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Camellia enthusiam catches on
Posted Feb. 21, 2007

People have passions of all different kinds. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the 60th Annual Pomona Valley Camellia Society Show, where dozens of ardent gardeners gathered to compete and compare their beautiful blossoms.

The show took place Saturday and Sunday at the La Verne Community Center.  The blooms were placed on long tables arranged by species, creating rows and rows of vibrant reds and pinks. 

One of the secrets in the prime cultivation of camellias is the climate.

“Southern California is one of the best places in the world to grow camellias because of the weather,” Linda Tunner, a host and exhibitor from San Diego, said.

When the climate is fairly mild, camellias will bloom from around late October to March or April.

There are around eight shows per year in this area, with shows not only in La Verne but also in Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego and Kern County.

Judges rate the blooms into 12 classes, evaluating them for four specific characteristics: color, form, size and condition.  Over three-dozen judges pick the winners in various categories, including the Japonica, Reticulata and Hybrid species.

All camellia growers are encouraged to enter their blooms into the contest.  There is even a ‘novice’ category for beginners.  Some of the awards also include categories like Best Fragrance and Best Seeding.

One of the Camellia Society’s main goals is to educate the public.  The society puts together publications and pamphlets on specific tips for caring for camellias.  These include hints on proper techniques for watering, fertilizing, pruning and disbudding camellia plants.  The society — whose Pomona membership is between 25-30 members — also holds monthly meetings with guest speakers. 

 “Our organization is completely self-sustaining,” Tunner said.  “We’re all volunteers.”

The society also prides itself on shedding new light on fairly unseen varieties of camellias.  Most nurseries carry only a few common species of camellias.

“Part of our goal is so the public can see what’s really available,” Marilee Gray, one of the directors of the Southern California Camellia Society, said.  “There are over 200 species of camellias.”

Camellias have been grown for over 2,000 years in many parts of Asia.  The similar climate to Southern California has proved to be a perfect alternate environment.  In 1948, after World War II, rare forms of camellias were sent over to the United States from Asia, turning the area into one of the best growing locations in the world.

Plants are shipped all over the world to enthusiastic camellia growers.  Creative plant names include Black Magic, Cherries Jubilee, Prima Ballerina and Candy Apple.

While these gardeners’ enthusiasm is extremely apparent, a quote in “The Camellia Review," a publication from the Camellia Society, reminds everyone that this is not an easy passion to take part in.

“Gardening requires a lot of water — most of it in the form of perspiration.”

But even though gardening requires a lot of hard work, these camellia growers’ passion is in full bloom.

Erin Konrad can be reached at ekonrad@ulv.edu.