Descanso’s Camellias are Short-Timers

From 7/27/10 New York Times on how public gardens are scrambling to keep visitors interested:

Because of environmental concerns, Descanso Gardens, near Los Angeles, is doing the once-unthinkable: it plans to uproot its historic — but nonnative — collection of camellias, some as tall as 30 feet, which were planted decades ago under the shade of natural woodlands. ‘It’s a fantasy forest,’ says Brian Sullivan, the director of horticulture and garden operations.”

“But the fantasy cannot be sustained. Camellias require so much water that it is killing the trees — not to mention being wasteful. Descanso will relocate the camellias, even though some will be lost, and allow the woodlands to return to their native state. ‘We expect opposition and kudos both,’ Mr. Sullivan said.

“But Descanso still must reach out beyond its aging membership group, he added, so it is remaining open in the evening; offering cocktails (including the Pollinator) at a new Camellia Lounge; breaking ground on a $2.1 million art gallery whose exterior walls will be hung with vertical plant trays that will blend into a turf roof; and maintaining an edible garden dense with fruits, vegetables and herbs that are donated to a local food bank.”

Descanso is a public garden I rarely visit, so I can’t even visualize where the camellia grove is. I don’t make an effort to visit the camellias at the Huntington either. But it’s interesting to hear of the old guard being shaken up. I’m all for that. But I’d always thought mature camellias were somewhat drought tolerant. There’s a huge camellia on my street in a neglected, unwatered garden that flowers profusely.

I don’t grow camellias, so have no suitable archived photo for the occasion, but how about a photo of Garbo, who played Camille? Some faces almost approach the perfection of flowers.


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6 Responses to Descanso’s Camellias are Short-Timers

  1. I didn’t even know there were camellias at the Huntington. What a waste of space that could be planted with agaves! (kidding, sort of) I do have a camellia in the front garden that came with the house, I love it. And I never water it. Of course here in Oregon it gets lots of natural water but in the dry season (roughly July 5 – Oct 31) almost nothing. It’s perfectly happy.

    I wonder why they are removing the camellias yet naming their new lounge “Camellia Lounge”?

  2. Kathy says:

    I remember the Camellias at Descanso vividly, even though it’s been many years since I’ve visited there- like 20-ish maybe ? I have Camellias but am not in any way a fancier. I prefer the white ones , and the Sasanquas.My Camellias NEVER are watered – they survive on winter/spring rainwater and they do just fine-but I do get probably 20 inches of rain here more than La Canada does over winter/spring, but like them dead zero in summer. I’m ok with the Camellia moves –don’t really go for mono-culture stuff, and can imagine how very dreadful a Camellia grove would look in high summer. Kinda like privets.

  3. Denise says:

    Loree & Kathy — There seems to be a media blitz regarding this new approach at Descanso. This from LA Times July 17. The oaks and understory of camellias aren’t a good fit, and the camellias are deemed dispensable rather than the oaks. Good choice!,0,3567856,full.story

  4. nikkipolani says:

    Oh, I loved the camellias at Descanso. I didn’t realize they were harmful to the trees — thought they were planted there to benefit from the trees’ shade.

  5. Denise says:

    NP, I think the cams were planted as understory to the oaks, but oaks are so touchy about irrigation. I’ve really gotta make a trip out to Descanso, maybe in the fall.

  6. Les says:

    I can attest to the drought tolerance of Camellias, at least here in southeastern Va., but I don’t know if they are California drought tolerant. They are also part of the cultural landscape here and many an old home has them towering over the shaded garden.

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