Season 2 • Episode 7 - April 8, 2023

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One of the signature flowers of spring is the camellia, specifically the Japanese hybrids, the Camellia Japonica varieties. One place to see a lot of them is in Newberg, Oregon around the middle of April. That is when the Newberg Camellia Festival takes place. This year the festival falls on the 15th of April, 2023. To learn more about these beautiful plants and this wonderful festival we stopped by the Chehalem Cultural Center, the home of the festival, to talk with a couple of the people involved.

We started our visit with a chat with Kathy from the Oregon Camellia Society. She has dozens of camellias in her garden and filled us in with everything camellia. There are three main families of camellias: japonica, sinensis and sasanqua. They have different characteristics and bloom at different times of the year, so by planting different types you can get blooms for up to three-quarters of the year or even longer. In the Northwestern United States, the Camellia sasanquas start blooming in October and continue until early winter. Then you will have the Japonicas and hybrids blooming from winter until mid-spring, and a newer type of camellia called the ‘Camellia azalea’ will bloom through summer and into fall. As a plant, the Camellia azalea is a bit tender and so you have to protect it from hard frosts to help it survive in our climate. Camellias originated in eastern and Southeast Asia. Cultivated in Japan and China for centuries, traders brought plants to Europe, not only for the beautiful blooms, but also as tea plants, specifically the Camellia sinensis. The tea camellia is grown for its tender and tasty leaves which are then made into various types of teas. The camellia became very popular in England and the tea camellia was sent to the various British colonies around the world, thus their appetite for tea over coffee (care for a nice afternoon tea?).

This large evergreen shrub/small tree grows in a wide range of climates which makes it perfect for many gardens around the world. In fact, most varieties want to be tall and there are very few that stay small, though they can be pruned to maintain a smaller shape. They can survive down to about zero degrees Fahrenheit and prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. If your plant doesn’t like the spot in which it was planted or the growing conditions are not favorable, the leaves will start to turn yellow. They like to have cool roots, which means they prefer less heat at the base of the plant. For that reason they like having perennial groundcovers and lower growing plants to help protect their roots. They also love slightly acidic soil which is something we have in the Pacific Northwest. Once established, the camellia can also be drought tolerant. When mature they send down a tap root that helps them survive long periods with less water. The key is starting them correctly, which includes digging a large hole, amending the soil with a good compost that does not bury the crown of the plant (the area between the plant and the start of the roots) and keeping it well-watered but not waterlogged.

The camellia bloom is unique, too. We have heard that, next to the dahlia, the camellia has the widest range of bloom types and styles. In the camellia family, there are six main types of bloom styles, plus a special type. There are singles, doubles, anemone form, peony form, a rose form double, a formal double and the special one, a higo camellia. These blooms also have a wide range of colors, too, from whites to pinks to corals and also orangy reds, reds and even plums and purples. There is even a yellow camellia which is very tender in our area.

Camellias don’t have a lot of problems with pests and diseases, but aphids can cause issues if there is a large infestation. Also, a lack of water can cause leaf curling. The biggest problem, however, could be fungal issues. With the warming spring weather and heavy rains you could see ‘petal blight’. This can cause brown spots on your blooms. If you see these brown patches, pick up the petals as they drop and dispose of them in your trash and not in your compost. Composting them will allow the blight to spread out in your garden when you spread the compost. Regarding pruning, they can be pruned at any time of year to the shape you want in your garden. However, pruning your plant too late will result in fewer blooms the following season. It is best to prune your plant right after it blooms. This gives the plant time to recover and helps preserve your future blooms.

If you grow camellias or want to learn more about them, the Newberg Camellia Festival is the place to be. The Society has their annual bloom show at the Chehalem Cultural Center as part of the festival. This year is their 82nd annual statewide show. Anyone can enter their best blooms by bringing them to the center between 8:00am and 11:00am. Camellia Society members will be there to help you enter and also to answer questions about the care and feeding of your camellia. If you can’t make it to the festival you can even find information on their website.

After a quick break we brought in Bryan Stewart from the Chehalem Parks and Recreation Department. Bryan helped organize the very first Newberg Camellia Festival along with help from the Oregon Camellia Society. Newberg is the perfect host for the festival because it is the official city flower, designated so in 1949. After the initial excitement of choosing a city flower, it was forgotten until the Camellia Society reached out to the city of Newberg. That started the festival which is now in its 15th year. That first year was small with only a few dozen people showing up, but it has grown to be a huge festival with the whole community getting involved. Bryan convinced the city to focus on camellia plantings and now there are over 80 wine barrels planted with camellias throughout the city.

The Chehalem Cultural Center was brand new when the first festival happened, but now it is packed with lots of different events happening throughout the day. The festival starts with the Camellia Festival Walk/Run. The run starts at 9:00am and you can sign up for it on the festival website, though they will accept walk-ups on the morning of the run. Once the run is finished, the festival opens at 10:00am and continues until 4:00pm. Inside and outside the Cultural Center you can find lots to do. In the ballroom and front lobby you can see performances and demonstrations celebrating Asian culture. These include the White Lotus Dragon Dancers, Taiko drumming, an Ikebana demonstration with Nana Bellerud, a tea ceremony with Margie Yap, Oregon Koto-Kai, and Hula Halau 'Ohana Holo'oko'a. Of course the Bloom show is happening all day, but there is a lot more. There are a variety of vendors selling flower-themed arts and crafts. There is also a large plant sale on the back patio with camellias for sale (naturally) along with other great garden plants. Of course there is food, too. Local food vendors and food carts are located on the grounds and will offer a wide range of goodies. If you have kids, they will not be bored! There are kids' activities and outside there is a large playground to let them run around.

In addition to talking about the festival, Bryan filled us in on a new camellia, the ‘City of Newberg’. This camellia was developed by a camellia hybridizer and will be available in the future at this great event. All in all, it is a great event and it is even better because it is free. Stop by the festival, see the beautiful camellias and enjoy the wonderful community of Newberg.

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