A small tree or shrub usually 1.5-6 metres (4.9-20 ft) tall. The youngest branches are purplish-brown, becoming greyish-brown as they age. The alternate leathery leaves are dark green on the topside, paler on the underside. In the wild it is found in mainland China and southern Japan. It grows in forests, at altitudes of around 300-1,100 metres (980-3,600 ft). The flowers appear in late winter/early spring along the branches, particularly towards the ends, and have very short stems. Valued for its flowers, which can be single, semi-double flowered or double flowered. There are more than 2,000 cultivars and the shade of the flowers can vary from red to pink to white, sometimes with multi-coloured stripes or specks. The plants in the Magnolia Garden were planted by Ralph Dutton and we have no record of the varieties.
Normally, camellias cannot be grown in colder climates but selective breeding has produced many cultivars which are tolerant of our winters. Plant in the shade in organic, somewhat acidic, semi-moist but well drained soil. If the soil is not well drained, it can cause the roots to rot. Flowers are susceptible to frost but others will soon appear to replace them.