Rare camellias in bloom at Chiswick House
One of the world’s rarest camellias, ‘Middlemist’s Red’, now has a fitting home thanks to major restoration works to the conservatory at Chiswick House, London. It is thought to be one of only two surviving examples of the variety in the world. The other one is in Waitangi, New Zealand.
The conservatory was built in 1813 for the Sixth Duke of Devonshire. It has housed a collection of camellias continuously since the early 19th century. Despite a turbulent history, including losing all of its glass during the WWII London bombings, the conservatory and its rare camellia collection have fortunately survived. However, by the 1980s, the structure had fallen into such disrepair that only the intervention of volunteers stopped the conservatory and the camellias from being lost for ever.
The current restoration has been overseen by the Chiswick House & Gardens Trust and English Heritage as part of an ongoing £12.1 million restoration project of the gardens at Chiswick House. The project will be completed this summer.
‘Middlemist’s Red’ is believed to have been present in the Chiswick House conservatory since the first half of the 19th century. Despite its name, the plant blooms are a deep pink and last for approximately one month each year. The rare plant was originally brought to Britain from China in 1804 by Londoner John Middlemist, a nurseryman from Shepherd’s Bush. Middlemist gave the plant to Kew Gardens and a descendant of it made its way to Chiswick House sometime after 1823. The Chiswick camellias are world famous and believed to be the largest collection of the oldest known varieties in the Western world.