Camellias vs. Carpenteria

Blooms Beneath the Dappled Light of Oak Canopies

The dappled light of California native Live Oak canopies gives our local woodland gardens a distinctive zen like serenity.  This zen mindset must be harnessed to find under-canopy foliage that can thrive in an oak grove!  Camellias and Carpeteria californica both happily light up shady areas with big blooms and glossy green leaves on an attractive architectural structure, but which one will keep your oaks happy?

Lush, leafy, low-water Bush Anemone (Carpenteria californica) substitutes for camellias. They thrive through even the hottest and driest of LA summers.

Camelias are a common under-canopy choice plant in Los Angeles.  Their deep green, incredibly glossy, foliage emanates from a particularly attractive branching structure.  The architectural balance of branches and leaves erupt with large but delicate flowers ranging from red and pink, to white.  With the right selection of hybrids (there are hundreds!) a firework finale of blooms will enliven woodland gardens from January through end of March. What could be better? Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the Camellias, but in our dry summer climate, Camellias do have a few drawbacks.  Camelias:

  • Demand quite a bit of supplemental water through the summer
  • Crave even more water through a dry winter, like this one
  • Perform poorly in our typically alkaline soils and like supplements to keep their soils acid

While water and fertilizer may be a cost you are willing to bear for outrageous blooms, they have unique consequences in an oak grove. Summer water and fertilizer under an oak is potentially lethal and definitively destructive to Oak health.  Ironically, not only the oaks suffer.  Extra summer watering can promote Armilaria, bringing root rot to the Camelias themselves as well as the oaks.

A true ringer for Camellia, Bush Anemone burst into a flurry of white Peony-like blooms this time of year. Typically four to six foot tall and three to four foot wide, Bush Anemone under cultivation, like the widely-available “Elizabeth,” may have much more compact foliage and particularly large blooms.  Bush Anemone:

  • Survives a wide range of climates and soils, as is native to dry slopes, ridges and Pine forests throughout California
  • Thrives in woodland gardens and under oaks
  • Loves pruning and can be formed to produce fuller growth
  • Resists drought in the shade… although in full sun it should get a few sips of water a month (take care to provide these sips at the root, as overhead irrigation can lead to leaf spot)

Compliment the Bush Anemone in the woodland garden or under oaks with Woodwardia frimbriata, Heuchera maxima, Thalictrum fendleri (Meadow Rue), Aquilegia formosa, Adiantum jordanii (Maidenhair Fern), Ribes viburnifolium and Ribes malvaceum (Chaparral Current).