open, rangy growth habit, and the largest flowers of all camellias. Native to the Yunnan Province of China, they were first released to the West in 1948. The Huntington acquired 13-15 of the best cultivar. Camellia reticulatas bloom late in the season, from February to April.
The Huntington has introduced eight new cultivars (introductions) into the nursery trade. Popular with hobbyists, several have won awards as best new introductions for that year. These include: ‘Margarete Hertrich’, ‘Robert Casamajor’, ‘Mrs. Goodwin Knight’, ‘Beverly L. Baylies’, Betty’s Beauty’, ‘Little Michael’, ‘Carl Tourje’, and ‘Rudy’s Magnoliaeflora’.
Japonicas are most common, shade loving, and bloom from January to March.
The Huntington has 100 of Nuccio's Nurseries' (Altadena, CA) introductions, considered to be some of the best in the world for consistent bloom and growing habit of the tree.
On the Sasanqua Hillside, Camellia sasanqua tolerates sun, blooms October through January, often fragrant, small flowers that shatter. They often have a weeping habit and small leaves, giving them a finer texture.
The tea we enjoy drinking comes from Tea plants (Camellia sinensis) and includes green, China, and oolong types.
The Higo flower form of japonica, features a single flower with up to 250 beautifully splayed stamens, was developed in Japan and prized as bonsai in containers.
The Snow camellia (rusticanas) is native to a snowy region of Japan, having adapted to the weight of snow.
The oil extracted from the seeds of the Oil camellia (oleifera) is used in cooking and cosmetics.