A delicate yet strong flower, the first specimen of the Camellia arrived in Italy in 1760 as a token of love from Admiral Nelson to Lady Emma Hamilton, the wife of the English ambassador to the Bourbon court in Naples, thus embellishing the English Garden of the Royal Palace of Caserta.
An ornamental shrub belonging to the Theaceae genus, the Camellia owes its name to Linnaeus, who classified it under this name in 1735 in memory of the monk Joseph Kamel, who first imported the plant into Europe from Japan in the 18th century.
In Europe, however, this shrub became famous about a century later thanks to Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Lady of the Camellias, first published in 1848. It was Marguerite Gautier’s predilection for the camellia, the unfortunate protagonist of the novel who died prematurely of tuberculosis at the age of 23, that made the flower famous. In fact, the young courtesan Marguerite used to pin a white or red camellia in the evening, depending on availability, and thus became “the lady of the camellias”. From then on it began to spread to the fashion world and became a favourite and favourite of Madame Chanel who, from 1913, included it in the suits she designed.
Today, splendid specimens of Camellias can be admired in the gardens of the Network. Between Italy and Canton Ticino, from the first weeks of March and throughout April, it is possible to get lost among the colours and scents of Camellias in bloom. In Switzerland, in Locarno, a few kilometres by car from Lugano, the Camellia Park, inaugurated in 2005, will fascinate you with its 850 varieties of catalogued camellias, plus 70 as yet unidentified camellias planted at the southern end of the public paths, and 130 double camellias, which form a dividing hedge and are mainly used to provide cut flowers for the annual show held in spring.
In Piedmont, the flowering of the camellia in the Villa Taranto Botanical Gardens kicks off the new season. Camellias also adorn the historic garden of Miradolo Castle and the park of Palazzo Malingri in Bagnolo, where the owners have been planting Japanese and sasanqua camellias for the last thirty years.
In Liguria, don’t miss the collection of ancient camellias at Villa Durazzo (Santa Margherita Ligure, GE), including the famous Lavinia Maggi and Albino Botti. The historic garden of La Cervara, on the other hand, with its superb view of the Gulf of Tigullio on one side and the Portofino Promontory on the other, seems to be a botanical concentration from all over the world: from the American Agave to the Sterilitzia, from the Chinese palm to the bougainvillea, from the camellias to the pink pepper, from the Aleppo pines to the monumental wisteria in the inner courtyard.
In Lombardy, the gardens overlooking the gentle shores of Lake Como celebrate the beauty of this flower in spring with the Camellia sul Lario initiative. At Villa Carlotta (Tremezzina, CO) you can admire different varieties and rarities such as the Princess Clotilde, a 19th-century variety created by Casoretti, the Japanese Taiyò-Nishiki, the Oscar Borrini and the Contessa Tozzoni. At Villa Melzi (Bellagio, CO), spring is the ideal time to observe the flowering of the garden’s historical camellias and those of the new collection – around 30 young specimens planted in 2014 – from the mother plants that once belonged to the Rovelli brothers’ nursery in Pallanza, which embellish the vast, rich gardens.
In Tuscany, the marvellous Avenue of Camellias in the Villa Reale di Malia Garden (Capannori, LU) awaits you for an unforgettable walk. Here you will find some of the most representative camellias of the Lucca area, which in March begin to bloom in more than thirty ancient varieties of various shapes and colours ranging from white to red and pink with various intermediate shades.
In Florence, on the other hand, the camellia grove in the Bardini Garden, behind the admirable belvedere over the city, is in full bloom in spring.
Further south, the colours of the camellias in the Castelluccia at the Royal Palace of Caserta will not fail to thrill you. Then, on the island of Ischia, the La Mortella Gardens are an Eden that never stands still. In spring the camellias in bloom, together with oriental magnolias and wisteria, give the garden in Valle an enchanted atmosphere; in autumn and winter the gardens are a riot of colour thanks to the sumptuous camellia blooms, starting with the elegant Camellia sasanqua, followed by the williamsi, japonica and reticulata.
In Sicily, specimens of camellia japonica can be admired in the Zen garden part of Rossella Pezzino de Geronimo’s garden of rebirth. Le Stanze in Fiore di Cannolicchio in Catania is in fact a romantic and informal garden, divided into linked rooms, a sensory journey that reveals itself little by little.
The camellia has a great peculiarity: if the petals fall off, they do so accompanied by the calyx of the flower. This is why, in Chinese culture, it represents the perfect union and devotion between two lovers.
In the language of flowers, the camellia represents esteem, admiration and perfect, unexhibited beauty, as well as being able to cope with sacrifices and life, a meaning due to the consistency of the flower, which does not lose its petals. The white camellia symbolises feelings of esteem, gratitude and admiration, the pink camellia symbolises the desire to have the person to whom it is given closer, and the red camellia symbolises love and hope.
Source: Grandi Giardini Italiani