The Culture of Camellias

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Island 2: Camellia Culture -- The East India Trade and Commercial Horticulture

Camellias and the U.S.-China trade 
original watercolor, possibly Chinese, late 18th century, headed in ink "John Charnock."

Very little is known about this picture, except that it came to the University from the Phelps home at Rose Hill, when Miss Phelps's estate was dispersed in the 1980s. On first acquisition, it was catalogued as "probably Chinese," with the note that "Mrs. Sheffield Phelps's family, the Leas, had been involved in the China trade from Philadelphia in the early 19th century and it is possible that this painting descended in her family." Recent rematting has exposed the ink name at the head of the picture, though whether this was the painter or owner is unknown.

Redoubté: Camellias in Revolutionary France
Pierre Joseph Redouté, 1759-1840, 
"Gordonia pubescens," 
from his Jardin de Malmaison
Paris, 1803.

Redouté, originally a painter of stage scenery from Luxembourg, first studied the flowers at the Jardin de Malmaison in the mid-1780s, contributing illustrations to L'Heritier's Stirpes Novae in 1784-1785 and then moving to London, where he learned new techniques deployed in this later publication. This plate of the distinct species Camellia Gordonia, which had been mounted on a very acidic card backing, has recently been given initial treatment by Thomas Cooper Library's Preservation Department.

The East India Company, 1: Captain Rawes 
"Camellia reticulata: Captain Rawes's Camellia," 
from The Botanical Magazine, New Series, Vol.I, 1827

The early camellia varieties in Britain were all imports from the Far East, brought back by naval or merchant ships as exotic gifts for family or friends. The species shown here was imported by Captain Richard Rawes of the East India Company in 1820 for a relative, Thomas Carey Palmer, Esq., of Bromley, Kent, who had his own conservatory. The first published description, by John Lindley in the Botanical Register, considered reticulata a distinct species, separate from the japonica. Because the only specimen was still in private hands, the two Curtis daughters, who painted this picture for their father's magazine, filled out details from the better-knownWaratah and single red camellias.

The East India Company, 2: Variegata 
"Camellia japonica variegata," 
from William Beattie Booth, 1804?-1874; Alfred Chandler, 1804-1896, Illustrations and descriptions of the plants which compose the natural order Camellieœ: and of the varieties of Camellia japonica cultivated in the gardens of Great Britain. 
London: J. and A. Arch, 1830-31. Issued in parts (original printed wrappers bound in).

This "Double-striped camellia," variegata, was one of the first double camellias to reach Britain, and it too illustrates the connection of camellia developments with the East India trade. It was brought back in 1792 by another of the East India Company's captains for "the late John Slater, Esq.," who worked in the Company's London headquarters, India House.

Kew Gardens and the Horticultural Society 
William Beattie Booth, 1804?-1874 
"History and description of the Species of Camellia . . . that have been imported from China," inTransactions of the Horticultural Society, 7 (1830).

This paper, read to Sir Joseph Banks's Horticultural Society in two sessions in August and September 1829, is a landmark in formal recognition of the camellia, listing six species and twenty-three different varieties. Landed gentry were usually elected fellows of the society, while their head gardeners might aspire to become "corresponding members," and send in reports without attending meetings. Booth was described in the headnote simply as "Garden Clerk."

Cultivating the Exotic in an English Climate: Greenhouse Development 
John Claudius Loudon, 1783-1843, 
The Green-house Companion . . . with a natural arrangement of the principal green-house plants.3rd ed. 
London: Whittaker, Treacher, 1832.

Through at least the 1820s, the camellia was treated as too exotic for the British climate. Greenhouses with stoves were first introduced in Britain in the seventeenth century. The steady expansion of British activity overseas (in Asia, Australia, and the two Americas) brought home thousands of new and exotic plants. Aristocratic patronage led to development of greenhouses and sun-warmed conservatories, such as these from Loudon's standard book (originally published in 1824); eventually quite modest Victorian suburban villas might boast a "conservatory," often an arch or cone-topped octagon with Gothick woodwork, derived from the more ambitious designs reproduced here. Loudon's frontispiece shows two varieties of camellia japonica, both imports: the red waratah, oranemoneflora (imported in 1806) and the white Lady Hume's Blush, though in the text the author noted that "New varieties are continually originating, by the nurserymen and other growers, from seeds." It took several years for a new hybrid to flower and reach the dignity of recognition, a name and illustration.

The Greatest of Camellia Books 
Clara Maria Pope, illus., 
"Plate 1: Single White, Single Red, Sasanqua," 
from Samuel Curtis, 1779-1860, A monograph on the genus Camellia
London: J. & A. Arch, 1819.

This large (though slim) volume is generally recognized as the greatest of English illustrated camellia books. As the title-page indicates, the author of the text drew the major credit, though the volume is now treasured chiefly for its stunning illustrations. Samuel Curtis was a cousin of William Curtis (of the Botanical Magazine), married William's adopted daughter, and for a while edited the magazine. He eventually moved to Jersey, to a warmer climate, to pursue his interest in raising camellias. Clara Maria [Leigh Wheatley] Pope, the daugther of one artist and wife of two others, first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796, beginning with miniatures and renderings of nursery-tale characters. In her later career, she was primarily known for her flower pictures, shown at the Academy regularly from 1816 until her death in 1838.

Curtis's preliminary table could list only twenty-nine camellia varieties as known in 1819, and of those four of Captain Rawes's recent imports could not be described, because they had not yet bloomed. Pope's five hand-colored plates, each measuring 27.5 x 22 ins., included eleven of these varieties:

Alongside plates and III are displayed delicate uncolored proof copies of the original aquatints, also from the Phelps family collection at Rose Hill.



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