Friday, December 2, 2011
RAVE: CAMELLIAS IN DECEMBER
For the past week, every day when I walk to class I pass by a camellia bush that’s suddenly burst into bloom. Camellia japonica thrives here in the Pacific Northwest, often reaching the size of a small tree. The one I’m talking about, though, is small, no taller than I am, and covered with single, white flowers. Flowers are definitely a welcome sight in December, when it’s cold and rainy, and starts getting dark at 4 in the afternoon.
Of course I had to stop and smell the flowers. There are a number of perfumes that claim to include a camellia note, but I’d never been impressed by the smell of camellias. My recent evaluation confirms what I’d experienced before. Standard garden-variety camellias have an odd, earthy, minerally, musty smell like certain fertilizers or pesticides. No, it’s not products dumped on the plants, it’s the flowers themselves. Deep down at the bottom of the scent there’s a little bit of sweetness, sort of like a pink or red peony, but it’s mostly hidden. I wouldn’t want to use the typical camellia fragrance in a perfume, at least not as a main note.
There reportedly are other species of camellia with a pleasant fragrance, but I’ve never encountered them. Now I’m curious. Walking on some other routes yesterday evening, I saw other small camellia bushes with the same single white flowers. Now I’m wondering if they’re a dwarf variety that blooms early in the season, or a different species entirely. There’s another area on campus that has a near-forest of big camellia trees in shades of red and pink. They’re covered with buds, but no flowers yet. I think the bright colored, double-flowered ones bloom a little later. The ones in my garden typically bloom around Christmas.
The roses in the campus rose garden look a little shabby, but are still blooming. There are also several other varieties of bushes blooming right now with fragrant flowers. One is a type of Viburnum, and the other is one that I’ve never heard the name for. The leaves look a lot like those of the houseplant called Schefflera, and the flowers are small, white, with a shape in between strawberry and citrus flowers, and sweetly fragrant. I think the leaves are fragrant, too. They grow all over the place in Seattle, so I should know what they’re called. Googling “fragrant shrubs” didn’t help. Maybe I should post a picture so someone can identify it.
In any case, I’ll have to take a trip to one of the garden centers to see if they have any fragrant camellias and try to identify the Schefflera-lookalike shrub.
Fragrant or not, I love the color and sense of hope that camellias bring to the dead of winter.