Chiswick House and Gardens Trust honoured three members of the International Camellia Society for saving the historically important and very rare Chiswick House Camellia Collection for the nation on February 10th, the day before the opening of their annual Camellia Show.
Herb Short unveiled a plaque celebrating the invaluable work undertaken by him and his friends Marigold Assinder and Jane Callander when they were asked to “adopt” the camellias by Hounslow Council back in 1994.
This important collection of Camellias, many of which date from the original 1828 planting, had been in danger of being lost, as they were dying from an infestation of mealy bug, the Conservatory had fallen into ruin and there were plans to bulldoze the now Grade 1 listed building. Fortunately, three local members of The International Camellia Society recognised the significance of the plants and stepped in to tend them, ensuring their survival.
The trio worked tirelessly for years, bringing stepladders on the tube, cleaning individual leaves to remove sooty mould, pruning and spraying every Thursday until they were restored to health. In addition to playing a significant role in their restoration, Herb also has undertaken thorough research into the historic camellias and written several significant papers and articles on the subject.
In a moving tribute Herb Short said “Today is a bitter sweet occasion for me as Jane, Marigold and I worked as a team, and they cannot be here to receive their fare share of the credit. Jane first brought our attention to their plight and when we first saw the collection we recognised from the size of their trunks that they were very old and in very bad shape. People had walked on by not realising how old and rare they were – there were few labels and some of them were wrong. We came every week from freezing mid winter through to the summer to spray and prune them and left covered in black with our feet feeling like blocks of ice! Then we said to ourselves "Who will do this when we cannot do it anymore?" Fortunately, English Heritage stepped in, and Fiona Crumley took over as Head Gardener and they continued to bring them back to life"
The Conservatory was painstakingly restored in 2010, with detailed archaeological and historical research undertaken by English Heritage experts. And over the last eight years the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust has initiated a propagation programme to ensure the future of 33 varieties of rare Japonica specimens. Gardeners can now purchase a choice of heritage plants from the original collection at a pop up shop at the annual Chiswick House Camellia Show which runs from February 11th to March 13th this year.
Geraldine King, the present Estates Manager, presented Herb and his wife Pat with a Middlemist's Red plant as a thank you for their work.
“We owe Herb, Jane and Marigold a huge debt for having the vision, expertise, tenacity and passion to bring back to life this national treasure for future generations to enjoy. Its hard to believe 20 years ago they had been seriously under threat, yet this year they look particularly glorious. We invite everyone to come and see them for free at our annual show.” said Clare O’Brien, Director of the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust.
The Chiswick House Camellia Show 2016
Chiswick House, London, W4 2QN
Dates: 11th February to 13th March, 2016
Conservatory opening hours: Daily 10am – 4pm (Closed Mondays)
Special Camellia Show weekend openings Saturday and Sunday 10am – 4pm
Group bookings, guided tours and information on admission prices for Chiswick House: www.chgt.org.uk
Media Enquiries: Lucinda MacPherson, Lucinda.firstname.lastname@example.org,T +44 (0) 790 580 9488
Notes on the Chiswick House Camellia collection:
Camellias have been grown in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam as a garden plant for thousands of years. The name of ‘Camellia’ was given to the genus in the 18th century, in honour of Georg Josef Kamel, a Moravian Jesuit apothecary and botanist, who worked in the Far East.
The Camellias that grow at Chiswick are all of the species C. japonica. The original collection was ordered by William Lindsay, the 6th Duke’s Head Gardener, from Alfred Chandler’s Vauxhall nursery. The number and name of all the varieties were not detailed but visitors’ descriptions include references to varieties of C. japonica such as ‘Alba Plena’, ‘Welbankiana’, ‘Lady Granton’, ‘Lady Hume’s Blush’, ‘Woodsii’, ‘Beali’ (now ‘Beali Rosea’), ‘Nobilissima’, ‘Imbricata’, ‘Chandleri’ and ‘Elegans’. Today’s Conservatory collection of 33 different varieties includes many of the earliest varieties introduced to Britain. Using stem girth as an approximate guide it is probable that the Camellias identified as C. japonica ‘Variegata’, ‘Imbricata’, ‘Chandleri’, ‘Alba Plena’, ‘Pompone’, ‘Aitonia’, ‘Corallina’, ‘Rubra Plena’ and ‘Rubra’ are all from the original 1828 planting.
Notes on the Conservatory
The Conservatory, a Grade I listed building, was designed by the architect Samuel Ware (who later designed the Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly) and completed in 1813. At 300ft long it was one of the earliest large glass houses to be built and thus a forerunner of Decimus Burton’s glass house at Kew and Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace.