Houston, we have a problem…


Well, all right, I admit that on a scale of 1 to 10 where the Apollo 13 near-disaster was a 10, this would be about a -50,000. But for me it’s a problem, and I’m not sure I’ve got at the solution.

(I am sure that I have a stinking cold, but it’s not blurring my judgement or making me see things. Much.)

I have two gorgeous camellias in the bottom garden.

The larger of the two is this double, and it must be – oh, about 2.5m tall at least. It is sheltered from the worst of the wind by the Portugal Laurel and a perfectly ordinary buddleia, and it’s always been fine. Gorgeous, in fact.

Until now.


Initially I thought it was camellia yellow mottle virus but it’s not yellow, more of a cream, and yellow mottle really is yellow – or at least it is in all the pictures I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot recently. Also CYMV – according to the books – doesn’t weaken the plant, and this whole plant is looking a bit peaky. Also, I’ve been told that it leaves the veins green – not a hint of green there, though there is on some of the bleached leaves.

Fortunately most of the leaves are still a happy (um, a bit droopy, actually) camellia green.

I did wonder about chlorosis, but we’re on exactly the right soil for camellias and they grow like weeds round here. The other one is fine, and it’s only a couple of metres away, slightly lower down the slope. But this double does not look good, and that’s even allowing for the natural tendency of camellias to look as though someone has scattered them with old paper hankies as soon as the flowers begin to turn brown.

The other thing that occurred to me was waterlogging.

It has been very wet – there are damp patches in the house where there’s never been damp before and all this talk about drought is making me feel envious, but water issues round here are deeply political and it’s my water* – and this camellia is very close to the soakaway. So is the other – but not quite so near. The soakaway is in good condition for a 200-year-old waste management system, but its whole purpose is to let water soak away (dur). Could it, I wonder, be permitting this particular camellia to sit with its feet in water? Or maybe the (eco) washing powder / washing-up liquid I use has altered the soil’s ph? Maybe it’s time to find the tester and check it out. I should also mention that an Acanthus mollis nearby is also looking a bit on the yellow side, or maybe that is me and my head full of gunk.

(In the meanwhile, P and I have dumped a whole load of acidic red cedar chippings at the camellia’s base.)

And I’m immensely grateful that the other camellia, the single, has just started flowering. It’s always later, but it’s usually overshadowed by its blowsy companion. Not this year,

which just proves my theory that there’s always a silver lining if you look hard enough.

If anybody has any suggestions, I’d be very interested. I’m going to cut a chunk off and send it to the RHS nasty things identification service, but I’m not sure I can do much about it if waterlogging is the problem. And it’s so big, I’m not sure what I’d do if it was yellow mottle (er, cream mottle in my case). Hire a cherry picker, perhaps. P would love that – boys and their toys – but ladders would probably be just as good. Big ladders.

*Though I could probably supply Liverpool with water single-handed at the moment, politics or no politics. Mind you, we’d need lots of buckets.


18 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh no! Yuck, looks horrid. Sorry, I have no idea what it is, though waterlogging sounds like a possibility. Can you have a gentle dig around near the roots, see how soggy the soil is and whether it smells iffy?

    (I never click on tags, but when I noticed that you have one specifically for “swearing and throwing things” I had to make an exception…)

    1. kate says:

      I think a little rootlet with a trowel is a very good idea – should have thought of that; I’ll get down there as soon as it a)stops raining and b) I stop sneezing…

      On the tag – every gardener should be prepared….

  2. Christina says:

    That really doesn’t look good Kate. Sorry but I can’t help with what it is either. could anything be burrowing under the plant (moles)? I’m sure the RHS will help do keep us informed. I like the single Camelia best anyway if that’s any consolation. Christina

    1. kate says:

      I’m rather with you on the single camellia – they don’t seem to look so messy as they mature, plus they’re still fab. Definitely one for the RHS – there’s a job I wouldn’t like!

  3. Can’t really help i’m afaid, but the RHS should be able to, you seem to have thought of everything possible. Love the single, Camellia, very pretty.

    1. kate says:

      The single is my consolation (and – shhhhhh – I prefer it anyway)…

  4. patientgardener says:

    Oh dear that does look bad – I would suspect waterlogging is the problem causing the plant to be starved of air in its leaves. Can you dig in grit/gravel around the roots?

    1. kate says:

      Thanks – that’s my growing suspicion too; I think we’ll have to see how much we can excavate around it. On the bright side, at least it’s not the dreaded yellow mottle (well, highly unlikely). I spy a bog garden coming into my garden plans…

  5. sorry I can’t help but want to sympathise with both the camellia and the rain, like you I am fed up with hearing about drought!
    love your white single camellia, I have a red one I rescued from Woolworths years ago I keep it in a pot as I don’t think it would surive our winter gales,
    I hope your double camellia can be saved but just to be on the safe side can you take a few cuttings and pot them up, Frances

    1. kate says:

      All this drought stuff – exasperating to those of us in the west / anywhere north of Birmingham. Hang on, isn’t that most of the UK? Just not the bit with most of the media in it… hm…

      Cuttings are a brilliant idea – I’ll get onto it!

  6. Dobby says:

    No sorry, I can’t help either. Don’t talk to me about water logging. I dare not tread on the soil in my garden. Hope your cold gets better soon.

    1. kate says:

      It’s bad, this wet… I think I should have put duckboards down, and now it’s flaming raining again! Agh! Go and do this over eastern England, rain, where they’d welcome you!

  7. wellywoman says:

    Oh no it doesn’t look well does it? I sign of a waterlogged soil is often an eggy smell from the soil, maybe you could have a sniff!!!! I’m sure the RHS will have the answer. It’s always sad when a favourite plant is sick. I hope something can be done to rescue your camellia and that you feel better soon. I nearly choked on my porridge when I heard they were declaring a drought. I do complain about it raining all the time here in Wales but at least we won’t have a hosepipe ban.

    1. kate says:

      Ah – I didn’t know about the eggy smell, I’ll go and crawl around sniffing (when the cold clears perhaps; all can smell at moment is Olbas Oil). It will certainly leave a huge gap if it does go, so must try everything…

  8. Looking very sick indeed. I have learnt all sorts of things from reading here though. Hadn’t thought of having a little dig about and didn’t know about the eggy smell. Hope it survives but I am another who loves the single. And yes to the extraordinary idea of declaring a drought!

    1. kate says:

      No, I hadn’t either… I think it’s probably going to be dry enough to have a rootle about soon, but my cold is so bad I’m going to have to let someone else do the smelling – probably just as well…

  9. croftgarden says:

    Hi, is it affecting the whole plant or just part of it? You could try a feed that has chelated iron or perhaps some seaweed (cure all for everything). If it’s not wate rlogging it is probably a virus. No cure but you could try pruning out the affected areas – might look bare for a while, but if the plant is healthy it will grow back. I grew camellias in my last garden and in over 30 healthy plants I had one which despite intensive care never thrived. No apparant reason for the sickness so eventually it had to be “recycled”. I don’t think yours is ready for the shredder yet, so persevere with it for a while.

    1. kate says:

      It’s just parts, mostly the ends of the branches and not all of them. Seaweed is a great idea and easily accessible; I’ll put my boots on and get some. I was prepared for some pruning (in case it was the dreaded yellow mottle), and I’m even coming round to the idea that it needs it for space reasons anyway. But it’s been so very wet that I can’t tell whether it’s particularly waterlogged or not – everywhere is.

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