Sweet on Sasanquas

Thursday, November 10, 2011
Sasanquas are the cousins of the japonicas. Both are Camellias, first imported in the 19th century from Japan and China to the warmer parts of the USA, and beloved ever since. New varieties are introduced regularly so there are always plenty of choices suitable for trees, big and small shrubs, in containers and trained into espalier on a brick wall. Wherever they are grown, sasanquas are dramatic without the pest problems and sometimes finicky diet of the japonicas. You don’t really even need to know their names, just choose by color and growth habit from those in stock at the nursery. Here are a few examples to get you started: ‘Mine No Yuki’. That’s what the tags said on the spectacular, graceful sasanquas in my front garden and in many reference books. These are a blushed pink with dainty yellow stamens bursting at their centers, but I have also seen white specimens labeled the same. I don’t care! These tall wonders grace the front garden reliably every year for weeks. They have no pests and barely a need for pruning. They get morning sun and afternoon shade instead of their preferred dappled sun all day, but they grow on. Mine No Yuki would appreciate more water in the summer, I’m sure, but the trees are very tolerant of my neglect and bloom on, anyway. ‘Shishi Gashira’ is a dynamo of a plant with hot pink flowers on the deepest green leaves you’ll ever see. The plants in bloom simply glow whether the weather is gray or sunny! Shishi is a shrubby sasanqua, wider than tall and suitable for big containers like those in my courtyard. It grows slowly and is easily maintained with annual pruning after the flowers to control its height and encourage its spread. ‘Bonanza’ is also wider than tall and quite shrubby, with lots of stems that are dense with leaves. Its double flowers oddly resemble those on my blue double althea, but in strong pink shades. ‘Yuletide’ is a late season sasanqua that does, in fact, bloom around Christmas. To top that, it is a lovely, pure red single flower with broad petals surrounding a clump of prominent yellow stamens. Very festive! ‘Snow on the Mountain’ tops the list for my favorite sasanqua to view at dusk. The white semi-double flowers with shy yellow stamens just visible deep in their centers really come to life as the light dims. Unlike other very common plants, sasanquas are never considered overplanted or trite. Maybe that’s because they are neither boastful or shy, a welcome quality on a cool fall day.
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