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Queen of The Winter Flowers

Submitted by on January 23, 2011 – 12:34 amNo Comment

The “Queen of the Winter Flowers” — the camellia — will be honored at Chiswick House Gardens in the London Borough of Hounslow, England, United Kingdom, from February 19 through March 20, 2011.

This is a brand new event in the national garden calendar and the first time the Chiswick camellia collection can be seen in the newly restored conservatory. Designed by Samuel Ware for the Sixth Duke of Devonshire and completed in 1813, it is a spectacular landmark within the Gardens. The conservatory is 96 meters long, with a glazed dome at its center and glass pavilions at either end.

The camellia collection contains rare and historically important examples of these beautiful plants. Exotic and expensive, the camellia, known as the Queen of the Winter Flowers, was highly prized when it first became available to British gardeners in the late 18th century. In 1828 the conservatory was planted with a large number of camellias. Most of these original trees survive today and are exceptionally rare, flowering every March with a fabulous array of blooms, pink, red, white and striped. The collection includes one of the world’s rarest Camellias, Middlemist’s Red, thought to be one of only two surviving examples in the world (the other is in New Zealand).

Middlemist’s Red was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Londoner John Middlemist, a nurseryman from Shepherds Bush. It is believed to have been presented by one of his descendants to Chiswick sometime after 1823 as the Sixth Duke added to his growing collection of camellias. Despite its name, the plant blooms a deep pink and is normally in full bloom during the months of February and March. These extraordinary plants were in danger of being lost as the conservatory fell into ruin in the last years of the 20th century, but members of the International Camellia Society stepped in to tend them, ensuring their survival prior to the major restoration of Chiswick House Gardens, completed in June 2010.

Visitors to the Chiswick House Camellia Festival will be the first to enjoy the display in its restored setting, Road Trips Gardeners. Admission is £5, and provides full access to the conservatory glass house and historic camellia collection where guides from Chiswick House and Gardens Trust and the International Camellia Society will be on hand to provide information and expert guidance on how to choose and grow camellias. Admission also includes a brochure detailing the history and development of the flower.

Although visitors from across the pond can’t carry plants back into the United States (sob!), a selection of camellia plants and camellia associated products will be on sale during the Festival.

Chiswick House Gardens are open at no charge from 7 a.m. until dusk, all year round. The conservatory is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

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