This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
From the fact of its flowering at the time when flowers are generally scarcest, and the demand for them greatest, the Camellia, both for cut flowers and house decoration, fills a gap in a way that few other plants can do; the flowers are always desirable, and always valuable, so that it must be considered one of the most indispensable of our decorative greenhouse plants. Its natural season of blooming is from December onwards till April, and though with proper treatment it is quite possible to have them in flower as early as August, still the flowers are never so good, and certainly they are never so much valued at this season as when they flower in the dull winter and spring months. Where they are wanted to flower early, they should be kept in heat while they are making their growth, and until the buds are well set, after which fire-heat should be discontinued. While making their growth they should get a dewing with tepid water occasionally, through a syringe, in order to keep the foliage clean and healthy. By starting them a little earlier each succeeding year, they will in a few seasons be induced to start away early of their own accord, or at least with very little assistance.
Like Azaleas, the Camellia is imported in large quantities every year from the Continent, and at a very reasonable price: so that unless one really wants to propagate one's own plants, by way of practice, it is hardly worth the trouble of doing so; still sometimes one likes to try their hand at such things.
Cuttings of some of the strong-growing single varieties, such as Tricolor, may be put in to root in order to make stocks for grafting upon. They should be put in singly, in small thumb-pots, and plunged in the propagating-frame, in a bottom-heat of about 80°, and in a mixture of peat, rubbed through a fine sieve, leaf-mould, and sharp sand. Cocoa-nut fibre is a good plunging material, or sawdust will do very well. They should be dewed slightly through a syringe on the evenings of hot days, and kept pretty close until rooted, after which gradually inure them to air and exposure, and encourage to make good strong growths, gradually increasing the quanity of air, so as to get the wood well ripened and ready for grafting the following season.
This operation should be performed in the spring of the year, when the sap is in active circulation, though some prefer to do it in the autumn, when the growth is more matured. The stocks should be first plunged in the propagating-box for a short time before operating upon them, so as to have them in active growth: side-grafting is the method usually employed. The scion should be securely tied with matting, and then covered over carefully with grafting wax, and each plant labelled and returned to the frame as it is finished, and kept close until the union is completed. There should be a brisk bottomheat, and an atmospheric temperature of about 65° should be maintained. After the grafts have taken, gradually inure them to air and light; and the stock may be cut away above the junction after they have made a few inches of growth; pinch out the points, so as to induce a bushy habit. They may be shifted into larger pots as they require it, using peat, leaf-mould, and sand, only a little rougher than at first, until they are into 6-inch pots. In all sizes above this, they should have a considerable proportion of good turfy loam incorporated with the compost, as also a few pieces of charcoal.
Indeed, if the loam is good, they will be better grown entirely in it, with a sixth part of sharp sand and a handful of ground bones.
Larger plants will be much benefited by an occasional watering of liquid manure when they are making their growth, and again when the flowers are beginning to expand. There is nothing better for this than pure guano or soot-water, allowing either of them to lie in steep for a night before using, and then keeping back the sediment; this does not choke up the pores of the soil like manure-water made from sheep or deer droppings. The Camellia is not susceptible to the attacks of insects, unless, sometimes, brown scale, when the usual remedies must be applied. This will be found in most of the insecticides sold by nurserymen, directions for use being always given along with them. Appended is a list of good varieties - viz.: Alba plena, Archduchess Marie, Augustina superba, Bealii, Bianca Gualdini, Cardinal Antonelli, Duchesse de Berri, Duke of Lancaster, Eximea, Fimbriata, Marchioness of Exeter, Pearl, Reine des Beautes, Storyii, Thomas Moore, Valtevardda, Vicomte de Nieuport, Imbricata, Jubilee.
J. G. W.