Chiswick House Camellia Festival

Posted on: Tue 21st Feb 2012

The second annual Chiswick House and Gardens Trust Camellia Festival opened last Saturday in the gorgeous setting of the Chiswick Gardens Conservatory. It’s amazing to discover that the camellia collection is a national treasure and probably the oldest in the Western World. The Trust’s Director, Sarah Finch-Crisp, noted that launching a national horticultural event last year was something of a step into the unknown. Having 5,000 visitors turn up confirmed that it had been a good idea!

Camellias have been grown in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam as a garden plant for thousands of years. The name ‘camellia’ was given in the 18th century in honour of Georg Josef Kamel, an apothecary and botanist who worked in the Far East. Camellias were only introduced to England at the end of the 18th century, and at the time were not thought to be hardy enough to be planted out of doors.

The Chiswick Gardens Conservatory was originally used for growing fruit such as vines, peaches and figs, however in 1828 the 6th Duke made a fashionable switch away from produce and introduced camellias. Today’s Conservatory collection of 33 varieties includes many of the earliest varieties introduced to Britain. It is probable that a number of them are from the original 1828 planting. These extraordinary plants were in danger of being lost as the conservatory fell into ruin in the last years of the 20th century, but three local members of the International Camellia Society stepped in, ensuring their survival prior to the restoration of Chiswick House Gardens in 2010.

The Festival is once again being supported by Trehane, the UK’s leading specialist camellia nursery, based in Dorset. The nursery has a display of its fabulous camellias in the Conservatory, as well as offering some of it’s best-selling and more unusual camellias for sale. Jennifer Trehane, a world authority on the cultivation of camellias, is running a lecture series during the Festival covering ‘Gardening with Camellias: How did camellias move from the glasshouses of the rich to our gardens?’ and ‘Camellias Around the World: From the various wild origins to gardens in hot, cold, & temperate climates’.

The Festival ends on Sunday March 18th – which also happens to be Mother’s Day – why not take your mother to visit the Festival and follow it with a trip to the Chiswick House Café? To celebrate the Camellia Festival, the Café is offering Camellia Festival cupcakes, Carrot and Camellia oil soup, and Winter salad with Camellia oil dressing, alongside it’s normal menu. We tried the cupcakes and they were absolutely delicious, although if I’m honest, I’m not sure I could taste the Camellia!

Find out more about the Camellia Lecture Series in our What's On pages.

(Photographs: Chiswick Gardens Conservatory © Clive Boursnell; Camelias © Clare Kendall).