Sasanqua Time

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The camellia sansanquas are blooming, front and back, and just in time. The desert petunias are worn out, the portulaca exhausted, the redbuds and crepe myrtles dropping yellow and orange leaves.

Sasanquas are a smaller, more sun tolerant cousin of the camellia japonica. Like many of our Southern favorites, camellias came to us in the 1800s from East Asia, probably by way of England as a part of the tea trade.

The camellia, the state flower of Alabama, comes in two common varieties with about a million cultivars each. I prefer to grow the fall-blooming sasanqua variety because it seems that the worst of our winter weather (Zone 7b) often comes just when it will do the most damage to late-winter-blooming japonica buds.

Camellias make elegant and fairly long-lasting cut flower displays. Instead of a tall vase, you need a large bowl in which you can float the flowers on water. Cut them with two or three leaves for each flower to provide greenery and a little more stability for your arrangement. I’ve had to learn how float the flowers because I don’t know what happened to my mother’s camellia bowl–a two-piece bowl with a heavy crystal dome that fit inside it. The short camellia stems fit into finger-sized holes to reach the water in the bowl.

Alternately, you can wax camellias* for long-term display without water. All you have to do is dip whole cut flowers into melted paraffin, as detailed by the American Camellia Society.

*It works. I tried it when I lived in Columbia, SC, and was a member of the Crepe Myrtle Garden Club.

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