Chiswick House’s Camellias are believed to be the oldest collection under glass in the Western world and include rare and historically important examples, with blooms in pink, red, white and striped. Visitors can view these heritage blooms within the elegant, 300ft Chiswick House Conservatory during the month of March (from 1 – 31 March 2019), free of charge. Many of these plants are descended from the original planting in 1828. The rare Middlemist’s Red (pictured above), which actually is more pink in colour and takes pride of place to the left of the conservatory’s central rotunda if your back is to the Italian Garden, was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Londoner John Middlemist, a nurseryman from Shepherds Bush. It is one of only two in the world known to exist – the other being in Waitangi in New Zealand.
Camellias have been grown in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam as a garden plant for thousands of years and the genus was given the name of ‘Camellia’ in the 18th century, in honour of Georg Josef Kamel, a Moravian Jesuit apothecary and botanist, who worked in the Far East. The Camellias that grow at Chiswick are all of the species C. japonica which were ordered by William Lindsay, the 6th Duke’s Head Gardener, from Alfred Chandler’s Vauxhall nursery. Camellias have always enjoyed a special charm; by the 1840’s, when the Duke of Devonshire’s collection was well established, the Camellia was at the height of its fashion as the luxury flower. The Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis, who died young in 1847, inspired Dumas’ La Dame aux Camellias and Verdi’s La Traviata.
Famously, the white Camellia was Coco Chanel’s favourite flower, and became her emblem, adored for its regular perfection and classical order of its pure white petals.The original Conservatory was designed for the 6th Duke of Devonshire by the architect Samuel Ware, who later designed the Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly. At 300ft long it was one of the earliest large glass houses to be built and thus a forerunner of Decimus Burton’s glass house at Kew and Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace.
Garden guides will be offering free Camellia themed short tours (approx. 40 mins) during the March Camellia Show on Wednesdays and at the weekend.
Camellia Weekend 23/24 March
A pop up shop selling Heritage Camellias from the estate will be open on the weekend the 23rd / 24th March 10:00 until 4.00pm. There will be a Camellia Competition supported by the International Camellia Society on the Saturday 23 March to encourage local people to bring their Camellia Blooms and win prizes. You don’t even have to know the name of the Camellia just bring the bloom. All blooms can be dropped off on Friday 22nd March before 4.00pm and on the morning of the 23rd March until 10.00am. Prizes will be awarded at 12.00pm on the 23 March. All funds raised from the Festival support Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, a registered charity dedicated to the preservation and continued enhancement of Chiswick House Gardens which are open free to the public every day from 7am until dusk.
Did you know?
- Camellia japonica ‘ Chandleri’ originated from the Vauxhall nursery of Chandler and Son. It was first offered for sale in 1825 at £5/5s – the equivalent of half a year’s wages for a maidservant.
- In the year 1801 you could only purchase 4 Camellias. ( C.j. Alba Plena, C.j Variegata, C.j. Rubra and C.j. Rubra Plena) All four are in the collection at Chiswick. Now there are 20,000 varieties from 260 species available.
- There are three white varieties in the collection two were introduced pre 1820 C.j. Alba Plena and C.j. Welbankiana. These and others will be available for sale in a special pop up shop on 23/24th March
- The newest Camellia in the collection is Camellia japonica ‘Splendens’ which has been added to the collection this year. Believed to be one of the first Camellias in the UK to be obtained from seed. It was raised by John Allnutt of Clapham Common pre 1831.
- The Goosefoot volunteers spend a month cleaning the Camellia leaves which helps control pests on the plants.
Chiswick House Camellias being cleaned for the annual Show, image by Michelle Chapman
- Camellia japonica Rubra – Known as the single red – Been in existence over 5000 years in China. The was the only Camellia available for purchase in the UK before 1792.
- Camellia japonica ‘Rubra Plena’ – is one of the largest in our collection, measuring 41.5inch sized trunk and one of the earliest planted in the Conservatory. It was first introduced into the UK in 1794 in the County of Essex.
- It costs the Trust £1500 to clean the windows in the conservatory.
A visitor at the Camellia Show
- Chiswick House propagate Camellias on the estate in July from the Conservatory Camellias. It takes 4 years for the plant to reach 40cm.
- Camellia japonica ‘Chandleri is the largest in the collection with a girth of 53 inches. We believe this was planted in 1825.
- Camellias are famous for their flowers and for drinking. Camellia sinensis produces tea from its tips and our Camellia japonicas produce beautiful flowers.
Camellia Images and shot of visitor in pink coat by John Fielding.
Image of soprano Ailyn Perez in the role of Violetta, La traviata shot in the Conservatory by Anna Kunst
Coade stone vase image by Lucinda MacPherson
The conservatory covered in wisteria, by Frank Noon