International Camellia Garden of Excellence

International Camellia Society Gardens of Excellence

Marwood Hill Gardens is delighted to say that we are an International Camellia Society Garden of Excellence. The gardens, created by Dr Jimmy Smart VMH in the late 1950’s were awarded the ‘ICS Camellia Gardens of Excellence Award in 2004’. We have about 500 different cultivars of all shapes and sizes from the large, flowered types to the miniature flowered forms.

Our Camellias

Dr Smart travelled to America in the 1960s principally to see the camellia gardens, nurseries and to visit gardening friends.  During his travels he was given many cuttings of camellias which he sent back to be propagated and this started the basis for his collection at Marwood.

Further trips to America as well as to Australia and New Zealand followed, by which time the collection had increased significantly. He also received many cultivars from David Trehane, who was establishing his camellia nursery in Dorset and through their friendship they exchanged and trialled many new camellia species and cultivars.

After his initial trip to America, a large greenhouse was erected in the walled garden and planted up with camellias. This is still in use today and gives a spectacular display.

Many of the Reticulata hybrids are grown in there such as ‘Mouchang’, ‘Mandalay Queen’ and ‘Lila Naff’ and the spectacular deep double red , ‘Harold Paige’. Several species such as, Camellia tsaii give a contrast in flower size as well as some lovely japonica cultivars like the two toned ‘Spring Sonnet’, the unusual ‘Anzac’ from Australia, the pure white elegant form of ‘Snow Chan’ and in the middle of the house is the spectacular sight of the flaming red ‘Fire Falls’, a cultivar not often encountered but equally good outside.

At the entrance are many mature plants welcoming visitors to the garden and here is where we grow the cultivar ‘Jimmy Smart’, a single red raised by Dr. Smart crossing ‘Clarise Carleton’ with the single pale pink ‘My Darling’.

Nearby is the lovely single white, ‘Henry Turnbull’ and also ‘E.G.Waterhouse’, a lovely silvery pink named after the former President of the Society and a regular visitor to the gardens from his native Australia. 

The Purpose of International Camellia Gardens of Excellence

Any Garden throughout the world that is awarded an International Camellia Gardens of Excellence means that the garden and the gardens staff are active ambassadors of the International Camellia Society. They are intended to actively promote the love for and knowledge of camellias.

The garden should show that they intended to build a worldwide network of knowledge and passion. Gardens of Excellence actively promote and adopt sustainability, for example water, green waste and recycling, environmental protection, and conservation of camellia collections.

Marwood Hill Gardens do this in a number of ways:

Education about Camellias at Marwood Hill Gardens

Teaching people about the different varieties of camellias is an important aspect of gardening at Marwood Hill Gardens. All of our camellias throughout the gardens and greenhouse are labelled, to help people identify each plants’ specific genus, species and variety.

Throughout the year we try to hold as many educational events as we can, including our Head Gardener Walks, camellia workshops, educational children’s trails, educational welcome talks to groups and welcoming school groups.

Our team also create educational guides for plants for free such as this one of ‘How and When to take Camellia Cuttings‘.

We also have a monthly blog and Plant of the Month in relation to specific blooming seasons and promoting flora and fauna.

Examples of Sustainability at Marwood Hill Gardens

  • All of our water is from our three boreholes situated in the grounds of Marwood Hill Gardens. This also helps us avoid any hose pipe bans. We also collect rain water in water butts through the property and gardens.
  • We have solar panels on the roof and try to use as much of our own electricity as possible.
  • We have our own Bee Hives and Bees (and even sell our own honey in the tearoom).
  • We collect leaves from the gardens for leaf mould, and in time we re-use this as a leaf mulch in the gardens.
  • Any trees that fall or are felled in the gardens are repurposed – many of our benches are made from fallen trees and our MarWood bowls and chopping boards are all made from wood collected in the gardens. Any other wood or bark is chipped and used on our paths or plant beds (which also helps keep the moisture in!).
  • We are 100% Peat-Free and our manure is all donated from local farms.
  • We have nesting boxes and bug houses throughout the gardens, as well as habitat piles, areas of rough grass and wild lakes to promote wildlife.
  • We use as many local suppliers as possible both in gardens, plant sales and tearoom; for example, all of the milk we purchase from a local farm (less than a mile from the gardens) and all of the milk they sell is in reusable glass bottles.
  • All of our bags and take-away boxes are eco-friendly and biodegradable.
  • The products we use in the tearoom are palm oil free where possible.
  • We reuse as many things as possible – from compost bags to plant pots to wooden pallets!

Conservation of Camellias at Marwood Hill Gardens

Many of the camellias cultivars that Dr. Smart collected on his travels around the world were well known and popular forms grown by friends or acquired from nurseries such as Nuccios Nursery in California. It has given us a good base to expand the collection.

There are however many unusual and rare ones which we are determined to keep and propagate for the future. We propagate many camellias and sell them in our Plant Centre at the gardens, so keeping these unusual forms available for the public to buy.

We have many Higo Camellias, characterised by their large single flowers with many stamens in the centre. These are old forms of Camellia japonica from Japan and are rarely seen in Garden Centres or nurseries or even in collections in gardens. These old historic cultivars need to be collected and conserved for the future otherwise we will just be left with the easiest to propagate and common forms which we see in all Garden Centres.

Camellias were introduced to Europe in the late 1700s from Japan and in the early 1800s there were many nurseries in London who were actively hybridising these plants to produce new cultivars. There was a great enthusiasm and passion for camellias in England especially with the well to do landowners who saw camellias as a plant to show off their friends and neighbours. So many of these new novelties were sold and many went to Europe.

However this great fashion seemed to end in the late 1800s and as time has gone on, the nurseries closed and other plants became fashionable, so much so that these cultivars are no longer available in England now. In Europe, however, the camellia became the plant to grow, and many new forms and nurseries prospered.

When we went to the International Camellia Society Conference in Italy last year (2023), we saw many old English Camellias from the 1800s which had been taken to Europe growing in the ‘Gardens of Excellence’ around Lake Maggiore so we are actively trying to source these old cultivars and get them back to England, propagate them and distribute them for posterity.

As more and more nurseries close down, and we are left with just Garden Centres, it is imperative that Camellia Gardens, especially the Camellia Gardens of Excellence, with rare forms, keep propagating and conserving them for the future.