I love camellias. Originally from eastern and southern Asia, they were cultivated in Japan and China before they were seen in Europe. Camellias were first grown in the UK in Essex in 1739. A hundred years later they had become the height of fashion, the luxury plant to grow.
At first growers thought they were delicate and protected them from the cold but eventually it was realised that they were much hardier than people had imagined. In the coldest part of the year in London, for instance, before most other plants flower, camellias brighten up the day with their gorgeous blooms. Our garden has a pink variety, trimmed into a standard shape that is in full flower at the moment, swaying in the wind. In a couple of weeks it will be joined by a white variety that blossoms a little later.
In 1848 Alexandre Dumas, fils, the natural son of the author of, The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas, wrote a romantic novel, La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias). Although born illegitimate, when he was 7 his father legally recognised him and sent him to be educated at some of the best schools in France. The anguish caused by this separation to his mother, later motivated the young Dumas to write about tragic female characters. In 1844 at the age of twenty he met the inspiration for Camélias, the young courtesan, Marie Duplessis. Dumas later turned the book into a successful play that was the inspiration for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, La Traviata. Like Violetta the tragic heroine of Traviata, Marie Duplessis died of tuberculosis whilst still young.
In a wide area beneath our pink camellia lie the fallen camellia flowers. Still beautiful, their beauty is almost heightened by spattering’s of earth and the brown edges of the petals.