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A beauty with a past

THE CALIFORNIA GARDEN

Adored for centuries, the camellia is a favorite of gardeners throughout the world. Its blossoms brighten the dullest of months with petals from snowy white to showy red.

February 12, 2004|Lili Singer | Special to The Times

Common japonicas, offering the widest range of form and color, are reliable choices for formal and informal settings, as small trees or living walls. Higos (a type of japonica) are bushy with plum-like blossoms, punctuated by a wide sunburst of stamens. The leggier reticulatas, from China, are tree-like beasts with enormous flowers.

Fall-flowering sasanquas are ideal for our region. These Japanese natives require warmth and accept drought and relatively heavy soils. The flowers are simple and silken. Most are scented, like fresh tea or soft musk. They vary from upright to vining; low spreading ones make excellent ground covers.

Species camellias, unadulterated from the wild, are a collector's delight. Camellia grijsii is a fine tall shrub with rose-like leaves and fragrant snow-white blossoms. C. japonica var. macrocarpa, the apple camellia, has tubular red flowers and large red and green seedpods. The wiry branches of C. transnokensis, Tom Nuccio's favorite, are dotted with red buds that reveal wee white flowers.

At his nursery, an older hybrid catches Nuccio's eye: 'Snow Drop,' with small but abundant pink-blushed blossoms. Next, he shows off some of the new babies: a group of rare golden-yellow hybrids from Japan. The Tama-No-Ura seedlings -- red and pink beauties with waxy white-bordered petals. He's most excited by a buff-apricot selection with a "mixed-up name." Beautifully shaped with sultry pink overtones, it won't be released for a year or two.

No doubt, gardeners will fall in love.

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